Witi's publisher in fresh plagiarism dispute

Last updated 08:00 27/12/2009
Landscapes of Conflict, by Nigel Prickett (Random House, 2002)
Wars Without End, by Dr Danny Keenan (Penguin, 2009))

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A second plagiarism row has engulfed book publishers Penguin, with allegations a book about 19th century Maori land wars was withdrawn and republished because its author, a senior Victoria University historian, plagiarised parts of it.

The case comes less than two months after leading New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera admitted his latest novel, The Trowenna Sea, contained plagiarised material, and vowed to buy back remaining copies of the book and republish it with full acknowledgments.

In the latest plagiarism row, Dr Danny Keenan – an associate professor of Maori Studies – is alleged to have copied from archaeology expert and historian Nigel Prickett without attribution in his book Wars Without End.

Sections from Prickett's 2002 book, Landscapes of Conflict: A Field Guide to the New Zealand Land Wars, appear in Wars Without End and are not referenced in the bibliography.

It is understood Prickett instructed lawyers to take Keenan's publisher, Penguin, to task over the matter. Penguin also published Ihimaera's book.

Penguin publishing director Geoff Walker refused to comment on the company's processes to ensure works were properly attributed.

"I can confirm that we withdrew Wars Without End by Danny Keenan... and just republished a revised version."

He said the revised book contained a "degree of rewriting" and was published earlier this month. The original was published earlier this year. When asked whether Penguin's vetting would be stepped up as a result of the cases, Walker said, "No comment."

When contacted by the Sunday Star-Times Keenan said: "I'd rather not comment." And Prickett referred calls to Penguin.

A scan of both books yesterday revealed sections that matched. Chapter 12 of Landscapes of Conflict reads: "New Zealand's most remarkable and prolonged guerrilla struggle began on 10 July 1868, when the prophet and military leader Te Kooti Arikirangi landed at Whareongaonga, south of Poverty Bay, having escaped with 300 followers from exile on the Chatham Islands. In the next four years he was to spread the flames of war from Gisborne and Mohaka on the East Coast to Whakatane and Rotorua, and south of Lake Taupo in the central North Island." It continues: "On 4 July he led prisoners to overcome the guard and seize a visiting vessel, the Rifleman. On the beach at Whareongaonga, Te Kooti taught his followers a new way of prayer, which included raising the hand to God. From this gesture a new religion, Ringatu – or `the upraised hand', took its name."

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A corresponding section from Wars Without End reads: "New Zealand's most prolonged guerrilla war began on 10 July 1868 when Te Kooti Arikirangi landed at Whareongaonga, south of Poverty Bay, having escaped with 300 followers from Chatham Islands. In the next four years he was to spread violence from Gisborne and Mohaka on the East Coast to Whakatane and Rotorua and south of Lake Taupo in the North Island... On 4 July he seized a visiting vessel, the Rifleman, and fled north. On the beach at Whareongaonga, Te Kooti introduced his followers to a new style of prayer, Ringatu or the upraised hand."

There are no attribution notes. And although three of Prickett's other books are listed in the bibliography, Landscapes of Conflict is not named.

Ihimaera's case prompted accusations of double standards among academia after Auckland University, where Ihimaera is a professor of English, said it would not be taking action because it found no deliberate wrongdoing. Ihimaera's actions were dismissed as an "oversight" and his supporters insisted 0.4% of the 528-page novel was published without acknowledgment. But universities take a dim view of students who fail to properly attribute information and students can face expulsion.

Although it is acknowledged that accidental plagiarism is possible – especially in academic disciplines such as history where central facts are often based on a small number of primary sources – students and academics are strenuously advised to prevent accusations of copying by always accurately citing sources for any repeated material.

A spokesperson from Victoria University could yesterday not be reached for comment. The managing director of Random House, Prickett's publisher, did not return calls.

Extracts from the two books

Major James Fraser ordered his Hawke's Bay Military Settlers into a hastily prepared ambush around a small clearing. When called on to surrender, the horsemen loaded their guns. Suddenly there was an outburst of rifle fire; 12 Maori were killed, including Te Rangihiroa, and three captured. Landscapes of Conflict, by Nigel Prickett (p131)

Local Hawke's Bay military settlers prepared an ambush. Following a sudden outburst of fire, twelve Maori were killed, including Te Rangihiroa himself. Wars Without End, by Dr Danny Keenan (p250)

Te Kooti made his way inland, beating off pursuing forces in several running fights that quickly established his reputation for military leadership and tactical skill. His first idea was to go to the King Country, but this was forbidden by King Tawhiao. Landscapes of Conflict, by  Nigel Prickett  (p133)

He made his way inland, beating off pursuing forces. His intention to seek refuge in the King Country was forbidden by King Tawhiao [...] Wars Without End, by Dr Danny Keenan (p251)

- Sunday Star Times

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