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Dec 18, 2011

Naomi Ragen Diverting Attention From Plagiarism By Claiming Free Speech

By now you surely must have heard about the court's decision against author Naomi Ragen in the plagiarism suit in which she was accused of having plagiarized parts of a book written previously by Sarah Shapiro. Ragen defended herself in court, but the court decided against her. Ragen still claims to vbe innocent of plagiarism, blaming the system in two ways:

  1. the court didn't really know what it was talking about as the material was all in English and they perhaps were unable to get over the language barrier (yet decided to convict her anyways despite the barrier)
  2. there was a campaign to silence her because of the perception that she writes her books to make the haredi community look bad.
I find these claims to be ridiculous. I am not a fan of Naomi Ragen, nor do I dislike her. I only remember reading one of her books, and did not particularly enjoy it. Her style wasn't to my literary taste. On the other hand, I don't know her personally, but I also appreciate some of the public work she has done. I just find these claims to be ridiculous. 

The claims attest to the truth in the expression that the jails are filled with innocent people. Ragen is one person who has tried to use the courts in many of her fights. She believes in the courts. She was personally found guilty and is now accusing the courts of bias. Of course she has the right to appeal, and maybe she will. If that happens, we shall see if the conviction remains or if it will be overturned. I don't care either way. I dislike the way she has turned a simple plagiarism case (not simple in the details of the case, I am sure, but simple in the objective of the case) into a witch-hunt and a social battle. There is no reason to assume that the courts participated in a nefarious plan hatched by Sarah Shapiro to silence Naomi Ragen. And Shapiro's motives to bringing the suit make no difference either - even if she only did it because she wanted to put Ragen in her place, and I don't see why, despite all of Ragens's explanations, that should be assumed, she still brought a plagiarism case to the courts as was well within her rights as an author. She did not sue Ragen for slandering the haredim or anything else.

The courts ruled on a case of accused plagiarism. It is as simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here is an excerpt of the response Naomi Ragen sent out on her mailing list:
Dear Friends,
I wanted you to hear this from me.
As some of you may have heard, for the last few years I have been hounded by two haredi women authors who have sued me in Israeli courts for copyright infringement based on several sentence and word fragments. I have been fighting these ridiculous allegations as best I can. Earlier this week, to my absolute horror, the judge involved decided to find in favor of one of them, a woman named Sarah Shapiro who wrote a book in 1992 called "Growing with my Children" in which she detailed her physical abuse of her small children and her attempts to gain control of her temper. This book was given to me by her editor who asked me to encourage her in her writings. I did the best I could, hoping that it would help her and her family.

A year or two after Sotah was published, she wrote my editor in New York saying that she felt a few sentences in Sotah bore a similarity to those in her book (a woman afraid of being pregnant - in her book she is pregnant, in mine she is not, and the discussion leads to a talk about birth control). A talk with a Rabbi about controlling one's temper. In my book, one of my characters has a similar conversation with her husband. Certain phrases "perfect little angels" etc. were similar. But there was such little material my editor and the legal department told her this was not copyright infringement, and at the time she agreed.

Fourteen years later, when a case was brought against me by a self-published author, Michal Tal, seeking to link her name with mine about The Ghost of Hannah Mendes, Shapiro contacted the same lawyer, who convinced her to sue. The Tal case was decided completely in my favor after Tal passed away. 
Unbelievably, the Israeli judge, whose decision I can only surmise might have be adversely affected by the language barrier, this week decided in her favor.

I am aghast and wounded by the injustice of this unfathomable decision in this case, which, according to Ms. Shapiro's own testimony, stems from her desire to silence my criticism of the ultra-Orthodox world. Unfortunately, this decision only serves to encourage those who, like her, feel that I deserve to be punished and what better to come at me than through that which
is most important and precious to me, my good name and my creative work? It hurts me deeply that extremist elements will gain encouragement from this court decision against me. It is a sad day for Israeli culture and society, and an even sadder one for Israeli writers who will now be forced to contend with a tsunami of frivolous lawsuits from parties interested in the
suppression of freedom of thought and expression.

The court in this case refused to consider how similar cases all over the world have been handled (and, indeed, have been handled in Israel) until now. This can only have a chilling effect on Israeli culture, hindering the freedom in which we writers must work.

My lawyers and I are presently studying this decision and weighing our options. We will appeal.
I find it interesting that she says they are weighing their options and then immediately says they will appeal - which is it? Are we still deciding how to proceed or do we already know?

William Kolbrener, the literary expert whose testimony was a large part of the basis of the court's decision, explains why this was not a decision to limit free speech.

So, Is Ragen just diverting attention from her own crimes? I am sure she believes in her innocence, and will again attempt to prove it, but she can fight the plagiarism without bringing in other crazy claims.


  1. When it comes to the motives of the plaintiffs, Ragen might very well be right. Look at how Cross-Currents is trumpeting the verdict.

    That does not mean that the courts were complicit.

  2. many people, on a number of lists I subscribe to and sites I read, are pleased with the verdict, as if gloating that "we got her back".

    1. just because viewers are pleased for whatever reason does not mean that was Sarah Shapiro's intention.

    2. even if it was her intention, she clearly had the law on her side (as per this court's decision) and the case was decided on the merits of the plagiarism claim. Her intentions are irrelevant.


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