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Recent Accusations of Plagiarism Against HASA Authors

Release Date: 19 Nov 06
Category: General Announcement

The official statement by HASA Site Managers about recent false claims of plagiarism lodged against HASA authors.


Former HASA member PV, also writing under the name Henry Plantagenet, was banned from HASA on Thursday, November 16 for engaging in malicious harassment of other HASA members. She falsely accused six HASA authors of plagiarizing her work. Her behavior before, during and after the complaint was egregious enough that she was deemed "toxic" to the community and permanently banned.

HASA takes claims of plagiarism very seriously. We will not tolerate anyone stealing the words and work of another author. We also will not tolerate reckless and malicious accusations against honorable and innocent authors. This incident is serious enough that we are breaking with our usual standard of silence on discipline matters to warn the larger fandom community of the pernicious behavior of this person.

We are making the case public for two reasons:

  1. PV's behavior now has a pattern. She has done this same thing multiple times on multiple sites. We suspect she will strike again and we want the fandom to be ready.
  2. PV has threatened to write a retribution piece on HASA and make false statements about the site in public. We are documenting what happened so readers will not be bamboozled by this person.

This announcement explains the background, the incident and our findings.

The Background

This is the second time in five months that HASA has received claims from PV that HASA authors have plagiarized her. In July 2006, she joined HASA and immediately submitted a formal complaint to the Site Managers that one of our members had plagiarized her. She had lodged the same complaint with the Site Manager of Council of Elrond. The complaint was taken seriously, the story alleged to contain plagiarized material was removed from public view, and a panel of five readers compared the text of the two works for evidence of plagiarism. The panel found no point of comparison between the two works and unanimously concluded that the accusation was unfounded. The accused work was returned to public view.

In November, PV again accused HASA authors of stealing her work, this time accusing six people. PV sent emails to two different HASA members claiming she was plagiarized. She also created a playlist of the stories allegedly containing passages plagiarized from her works.

The Emails

All spellings, grammar and punctuation are from the originals. The first was a reply to a reviewer of her story "Amras the Stableboy":

Thank you for your review - I have submitted several of my stories to this site, because they are being heavily plagiarised by HASA members. (Not for criticism, advice, etc.)

I might add that I did not expect any of them to be approved, for obvious reasons. :)

Here she is claiming that her works are heavily plagiarized and that there is some kind of intent to prevent her stories from being accepted to the archive.

The second was a reply to a HASA member who had emailed her:

I guess I shouldn't have lost my temper like that. But what happened was this -

The author of a story called "Lighting Fires" (or something like like that,) plagiarised that ridiculous crying scene from "Estel of Rivendell" and when she saw "Estel" up for review, shot the story down. (I know this because she later wrote to me offering to help me improve it.) Not content with that, she went on to shoot down some other stories as well, adding some rude remarks for good measure! So that's why I lost my cool.

I humbly promise not to lose it again. :)

(I guess it's actually a compliment that people like Anglachel, Jay of Lasgalen, Oshun, Dawn Felagund, EdorasLass and Gwynnyd take inspiration from my work. [Member name], you're the only person I respect around here. Hugs to you!)

Here she is claiming that six authors have plagiarized her, and that at least one of those six has purposefully targeted her stories in review.

PV then sent another email to the same member:

I've created a playlist of all the plagiarised stories I've come across so far. Check out "PV's Favourites," when you get the time.

This last email was what set the process in motion. She was clearly claiming to have been plagiarized and with her phrase "I've come across so far," gave every indication that she intended to continue to search out authors on HASA to accuse of stealing her work.

HASA's Response

A conundrum faced the Site Managers. PV was making accusations of plagiarism, but was not filing a formal complaint with the site. The Site Mangers referred to the first and third items under the HASA Site Policies Code of Conduct:

1. A claim of wrong doing is a very serious allegation, and shall not be treated lightly. They must be brought immediately and directly to the attention of the administrative staff. To make allegations of wrong doing in a general forum, rather than making use of the grievance procedure, is itself a violation of the site code of conduct and will be addressed through the formal grievance procedure.

3. A claim of wrong doing is defined as a statement that one or more administrative staff members knowingly violated any term of the administrative code of conduct, or that one or more HASA Members has knowingly violated the general code of conduct for the site. If a member believes that such a violation, whether intentional or accidental, has occurred, they are asked to bring this violation to official notice as soon as possible so that the situation can be rectified.

The first two emails cited above were sent through the HASA email system. The playlist is part of the HASA site. PV was using HASA features and resources to advance her claim that plagiarism occurred. Engaging in plagiarism is a violation of the site's code of conduct. Falsely accusing a member of doing so is also a violation. Two members brought these claims to the attention of the Site Managers. If PV's accusations of plagiarism were true, then the plagiarizing authors would be punished. If her claims were false, then she was the one who would incur penalties.

PV was contacted on Wednesday, November 15 and asked to substantiate her accusations. This is the email in its entirety:

PV,

On the 23rd of July 2006, the Site Managers of HASA sent you an email stating that your accusation of plagiarizing by some HASA members/authors was found to be unsubstantiated. A five-member panel researched your accusations and decided they were unfounded - that nothing in the authors' works were taken from any of yours.

