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RWA Official Response to AP Article

There are heated discussions on various loops and blogs regarding the accusations of plagiarism against a published romance author. Some questions have also been raised regarding RWA’s stand on the matter. To be clear, RWA does not condone plagiarism or any type of copyright infringement. (Please see RWA’s Code of Ethics http://www.rwanational.org/cs/code_of_ethics).

RWA takes all accusations of plagiarism very seriously. RWA also stands behind the idea that guilt or innocence should be determined after a thorough review of all documents and sources, not based on discussions or articles found on the internet or in other news media.

Within RWA, there is a process in place to examine claims of plagiarism made against RWA members. That process includes a set of procedures that affords the individual due process. Any member found to be in violation of RWA’s Code of Ethics is subject to disciplinary action including loss of membership.

According to information RWA has, Cassie Edwards was once a member of RWA and is listed on RWA’s Honor Roll; however, it appears she allowed her membership to lapse four or more years ago. If guilt is admitted or established, RWA will take appropriate steps with regard to the Honor Roll listing.

Members have raised questions about a news article that includes a quote by RWA’s president. The president was asked to give an expert opinion on the issue based solely upon information available in internet blogs. The president does not have enough first-hand information to adequately assess the allegations.

Romance Writers of America (posted with permission).

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

33 Comments

  1. Bev Stephans
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 17:36:10

    If RWA had made this statement originally, there wouldn’t have been such an uproar. Why do people wait until there is a brouhaha to address a situation realistically?

  2. Robin
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 17:38:26

    No kidding, Bev. Not perfect, but way better than the first, that’s for sure.

  3. JC Wilder
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 18:50:34

    Bev – RWA has a long history of being wishy-washy. They rarely ever take a serious stand on something until its too late to be relevent. But that’s just me. :)

  4. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 19:00:13

    I do suspect, though, they’ll try their damnedest to find reasons not to remove an author from their “Honor Roll”. (Come to think of it, maybe if RWA started a Dishonor Roll, romance authors would be cured once and for all of the Cutnpaste Syndrome.)

  5. Bev Stephans
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 19:07:00

    K.Z., I like the idea of a ‘dishonor roll’. Make ‘em sit up and take notice.

  6. TeddyPig
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 19:20:20

    *evil laugh* I like that idea. *Teddypig runs off wringing hands with glee*

  7. GrowlyCub
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 20:21:31

    From something that was posted on an email list I’m on, it seems RWA sent out a ‘do not discuss’ email to their membership and to let the lawyers handle it.

    I’m not a member, but I’d love to see this if that’s really what they sent. I’d have hoped that they’d take this opportunity to educate their writers on what constitutes plagiarism and how it contrasts with copyright infringement, but instead it sounded like RWA thinks CE didn’t do anything wrong until a legal indictment had been handed down.

    I hope it’s just one author who misread…

  8. Nora Roberts
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 20:30:58

    I’m a charter member of RWA and received no such e-mail. In fact, no e-mail at all.

  9. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 20:45:48

    The only email I got from RWA seems to be pretty much word for word as the one Jane posted.

    I haven’t gotten any ‘hush’ type emails.

    And I’ve gotta play devil’s advocate for a minute here, but it’s regarding RWA’s stand and not in any way trying to say plagiarism shouldn’t be discussed. ;) As some people probably know by now, I just love to offered unsolicited opinions… soooooo… here it is.

    In all honestly, RWA is probably handling it the best way they can~ if they don’t treat this incidence as they would treat similar incidences, it could reflect badly on them.

    While the passive-aggressive thing might not seem appropriate to some, what if it was something where the author accused was innocent? How badly would that be then for them to lash into into somebody undeserving?

    By doing their investigating, whatever that consists of, they can make sure that isn’t the case. More, although they may have read the passages posted, if I was handling something like this, I wouldn’t base my decision solely on blogs, either~no offense intended to the Ja(y)nes or the SB blog. I’d get the material and read it myself and then make my decision, but that is something that would likely take a few days.

    I am NOT saying, by any means, that I don’t see anything worthy of concern. That’s not what I’m saying at all, but if an organization doesn’t treat all members (or former members in this case) equally, that reflects every bit as badly as passive-aggressive…worse, IMO. I’d rather be a place that plays CYA than a place that plays faves.

  10. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 20:47:27

    I'm a charter member of RWA and received no such e-mail. In fact, no e-mail at all.

    Nora, if I forward you a copy of mine, can I be your BFF in Kentucky? I’m so terribly jealous of MD BFF Angela.

  11. Kristen
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 21:03:01

    I didn’t get the email either.

  12. Diana Castilleja
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 21:19:06

    I haven’t seen anything but the first either.

  13. GrowlyCub
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 21:23:15

    Hi!

    Thanks for letting me know. I’m not clear whether I’m allowed to quote the author since she didn’t post here but on a romance list I’m on.

