What happens when an Award-winning novelist admits her work was copied?

Shin Kyung-sook, a renowned Korean novelist has acknowledged the allegations that she plagiarised the Korean interpretation of a Japanese story. In a public apology, she has finally broken a week long silence after Author Lee Eung-jun wrote in an article published on Huffington Post Korea that Shin’s “Legend,” a collection of short stories published in 1996, was lifted from the Korean translation of “Patriotism” (1961) by the late Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.

“I sincerely apologise to the literary writer who raised the issue as well as all my acquaintances, and above all, many readers who read my novels…. Everything is my fault.” She made an attempt to defend herself by stating that she was in fact yet to read the patriotism story and couldn’t remember this action. However her publisher has withdrawn a collection of her short stories in response to the allegation.

For an Asian Literary Prize winner, the consequences are both professional and ethical. The problem lies in the fact that the 52 year old writer ought to have been fully aware of copyright laws and ways to avoid plagiarism. It could have very easily blown into a serious ethical and perhaps legal issue. Best known for “Please Look after Mom,” which sold about 2 million copies and was translated in 19 countries, it was rather shocking that she could be less vigilant with short story translations. If the circumstances were different, failing to take full responsibility for this crime could have led to the offending plagiarist paying monetary penalties.

This case has become the topic of discussion throughout the local literary circle because Shin is not only a well-known author in Korea but also in the league of writers currently on the international scene. Considering the fact that some forms of plagiarism may also be deemed a criminal offense, a prison sentence could very well come knocking at the door. It has so far prompted controversy with a civic activist calling for Seoul prosecutors to investigate Shin for fraud.

The penalties for plagiarism are extensive, no one gets off scot free, not even a professional writer. It is, therefore, a trying time for Shin, raising questions as to whether this may be the end of the road for her. “No matter how hard I think, however, I can’t announce the end of my writing career,” Shin said, adding how literature has become an important aspect of her life.

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