Former Facebook employee says Dave Eggers copied her memoir in his new novel

Former Facebook employee Kate Losse says Eggers used her personal story as the narrative for his novel 'The Circle.'

'The Circle' is by Dave Eggers.

Accusations that Dave Eggers “ripped off” the memoir of a former Facebook employee in his new novel, “The Circle,” are raising difficult questions about plagiarism and gender bias in the publishing world.

Kate Losse, author of “The Boy Kings,” in which Losse dishes on life inside Facebook, has accused Eggers of “rewrit[ing] my book as his own novel” in a blog post on medium.com.

“From all appearances, it is an unnervingly similar book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived and worked in this world and am also a good writer),” she writes. “The difference is that Eggers is a famous man and I am not.”

The accusation has drawn much attention online, including the likes of NPR, Jezebel, and the Atlantic, among others. So far, however, no comment from Eggers himself. 

Losse has admitted that she has not read Eggers’ book (excerpted here in the New York Times), but says that “if you look at the description/plot arc/main character name it is disturbingly similar.”

Both Losse’s memoir and Eggers’ novel examine the life of a woman working her way up through a tech company, Facebook in Losse’s case and a fictional company called The Circle in Eggers’. 

But perhaps more interesting than Losse’s claim itself is the issue it raises about plagiarism and gender bias in the publishing world. 

Plagiarism and fraud charges are nearly as old as literature itself (see: Jonah Lehrer, James Frey, even Jane Goodall and Greg Mortenson), which brings us to wonder at what point is it considered “inspiration,” and when does it cross the line into outright stealing, plagiarism, or fraud?

Art imitates life, as such works as Curtis Sittenfeld’s “American Wife,” (clearly a portrait of Laura Bush), and Joe Klein’s “Primary Colors,” (a thinly veiled account of the Clintons) can attest to.

And then there’s the argument that everything has already been written and good literature is merely intelligent recycling.

Eggers’ prior books on the Lost Boys of Sudan and Katrina survivors certainly follow this model, though in these cases he named sources for his material, while he neglects to do so in “The Circle,” according to Losse.

Not having read either book, it is still unclear to us whether or not Eggers “ripped off” of Losse’s book and whether or not he must pay her credit.

What is perhaps more interesting is Losse’s rumination as to why the media ignored her and “The Boy Kings,” and lavished praise on Eggers and “The Circle.” The culprit, according to her: gender bias.

Writes Losse, “our work is supposedly minor, less valuable, and limited to the personal, where the work of a white man is presumed to be 'universal', 'essential', and relevant to all. This assumption is how, when I published 'The Boy Kings' ... the media made the sexist assumption that this book was not important, because how could a woman writing about technology be important?”

She continues, “The assumption the media makes in these instances is that something is not important unless a familiar, male white face does it. So, when Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook, [the media heaped praise on him].”

It’s certainly not the first time observers have pointed to gender bias in literature, even children’s books. Though still widely disputed, that problem appears to be documented and clear.

What’s not clear to us is whether, in this case, the attention paid to Eggers’ novel is due simply to his famous name and not his gender. Though gender bias in literature is real, we tend to think in this case Eggers’ received more attention than Losse simply because he is far more famous.

Still, Losse’s accusation raises important – and difficult – questions for the publishing world. 

What do you think? Is this a case of gender bias? Did Eggers steal Losse’s premise, or was it merely inspiration?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.