    Basically she said this should be handled through legal channels and until a complaint was lodged, until a legal decision was made nobody had really access to the information to form an opinion on this matter and that RWA was the source of this assessment.

    Since I couldn’t find any reference to that in the RWA statement I thought there had to be a second email.

    Growly

  14. Sharon
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 21:30:27

    I saw the official statement from RWA. It came through as a RWA ALERT email. So if you aren’t signed up for that, you wouldn’t get the email. I’ve seen nothing about not talking about it though and I’ve heard many RWA chapters are talking about it quite a bit.

  15. Julie Leto
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 21:52:17

    I hope RWA chapters are talking about it!

    And I have serious doubts that RWA would suggest that the members be quiet. But even if they did, no one has to listen except the board of directors.

  16. GrowlyCub
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 22:15:34

    Hi Julie and all!

    I didn’t think RWA told their members to hush that’s why I asked, since this author made it seem that RWA had indicated that nobody should discuss this until the courts had spoken.

    Apart from that, I am a bit concerned by the part of the RWA statement that read ‘that guilt or innocence should be determined after a thorough review of all documents and sources, not based on discussions or articles found on the internet or in other news media’.

    I would have been fine if they had stopped after ‘… and sources’.

    The rest of that sentence seems to indicate that because a piece of information (and in particular this piece) was found on the internet or in the news media it must be suspect and cannot be considered a ‘thorough review’ or evidence.

    I am really starting to think we are own worst enemy, sigh!

    Growy

  17. Nora Roberts
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 23:29:00

    Shiloh, for posting pretty much what I was going to re RWA’s stand and process, thereby saving me the time and trouble, you’re now my KY BFF.

  18. Jessica Inclan
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 00:37:27

    Now I know I need to sign up for alerts–thanks for that, all.

    What I started wondering about was: Does any other genre have an oversight like RWA? Who fights/discusses as an organization when literary fiction or mystery or speculative fiction goes copy crazy? Why is this really RWA’s problem? I think they can make a stand, but in terms of policing members–it’s all a little unclear.

    To me, this boils down to an author/editor/publisher issue, and the place it needs to be dealt with is there.

  19. Kristen
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 00:47:18

    I am signed up for the RWA alerts. I’m a chapter VP, too, so I’m on Chaplink, the pres. & vice pres. loop for RWA, as well (which has been mum on this.)

  20. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 06:54:33

    Shiloh, for posting pretty much what I was going to re RWA's stand and process, thereby saving me the time and trouble, you're now my KY BFF.

    *G* And just think… I was told so many times growing up that being mouthy and opinionated might not get me anything.

    Does any other genre have an oversight like RWA?

    Yes. I don’t know if you’d call it ‘policing’ but there are groups like Novelists, Inc and SFWA~Science Fiction Writers of America.

  21. J.C. Wilder
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 07:42:18

    I belong to several RWA chapters and this is being discussed. What kills me is that many of them are up in arms about a romance website using the word ‘bitch’ in the title.

    So…this is how it works. We have a possible case of an author liberating the work of another author, and the main complaint is the use of ‘bitch’? Many of them have said how this website has given romance yet another black eye…yet they ignore possible fraud – you tell me what’s worse.

    Unbelievable!

  22. Sharon
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 10:30:37

    I didn’t see the site mentioned as related to the name bitches, the discussions I saw were pretty much “are they saying we can’t do research for our novels” which of course is ridiculous, because no one has said any such thing. Also, “well there are only so many ways to describe a Native American ceremony” was also mentioned. And that CE is being picked on. I kid you not. That was the discussion I witnessed. Some idiot (probably not very nice of me) even questioned whether Nora had been plageriazed in the past be Janet Dailey, but fortunately that person was immediately set straight on that issue.

    I just don’t get people sometimes. They pretty much had the attitude of because it is “non-fiction” it should be okay. Say what?

  23. Sara Dennis
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 11:14:38

    So…this is how it works. We have a possible case of an author liberating the work of another author, and the main complaint is the use of ‘bitch'? Many of them have said how this website has given romance yet another black eye…yet they ignore possible fraud – you tell me what's worse.

    This is what I was muttering about yesterday. I’m with you, J.C. It’s stunning.

  24. KS Augustin
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 21:25:21

    RWA takes all accusations of plagiarism very seriously. RWA also stands behind the idea that guilt or innocence should be determined after a thorough review of all documents and sources, not based on discussions or articles found on the internet or in other news media.

    Yeah, but then what? RWA always goes on (and on and on, ad nauseam) about how it’s an advocate for the romance writing profession, then it says, “we stand behind the idea…”. AND????? What are they going to DO about it? You’ll notice they haven’t said a word about what the mighty RWA are going to DO about this whole debacle.

    Surely a much better statement from a so-called professional organisation would have been to say, “Blah blah as above. We have contacted the originating source for this allegation and have requested that they forward all materials to the RWA for immediate review. We will convene an emergency committee to review the forwarded material and will issue a statement to the general membership in x days.”