In the last few days, we have received communication from two of our members stating that you are once again accusing our authors/members of plagiarizing. Your 'playlist' with the listed stories, six authors, and instances of inferred plagiarism has been noted and saved as part of our research into this issue.

As stated in the 23rd July email to you, HASA 'takes accusations of plagiarism very seriously, always ensuring that authors and their works are accorded appropriate credit on HASA.'

Please send us the following information so that we may research your accusations. For every claim of plagiarism, you need to present individual text files documenting the following:

  1. The date and URL(s) of when your work was made public. This establishes provenance.
  2. The specific passages from your own work that you claim were used.
  3. The specific passages you claim are examples of plagiarism.

This documentation must be sent in its entirety to the Site Manager email box no later than 12 midnight of Saturday, November 18th, 2006 US West Coast time. After we have received all documentation, we will research your claims and resolve the issue to the best of our ability.

Sincerely,
Site Managers of HASA

PV sent a Word file containing links to her own works, along with publication dates. She also stated the following:

On 15 July, 2006, I submitted a letter to the HASA authorities regarding the plagiarism of some of my stories by HASA member [Removed]. (My correspondence with the Site Manager is in my records, and I would be happy to forward it to you if required.) At this time, I was told that several members of the staff of this site (4 or 5 of them) were reading through my stories, in order to decide whether my charge was justified. I do not know the identities of these HASA members, but I do know that they were made aware of my work at this time. It is my hypothesis that several of these members proceeded to use certain ideas from my work put them through the standard HASA beta reading process and submit them to the site some months later, after this process was finished.

Coincidentally I happened to submit all five of my stories to the site, at roughly the same time that these stories began to appear. (Or it could be that these authors, on seeing my work up for review, decided to hurriedly submit their stories for review before mine became available to the general public.)

Noticing some similarities between my work and some of the other stories on the site, I sent a communication to the Site Manager, expressing my concern. At this time, I mistakenly believed that people were reading the stories in the review section of HASA, and then writing similar ones.

However, on closer examination, I noticed that many of these stories had been through a long beta-reading process, before they were submitted for review. So I conclude that these writers may have either read the stories on CoE or ff.net, or read them while investigating my claim of plagiarism by [Removed].

There are a number of accusations here.

  • Members of the original plagiarism panel turned around and plagiarized her work.
  • Works by these people are now appearing on the HASA website.
  • At least some plagiarizers saw her work in review and submitted their plagiarized works for review.
  • The stories that have been on HASA for a substantial length of time were plagiarized at an earlier date, either as a result of the original inquiry or the accused authors coming across the works on other sites.

In a follow up email, PV said:

I'd like you to also make a note of which authors researched my stories during my previous claim, and which authors declined my work which was submitted to HASA.

It is not completely clear here whether she wanted these names provided to her or simply that we should note the names. No names were provided to her in any event.

Shortly after this email was sent, PV withdrew from the process, stating she could not get a fair hearing. She concluded by saying she was writing an exposé of HASA's "corruption":

I have prepared the quotes, etc. that you requested, but upon reflection, I have decided that it would be pointless to forward the information to you. (As we all know what your decision is going to be! )

I have therefore decided to use the information I have gathered to write an essay entitled "Corruption under the waterfall" which will be a detailed account of my experiences with HASA. This will be published on the web, when it is ready.

At that point, based on her unwillingness to substantiate her accusations and her explicit intention to attack HASA, she was blocked from the site.

Invalid Claims

Claim of persecution: As to claims that the same people read PV's original complaint, subsequently plagiarized her story, and voted to decline her works in review, such claims are simply false:

  • None of the people who sat on the original panel are among the six named on her playlist.
  • Two of the alleged plagiarizers, Jay of Lasgalen and Anglachel, are prohibited from reviewing at all due to their administrative roles.
  • Two other authors did not review any of PV's stories.
  • The remaining two authors did review, and accepted as well as declined her works.

Thus, two of six people actually voted on stories. As it takes five reviewers to decline a work, even if both of these people had voted "Declined" on every story - which they did not - it would not have been sufficient to cause the stories to be rejected. Furthermore, the two authors who performed reviews did not single out PV's stories, but reviewed a collection of stories available at that time.

Rushed publication of plagiarized stories: As to PV's claims that stories were rushed into review when the accused authors saw PV was putting her stories in review, this is not borne out by the story statuses and review dates:

PV's own stories in review

Story Submitted Sent to review Completed
Amras the Stableboy 10/9/06 10/9/06 11/9/06
Estel of Rivendell 10/13/06 10/14/06 11/10/06
The Steward's Son 10/14/06 10/14/06 11/10/06
Gollum's Wedding 10/16/06 11/01/06 11/14/06
Haldir of L'Oreal 10/17/06 Not Reviewed  

Please remember that when a story has been submitted for review, it is invisible to the general membership. Therefore, once the story is in review, no one who is not reviewing would know it was there.

