From the Vault: My Battle Against Plagiarizer Frank X. Harris

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One of the Baen reprints of the expanded edition.

Jim Kjelgaard (author of the famous Big Red and Irish Red) published the novel Fire-Hunter, the stone-age story of Hawk after he is expelled from his tribe, in 1951. It went through several paperback reprintings throughout the 1960s before going out of print. In 1991 it was republished, with the blessing of the Kjelgaard estate, in an expanded edition entitled The Hunter Returns, with new material written by David Drake. Sadly, both versions are currently out of print.

In 2004, Frank X. Harris used the services of iUniverse.com (a publish-on-demand company that B&N has invested in) to publish a novel called Fire Hunter, a book blatantly stolen from the Kjelgaard original. I stumbled across it in 2007 while looking for a copy of the original. I certainly was not the first to notice what he’d done, but I still sent emails to iUniverse, B&N, Random House (which currently prints a number of Kjelgaard titles), Baen Publishing (which last printed The Hunter Returns), and David Drake.

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The classic cover.

I received replies from the president and CEO of iUniverse assuring me that she was personally looking into the matter. She ordered a copy of the Kjelgaard book so she could compare the two and said she would contact her attorney as soon as the Kjelgaard book arrived. For now, at least, they have already taken the book off their website. I also got an email from David Drake, who said a bookseller had told him about this a year or so earlier, and he had forwarded the information to the Kjelgaard estate at the time.

At first, not having the book in hand, I didn’t know if it was a word-for-word copy, but the synopsis made it clear that Harris had at the very least shamelessly lifted the title, characters, plot, and setting directly from Kjelgaard. Eventually I found some of the text online somewhere, and even a cursory glance proves that Harris has simply rewritten Kjelgaard’s work (and poorly rewritten at that), retaining many of the same incidents and character names throughout. Let’s have an example.

From the classic Kjelgaard novel:

The spear wobbled in flight, brushed the woolly beast’s side, and bounded off.

Grunting in anger, the rhinoceros wheeled suddenly. Unbelievably agile for anything so huge, he twisted back, dipping his long head. When the sharp thorns of his snout came up, the foremost one slithered squarely into Short-Leg’s belly. The skin on the man’s back bulged, then the horn broke through, and Short-Leg was lifted from the ground.

He screamed once, while his dangling arms and legs writhed and twisted. The rhinoceros pivoted, and, still grunting, trotted across the meadow, bearing Short-Leg’s drooping body with him.

Now the bowdlerized infringement by Frank X. Harris:

The spear did not fly to where he had aimed it, the neck of the rhino. Instead it hit a heavily muscled shoulder, and stuck in only slightly. With a burst of lightning speed, the rhino whirled around, tossing its head, and the terrible horns caught Gimp through his arm. The rhino lifted its head high, shaking Gimp on his long horns.

You’ll notice this is one of the cribbed scenes where Harris took the time to change a character’s name, from “Short-Leg” to, yes, “Gimp.”

Harris’s infringement is still up on Amazon, but I assume the Kjelgaard estate will be contacting them to request its removal. For now the title is off iUniverse, although they have sold this infringement off and on for years now (they took it down for a while in 2007 when I first contacted them about it), so I’ll be keeping an eye on that site.

I ask anyone who reads this post to expose the Harris title for what it is on any site where you happen to see it. Post a review, contact the webmaster, make some noise. Harris should not be allowed to sell this unauthorized version of a classic Jim Kjelgaard title.

*Featured photo caption: Detail of original wraparound cover art by Ralph Ray Jr.

[Original version posted on my defunct Live Journal, June 15, 2010. This updated version also incorporates portions of my October 1, 2007, posts on the subject on the Trek BBS.]

UPDATE, PART I: Sadly, at the time of this post, the plagiarized book is still listed on Amazon; perhaps the estate never sent a C&D or perhaps Amazon hasn’t properly policed their listings, something they generally seem loath to do. The listing does have several reviews (including one from me) pointing out that it’s blatant theft and recommending people get Kjelgaard’s original instead. The book doesn’t appear to be back on iUniverse or AuthorHouse (which I think now owns iUniverse), though it’s a little difficult to be certain because both sites have a truly craptacular search engine.

UPDATE, PART II: As of 2011, the original novel is in the public domain in Canada, according to Project Guttenberg Canada. Nevertheless, it’s still plagiarism to copy someone else’s work without attribution of the original creator, even if it’s no longer copyright infringement. Overall, it’s just a dick move. On a related note, there is now a Kindle version of Kjelgaard’s original on Amazon for $2.50, but if you look inside, you’ll find this note from Distributed Proofreaders Canada, who produced it: “This eBook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions.” Emphasis added, for crying out loud, and what’s going on? You can download it for free at Fadedpage, but you should make sure the book is in the public domain of your country before doing so. Because respect authors! Don’t be a Francis X. Harris.


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