Bonnette v. Byrne: the fight of the century (or at least the week)
I’ve always been one to root for the underdog. That’s why I’m rooting for Aussie Vanessa Bonnette, author, teacher, holistic healer and founder of something called Shekinah Therapy. Vanessa and I have been corresponding privately; she initially contacted me to thank me for mentioning her on my May 25 post. She knows I’m a cynic about holistic stuff. But she also knows that I’m no fan of The Secret or of its creator and producer, Rhonda Byrne.
Vanessa, who has been conducting international workshops for a decade or so (currently she's in Singapore), claims that Rhonda plagiarized parts of her work – specifically, portions of a 2003 book she wrote called Empowered for the New Era. Vanessa detailed her claims on her web site, and Australia’s A Current Affair (the show that recently "confronted" investment guru David
Scammer Schirmer) also did a segment about her on May 14, which they titled "The Secret Stoush." (I love that word, "stoush." I also love "spruiker," which is sort of the Aussie equivalent of "hustledork.")
Now Rhonda and gang have struck back against Vanessa, going to Federal Court (in Australia) with claims that Rhonda and her Secret franchise have suffered "loss and damage" because of Vanessa’s allegations. They claim that sales of The Secret brand and title "are likely to be affected" as a result.
Gimme a break. Do they honestly think Vanessa's claims will stop Rhonda from making money hand over fist with her infomercial, book and auxiliary products?
Anyway, Rhonda’s team insists that Rhonda had no prior knowledge of Vanessa’s work. However, in a comment on "The Secret Notes" blog last month, Vanessa wrote that in 2005, she had sent a promotional copy of her book to Channel 9. Rhonda worked for Channel 9 in her pre-Secret life, and, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Channel 9 reportedly advanced Rhonda 10 percent of the three million dollar budget to create The Secret.
Now, whether Rhonda plagiarized Vanessa or just unwittingly imitated her is not for me to say. But to me, that’s not even the biggest issue, though it certainly is to Vanessa, and I wish her well in her attempts to get the truth out. To me one of the biggest issues is the amoral attitude that the Secretrons seemed to have about Vanessa’s plight. This is in keeping with the general amorality that seems to be rampant in the Secret/LOA culture; I blogged about it at length the other day.
When Vanessa's story first came onto my radar, via a now-defunct thread on the Secret/Powerful Intentions forum, I was appalled by some of the Secretrons’ opinions regarding the allegations. I'm not talking about those who disagreed that it was plagiarism; that's a matter of opinion at this point. No, I'm talking about those who said that even if it was plagiarism, it was no big deal because a greater good was being served.
Although I quoted some of their remarks the other day, I’m going to do so again because I feel they illustrate my point about how The Secret has encouraged (and revealed) an unprincipled narcissism in many of its followers. As you’ll see, the remarks have not been edited for spelling, grammar, or logic.
"…that other author, honestly when you look at her, its obvious that she has not applied anything from LOA to herself, so its natural that people are not going to believe what she says.
"If she believes the LOA, then she should stop complaining!"
. . . . .
"…as with ‘the other woman’ [Vanessa] she is a perfect example as to why her book wasnt successful in bringing the information from the universe through and Rhondas did (Rhonda is genuine in bringing this info thru) im sure she was chosen for the pureness and truth of her ...no one 'stole' anything like Rhonda said in the DVD about the secret exisiting for ages and all of the people who knew the secret ..she merely put it together and HER book/DVD took ....people related to it ..and were ready for it .. it is the way it has always been people against and people for ..it is designed to reinforce the truth ..the knowledge we know inside ourselves to be true ..thats all that matters there will always be the yin and yang to keep balance to the universe ..to make those nonbelievers WANT to believe reguardless to what is being presented and in what light ..that is what is meant to be .. know that even if the story was made to "look" a certain way you know that it will reach those whgo were meant to be reached and they will seek .."
. . . . .
"Rhonda has definately done miracles that this ‘other woman’ hasn't in bringing LOA to the consciousness of the masses."
. . . . .
"Is it former-colleague-now-a-millionaire-envy going down at 9?"
. . . . .
"Is there a less successful author wanting something not rightfully hers or does she really believe her work was stolen?"
. . . . .
"I do think that Rhonda may have plagerised, but i honelst dont care! The point is, that the secret is helping people live happeir lives and has given power back to alot of people, who felt helpless for so long.
"And it is wokring for me, so i dont care if the other lady has been ripped off. If she was able to get this message across to people half aswell as Rhonda, then someone would have actually heard of her."
