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Complainant Name:
Ms Claire Harman

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Observer


Ms Claire Harman complained that an article had reported Professor Kathryn Sutherland's inaccurate and misleading accusations that the complainant's new book on Jane Austen - "Jane's Fame: how Jane Austen Conquered the World" - had copied her own radical ideas about the novelist. The complainant made clear that she had cited Professor Sutherland's work several times in her book, but had not used it without attribution. She was also concerned that a letter she had submitted to the newspaper in response to the article had not been published.


The complaint was resolved when the newspaper published, on its website, the following edited version of the letter the complainant had initially submitted in response to the article:

Last Sunday, the Observer gave an uncritical home to a number of imputations by Professor Kathryn Sutherland that I had used her published work on Jane Austen inappropriately in my own yet to be published Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. When my book does appear next month, readers will see the groundlessness of these accusations. My own subject-the growth of Jane Austen's fame over two centuries-draws on several occasions from Professor Sutherland's scholarship, with full acknowledgement in each case.

Apparently motivated by her concern that the appearance of my book would curtail her own intentions for a carry-on project, she has sought preemptively, and without broaching her suspicions either to me or my publisher, to create a negative climate of reception for my work. My publisher has requested that she specify the concerns to which she ominously alludes, in a form to which we can reply, and this request has gone unanswered.

Professor Sutherland's scattergun complaints and innuendos are too numerous and unspecific to allow response at this time, but I do wish to correct one particular assertion that has prompted headlines on blogs such as ‘Former Student Helps Herself to Teacher's Work'. Professor Sutherland says that we ‘met in her home' where she ‘let me read' her own 2005 study of Austen. I have never been to Professor Sutherland's home and have never been given or sought access to any of her unpublished research. I did meet with her, by her invitation, at her college in 2006, at which time she sold me a copy of her volume, published the previous year. No particular permission, by her or anyone else, was required as a condition of my access to this work of scholarship, issued by a university press with, one assumes-the aim of promulgating its views and stimulating the work of fellow scholars.

Among the many accusations in the Observer article was her suggestion that this is a case of ‘identity theft'. As a former student of Professor Sutherland's, I must regretfully say that this is not a matter of identity theft at all, but rather professional jealousy of a patent and most unattractive sort.

Report: 80

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