While conscious plagiarism is obviously morally culpable, as well as ground for a civil suit when it rises to theft of intellectual property, I wonder whether the small pieces of others' writing that float in writers' brains but seem to them like their own -- or the phrases spontaneously generated that happen to be identical to ones already written -- tend to generate outrage or litigation. For example, in trying to find a Raymond Carver story online instead of having to buy it (how's that for stealing?), I noticed that another novel lifts a famous sentence from that story.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: "They leaned into the door as if against a wind, and braced themselves."
Alpenglow (Romance in the Rockies): "They leaned into the door as if against the wind, bracing themselves."
Janet G. Go may have never read Carver, but because her publisher let her work onto GoogleBooks, it's examinable in this fashion. The benefits of gaining readers, particularly for a little-known author, probably outweigh any cost to reputation if bits of copied -- whether intentionally, unintentionally, Jungian collective unconsciously -- material are detected. The use of GoogleBooks as a plagiarism detector was noted when the service began, and again a couple months ago when an author was outed by a Washington Post book review. The November Slate piece takes a skeptical view toward repeating even a single sentence of nine words, and Go's sentence is identical to Carver's for the first eight words, the ones that led me to her book in the first place.