Vanessa was reading those comments too. After I wrote my May 25 post, I got this email from her. She has given me permission to quote her as long as I give her web site address and her email address, which I’ll do at the end of this post.
Blessings from Australia! I would like to thank you for putting out the information about the copyright infringements of my work for people to view and make their decisions, I greatly appreciate that.
To the lady who stated that my work "doesn't come through" etc should view my website to see that in fact my work has been impacting people's lives for over a decade i.e. I'm working in Singapore in June and the second edition of my book is going to be released soon.
Byrne's lawyers are working hard to silence me but I am adamant the public have the right to know the truth about The Secret.
In regard to Schirmer the Current Affair program is going to reveal his fraudulent activities of get rich quick scams affecting 1000's (of) people…
I replied to Vanessa, telling her I planned to do a follow-up piece on her story. When she wrote back to me, she said, "I’m curious. Just what is it you don’t like about The Secret and Rhonda Byrne?" I replied:
... there are so many things. I do not like the simplistic way that ideas such as the Law Of Attraction have been repackaged (and, I feel, misrepresented) in The Secret. I find the aggressive promotion of the DVD (and the book) downright obnoxious. Matter of fact, I have always considered The Secret DVD to be a glorified infomercial for the expensive services and products sold by the talking heads whom Rhonda hand-picked to be in the film. I do not like the pseudoscientific pronouncements by folks who can barely spell "quantum physics," let alone understand it. I do not like the way The Secret seems to encourage narcissism and laziness (as if the world, particularly the U.S., needs any more of either!). I most especially do not like Rhonda Byrne's "let them eat cake" attitude towards the ill and unfortunate of the world.
Rhonda herself strikes me as a dilettante and a bit of an airhead who happened to be lucky enough to be in the TV industry and was able to scrabble together the resources to produce her DVD. She then prevailed upon the 'stars' of her DVD to promote the heck out of it and get people panting and lusting for it months before it was released. Brilliant marketing, to be sure; I'll give her that.
Even if Rhonda's original motives in creating The Secret were altruistic, it does seem greed has taken over. Now, I am no fan of Esther and Jerry Hicks and their entities Abraham (again, as you may find out from reading my blog), but I do respect intellectual property, and it seems that Rhonda got a bit greedy with the Hicks. They were wise to back out of her franchise.
Regarding your case, I am of course not an intellectual properties or copyright attorney and cannot make any legal pronouncements. However, it does appear to me that at the very least Rhonda "borrowed" some ideas from you. Unfortunately she has the big bucks (which means the big lawyers) on her side, as well as her throngs of adoring fans. But I'm rooting for the underdog here.
To which Vanessa replied:
Thanks so much for your in depth response. I am of the same opinion in regards to the "new wagers" as you call them and in fact it is the one of the reasons why I am so adamant to maintain my integrity in this field. I can only hope that in the end "the weeds" will be removed from the good wheat as Jesus said and the truth prevails for all mankind.
Byrne's marketing of the secret was clever – but like any other form of secular advertising is simply "pretty packaging covering empty content". Her book is inconsistent, incoherent and lacks depth, substance – all the things which are contained in my work which I would like people to have i.e. the whole truth, not just superficialities.
I don't plan taking Byrne on in a legal battle for the reasons you stated which is I why I have to rely on unconventional methods such as your blog, my website, media, word of mouth etc. So again, I appreciate your exposure.
The Schirmer program is on ACA tonight so I'm looking forward to seeing the whole story – it is done by the same man who interviewed me. Once my story aired two weeks ago a whole lot of emails started to roll in and investigations started from there so it should be interesting to see what transpires from here on…
As noted above, whether or not this is a clear case of plagiarism is not for me to say. At the very least it seems that Rhonda may have "borrowed" a few ideas from Vanessa without proper attribution. I suppose it will be battled out in court now, though that apparently was not Vanessa’s original intent. However, once the
flying monkeys attorneys get involved, all bets are off.
PS – Here’s an interesting story about Rhonda and her mom. At the time the story was published May 19, Mom was still waiting for a plane ticket so she could visit her celebrity daughter at her new home in LA. She said this about Rhonda: "She is very generous giving all those millions to charity, but I have to admit she hasn't given me a single dollar, though I'm expecting she'll send me some financial help soon. That's what she told me. In the meantime, I'm OK. I get by on my state pension of $1050 a month." (That's about $869.00 US.)
Rhonda has since told her family to stop talking to the press.