Plagiarism in Pop Culture: Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin is a comedy/drama about a devout Catholic woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated and, despite being a virgin, finds herself pregnant.

The show began in 2014 and is currently ongoing, with 42 episodes, and the series having just finished its second season as of this writing.

The show focuses on Jane Villanueva (the titular character), her family, her relationship and, after the first season, her baby. Done in the style of a telenovela, the series has a slew of plots and subplots woven throughout.

One of those recurring subplots in the show involves Jane being an aspiring writer, and follows her struggles to come up with ideas and find a publisher for her work. However, as we’ve discussed elsewhere in this series, there are authors there are stories about plagiarism and Jane the Virgin is no different.

The story itself actually starts in the first season but reaches a peak in the second when Jane receives a copy of her favorite author’s book and sees a bit too much of her own writing for comfort.

Note: I normally don’t provide spoiler warnings with these but, since this is a new series, it’s worth noting that this write-up may give away details and plot points if you aren’t caught up.

The Plot

Jane the Virgin Massage Image

The plot actually begins in Episode 15 of Season One of the show, simply entitled Chapter 15. There, Jane learns that her favorite romance novelist, Angelique Harper, is in town and Jane makes arrangements to meet her and hand her a manuscript she’d been working on.

However, things went comically awry and Jane was mistaken for Angelique’s masseuse. She then gave Angelique a 90-minute massage, but did manage to slip her a copy of the first chapter of a book she was working on.

That subplot returned in Chapter 36, which was Episode 14 of Season Two, when Jane’s boyfriend, Michael, gives her a hardcover copy of Angelique’s latest book. However, after cracking the book open, Jane immediately becomes overcome with the feeling that the book is a plagiarism of her chapter.

Jane and her boyfriend begin work on assembling a plagiarism case, even contacting a district attorney who offers advice on what needs to be shown.

Shortly after this, Jane learns that Angelique is doing a book signing at a local bookstore and, with her 9-month pregnant friend Petra, goes to the store to confront her. However, just as Jane was next in line, Petra goes into labor and Jane postpones the altercation to rush her friend to the hospital.

At the hospital, Petra, desperate for a distraction from her labor pains, asks Jane to read from her manuscript. While the reading doesn’t provide any significant relief from the pain, as Jane re-reads her work, she realized that her work is not that similar to Angelique’s (outside a similarity she pulled from elsewhere) and ends up letting the plagiarism allegations go.

Understanding the Plagiarism

Jane the Virgin

This is easily the most original of the stories we’ve looked at so far. Not only is this a modern TV series, but the story doesn’t involve poetry plagiarism and actually addresses some of the legal aspects of dealing with plagiarism.

However, much like with The Waltons, this was also a story of plagiarism only in the character’s head. But, unlike The Waltons, Jane did not believe she had plagiarized, but rather, that she had been a victim of plagiarism.

This feeling is extremely common and the testament to that is the trail of frivolous lawsuits that are filed every year against famous authors, film studios, musicians, etc. from people who claim that they were ripped off.

For example, half a dozen people filed lawsuits against James Cameron over his film Avatar, another woman sued Disney claiming that Frozen was based on her life and another man sued claiming that The Matrix was a rip off of his screenplay about a plot of Adolf Hitler’s son trying to wipe out non-immortal people.

However, where I see this the most is in my own inbox. Several times a week, both here and at my business, CopyByte, I receive requests for help in proving that some major phenomenon is a plagiarism of their work.

What is perhaps most difficult to believe in the episode is that Jane, after self-reflection, realizes the similarities aren’t that great. Most people in her position, in my experience, just become more obsessed and find similarities that just aren’t there or aren’t evidence of copying.

Another issue that I took was that Jane and Michael received some fairly questionable advice on how to build a plagiarism case. They were told to first prove that their work came earlier than Angelique’s and, while that certainly is necessary (and it led to a crucial plot point in another storyline), the biggest immediate hurdle they had was proving access to the work.

Even if Jane’s book did come first (which it’s unclear if it did), there’s zero evidence Angelique received the copy of Jane’s work. Jane gave it to her in the privacy of a massage room with no receipt or other evidence. There is no proof that Angelique received, let alone read, Jane’s manuscript.

It’s also worth noting that there was no mention of copyright registration. Even if Jane did have a copyright infringement case, she would have been very limited in what she could have claimed because, most likely, the chapter wasn’t registered in any way.

All in all, the scene where Jane “discovers” the plagiarism and the rage that she feels from it is very accurate. Even the sequence where she is motivated to go to the bookstore to confront Angelique is believable. However, the scene where she realizes she’s wrong seems a bit too convenient and the advice they got for building a plagiarism case was pretty questionable all things considered.

Still, an interesting look at a side of plagiarism that’s very rarely seen in popular culture.

Bottom Line

Jane the Virgin is, for the most part, a fun, sappy comedy show. But that doesn’t mean it shies away from serious feelings. While romance is certainly core to the show, it also discusses topics of family, religion, race, culture and more. It’s an interesting mix of humor, romance and seriousness.

It’s handling of plagiarism is very much in line with the show. The approach is realistic enough to form a real emotional connection, but the conclusion is neat and somewhat simplistic, wrapping it up cleanly to advance other plot points.

Still, it’s very interesting to see a show treat plagiarism in this way, not only exploring how it feels to be plagiarized, but dealing with the nuances of what is and is not a plagiarism when it comes to similarity.

All in all, it’s definitely a unique portrayal of plagiarism and a pretty good one. I just hope that no one else gets the idea to call up their supposed plagiarist’s agent and try to glean when the original draft came in.

Some things are best left to subpoenas…

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