Last month, German publisher Ullstein released a debut novel by 17-year-old Helene Hegemann. Axolotl Roadkill recounts the adventures of its 16-year-old protagonist, Mifti, who is left to find her own way after her mother's death. Taking advantage of her father's preoccupation with his own affairs, Mifti indulges in a wild life of clubbing, drugging and sexing. The book was critically acclaimed in the German press.
On February 5, a German blogger, Deef Pirmasens, pointed out here that whole passages of the novel had been copied from a novel titled Strobo by a 29-year-old Bavarian blogger whose pseudonym is Airen. Strobo's publisher has indicated it wants an "amicable settlement" of the legal issues.
Teenage plagiarists are nothing new. Remember the fuss over Kaavya Viswanathan back in April, 2006? The 19-year-old Harvard sophomore, who'd reportedly received a $500,000 advance, made news when it was revealed she'd lifted whole passages from author Megan McCafferty (see my blog here)
What's really interesting about this latest young thief is her reaction to being exposed as a plagiarist. While she apologized for not having referenced all the people whose "thoughts and texts helped me," she also defended her actions, saying here "there's no originality, just authenticity. And to me it does not matter where people take all the elements of their experimental set-ups, the main thing is where they carry them."
In The Local, a German-English publication here, Helene is quoted saying, “I myself don’t feel it is stealing, because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context . . ."
In other words, all she was doing was "remixing" in the same way that musicians do--taking original material by other artists and combining those works into a unique new work. Her main sin as she sees it, was not giving appropriate credit to those other artists.
Of course, copyright law is a speedbump in the path to that particular interpretation.
I believe copyright law is woefully archaic and needs to be revisited. However, until those laws are changed, you can't lift whole pages of someone's intellectual property without either attribution or permission.
What really astounded me was that--AFTER her plagiarism was revealed--her novel was nominated for a $20,000 fiction prize at the Leipzig Book Fair.
It turns out her father is Carl-Georg Hegemann, a German professor of dramaturgy in Leipzig.
I can understand the Book Fair wanting to support the daughter of a local, but . . . COME ON.