Publisher Permanently Shelves ‘Opal Mehta’

Little, Brown has also cancelled two-book contract

The month-old novel by Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan ’08, who has been plagued by plagiarism accusations, will not be re-released, and the sophomore’s two-book deal has been cancelled, her publisher said yesterday in a statement.

“Little, Brown and Company will not be publishing a revised edition of ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life’ by Kaavya Viswanathan, nor will we publish the second book under contract,” said Little, Brown’s publisher Michael Pietsch ’78.

Viswanathan admitted last week that she borrowed language from two of Megan F. McCafferty’s novels but that any similarities were “unintentional and unconscious.”

The Crimson reported yesterday that “Opal Mehta” also contained similarities to Meg Cabot’s 2000 novel “The Princess Diaries.” The New York Times noted further parallels between Viswanathan’s book and two works by Salman Rushdie and Sophie Kinsella.

Viswanathan said in a statement last week that the novel would be revised “to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.” Three days later, Little, Brown asked bookstores to pull “Opal Mehta” off their shelves, waiting until yesterday to announce that the book would not be returning.

Random House, which published the novels by McCafferty and Kinsella, declined to comment on Little, Brown’s latest statement.

“With Little, Brown having voluntarily withdrawn their book from the marketplace last week, the Random House authors and publishers of the books involved will not be commenting further on this matter,” Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum said yesterday.

The Record of Bergen County, N.J., also announced yesterday that it would hire a service to review the articles that Viswanathan wrote for the newspaper during internships in 2003 and 2004.

“Some of her writing needed heavy editing, some of it was very strong,” said Theoden Janes, an editor at The Record. “The book deal was an enormous shock; the way this has all played out, in such a short amount of time, is even more surprising.”

A call for comment placed to Viswanathan’s cellphone yesterday was not returned.


Whether Viswanathan is allowed to keep her share of the reported half-million-dollar advance depends on the terms of the contract, according to Justin Hughes, the director of the intellectual property law program at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law. Alloy Entertainment, a book-packaging firm that helped the sophomore develop her novel, reportedly received part of the advance.

Pietsch told The Times last Wednesday that the publishing house would not sue Viswanathan for breach of contract. Most book deals include clauses stipulating that its content must be original, according to Hughes.

“I really don’t know how often book deals get cancelled for any other reason than failure to deliver, but you can bet it’s very rare,” Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

According to legal experts, it is possible to plagiarize a work without infringing on its copyright.

“If I use a sentence from another work and pass it off as my own without citing it or quoting it, that might not be copyright infringement, because I wouldn’t necessarily need permission to use it,” Lawrence Lessig, a prominent intellectual property scholar at Stanford University Law School, told The Crimson last week.

Hughes said yesterday that the contract’s cancellation probably does not make Viswanathan more vulnerable to legal action, but it is a decision by a “risk-averse” publisher who no longer wishes to deal with the controversy.

“She’s not, in a sense, a desirable property at the moment,” he said. “[But] it’s hardly the end of her writing career.”


Novelist Rushdie, whose “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” recently was added to the list of novels that Viswanathan allegedly lifted from, criticized the sophomore yesterday.

“I do not accept the idea that this could have been accidentally or innocently done,” Rushdie told CNN-IBN, an Indian-based network. “The passages are too many and the similarities are too extensive.”

Rushdie said he blamed both Viswanathan and her publisher for the fiasco.

“I know when I write a book, it is my name on the book,” he said. “So I stand or fall by what I sign. And so must she.”

—Staff writer David Zhou can be reached at