Of the six stories PV claims contain plagiarized text:

  • Two are at Beta status and have never been in review.
  • One is at General status and has never been in review.
  • One has been published on HASA since 2004.
  • One was submitted for review 10/14/06 and completed review 10/29/06.
  • One was submitted for review 10/21/06 and completed review 10/31/06.

There is no pattern here to indicate that the six accused authors tried to get stories into review to compete with PV's stories. While several stories did have new chapters added during the late October to early November time frame, the publication dates on the chapters indicate that the authors were following their own publication schedule, not responding to PV's stories in review.

Copied text: As for the substance of PV's complaints, three of the alleged instances of plagiarism were scenes showing an older sibling comforting a younger sibling. The other three stories have scenes where a standard literary device (a song triggering memories, a character doing a pratfall, a couple standing under the stars) is called an act of plagiarism.

To give PV the benefit of every doubt, even a generic device, such as a song triggering memories, can be substantively copied. That means use of exact words and phrases, use of the same character(s) with the same plot lead-ins, and/or identical actions within the scene. The uniqueness of the original must be present in the copy. Was there copying? We cannot say with 100% certainty one way or the other, since PV refuses to provide side by side text, only a general statement in her playlist that indicates the scenes she believes are stolen.

However, given the lack of any credible evidence that six widely read and highly respected authors in the fandom all suddenly decided within the space of the same few weeks that, in their vastly disparate stories, they needed to steal the same few generic scenes from obscure stories, and given that the complaint was lodged by a member who had filed false claims of plagiarism in the past, we find no validity to the claims.

We also cannot say why PV made these claims in the first place. Surely she must have known, given the original incident, that HASA would require her to substantiate her accusations. Only she knows why she decided to bring false charges against these authors.

Privacy and Anonymity in Complaints

Let's face it - we all do and say things we wish we hadn't. Sometimes, it can be a pretty bad mistake. HASA strives to prevent conflicts and ameliorate misunderstandings rather than punish, presuming mistakes rather than intentional harm. In doing so, we run up against the very human impulse to get revenge on the person or people who "wronged" the complainant. We are often accused of protecting the guilty or having things to hide. HASA administrators, particularly the Site Managers, absorb significant hostility and recrimination for defending the identity of individuals who are called upon to make judgments under difficult circumstances. Even so, we think that this incident is a perfect illustration of why this is a good policy, despite the very real toll it takes on our volunteers.

The first plagiarism complaint investigation was conducted quietly and with discretion. When the claim was found to have no merit, we did not punish PV. She appeared to be sincere, if wrong, in her belief that she had been copied. We said:

Dear PV,

We take accusations of plagiarism very seriously, always ensuring that authors and their works are accorded appropriate credit on HASA. We recognize both the pain of the author who believes her work plagiarized and the gravity of the accusation.

In general, stories can be more similar in fanfiction, where we are all working from a common set of books; many of us gravitate to the same situations or gap fillers to explore, or use similar literary devices. We tend to use the words or phrases that Tolkien did, and model emotional scenes on his. The use of a literary device, whether suggested by another work or thought up independently, is not considered plagiarism (although some authors will credit the originator.)

For this reason, we had five volunteers independently look at the examples provided. The reviewers all agreed that there were no similar phrases or sentences, and definitely not word-for-word copying. They did not find the situations and language more similar than many other stories at HASA or other Tolkien-themed archives.

We had taken the story in question offline while investigating. Now that the investigation is complete, the novel will be returned to public view unless there is compelling evidence we have overlooked. We will send our findings along to the Council of Elrond staff, since both authors' tales are on that board also.

Inspiration and writing are very personal, but many of us come to similar stories anyway, especially within fanfiction. We hope that does not interfere with your enjoyment of your gift of writing.

Feel free to contact HASA with any questions,

Sincerely,
Site Managers of HASA
Story Managers of HASA

It seemed best to allow PV to reflect on why this was not a case of plagiarism. This is how all claims of plagiarism had been handled in the past on HASA - with discretion, integrity, and a desire to avoid public embarrassment to either accuser or accused. Reflect for a minute on how you would prefer to be treated if you had brought a sincere but false accusation against someone else.

Move forward to today. PV has returned with multiple claims of plagiarism, alleges skullduggery behind the scenes to prevent her stories from being accepted, appears to be on the look-out for more authors to indict, and indicates that she intends to expose the people who are stealing from her. Now, the presumption of anonymity serves to protect the original panelists from harassment. It also protects the reviewers who PV fantasizes are out to block her stories from getting accepted to the archive. A person with an agenda and an axe to grind is not allowed to go after other members who are going about their own business.

Innocent and Honorable Authors

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

"Othello" (3.3.180-86)

The true wrong in all of this is the damage PV has tried to do to the good names of the six accused authors. Nothing has been demonstrated by this incident except PV's determination to do harm to innocent and honorable authors. HASA wishes to state unequivocally that none of these authors has committed any wrong. In alphabetical order:

We hope that HASA readers will send these authors a note of support. Better yet, read one of their terrific stories and leave them a comment!

We encourage Writers Workshop level members to please visit our new forum "Originality and Authority in Fanfiction" to record their thoughts.

Sincerely,
Site Managers of HASA

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