    That is, if they think of themselves as professionals…

  25. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 22:04:35

    You'll notice they haven't said a word about what the mighty RWA are going to DO about this whole debacle.

    KZ, I’m wondering what you think RWA should do. Writers don’t have an ethics committee like the legal profession, a medical review board like the medical field, an internal affairs bureau like like enforcement.

    RWA does represent and advocate the romance community, but there’s no secret handshake, no license, or no badge they can take away from those deemed to have acted unethically. Somebody mentioned taking authors who have plagiarized off the ‘Hall of Fame’ but does that add up to much? She’s no longer a member so revoking the membership isn’t an option… and even if it was, that’s little deterrent.

    So where else is there to go? Issue a statement they have indeed found somebody guilty of plagiarism, I guess, but beyond that?

  26. JC Wilder
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 20:29:31

    Shiloh- I don’t think RWA should do anything at this point. They aren’t a governing body and CE isn’t even a member. Now, if CE is censured by her publisher, RWA should possibly look into removing her from their Honor list but that would be it.

  27. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:31:03

    Shiloh- I don't think RWA should do anything at this point. They aren't a governing body and CE isn't even a member. Now, if CE is censured by her publisher, RWA should possibly look into removing her from their Honor list but that would be it.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much my take on it, JC. There’s a difference between being a governing body and an advocate.

  28. Jane
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:37:45

    While I am not an author and therefore I don’t know alot about the RWA, but having an author who committed plagiarism and possibly copyright infringement, when that is an ethical violation, it seems to me that it should do an investigation to see if Edwards should still be on the Honor Roll. Otherwise, doesn’t that diminish the Honor Roll meaning?

    Further, I think RWA should be proactive and start doing pieces on plagiarism and intellectual honesty so authors don’t have to be fearful of possible “accidental plagiarism” i.e., defining what the ethical boundaries are for authors.

    It’s obviously not using ideas or themes or plots. But it is (or should be) word for word copying without attribution.

    I think a defined guide would be useful for the membership so that authors can talk about this without fear and by fear I mean worry or concern or angst that what they are doing might be considered by plagiarism for some.

    Guidelines aren’t developed to help condemn people or lead them astray but rather to provide safe harbors, proscribe boundaries.

  29. Layne
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 21:52:57

    Women using the “B” word to refer to themselves IS embarassing. It’s a degrading term, not to mention a vulgar one. I never use the word, nor do any of the women that I associate with. Plagiarism is wrong, but so is misogyny – no matter who says it.

  30. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 23:12:33

    Further, I think RWA should be proactive and start doing pieces on plagiarism and intellectual honesty so authors don't have to be fearful of possible “accidental plagiarism” i.e., defining what the ethical boundaries are for authors.

    Jane, I agree with you on this~it’s actually something I’ve emailed RWA about since this whole mess started.

    it seems to me that it should do an investigation to see if Edwards should still be on the Honor Roll. Otherwise, doesn't that diminish the Honor Roll meaning?

    I don’t disagree here.

    What I was getting at is that I was getting the impression that some people seem to think it’s RWA’s responsibility to dole out punishment here. IMO, that isn’t what RWA is there for. By all means, members found guilty of violating ethical guidelines should be removed from the membership roster. If they are on the Honor Roll, by all means, remove them.

    In the long run, though, how much of a deterrent is that?

    RWA isn’t like the medical board or, I’d imagine, the ethics committee that lawyers have.

    I certainly hope RWA does decide to become more proactive. I’ll admit, some of the terminology of fair use/copyright/plagiarism, the lines are very blurred and more education would benefit a lot of writers.

    You and I are both in fields where we are required to have specialized training, continuing education and to abide by a certain standard of ethics.

    As a nurse, if I saw somebody I knew from high school coming into a clinic where I worked…but he wasn’t MY patient, and then I go digging around in his medical information, (FYI big no no) I could face losing my license. If I talked about this guy to my neighbor, I could face losing my license. These are serious consequences. Likewise, I’d imagine if you broke client confidentiality, you could also have to answer to somebody, something that can put your license…and therefore your livelihood at risk.

    RWA has nothing like that. There is a code of conduct, but too often, these are used more as guidelines. They might get you thrown out of the club, but you don’t really need that club for whatever your chosen profession is. Not being a member of RWA won’t keep anybody from getting published.

    You don’t need to published to join. You don’t even need to be a writer to join. It’s a voice, it’s a networking resource, it’s support. But it wasn’t set up to govern the writing community…and as such, there’s only so much they can do, only so much they have the resources for.

  31. Jane
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 23:30:34

    I’m pretty sure that breaking client confidentiality would get me suspended if not disbarred. I have to admit I am totally confused on the purpose of the RWA. Is it just advocacy? Is it for networking resource? Is it support?

    Is it about educating the public about romance and advancing the idea of respectability of romance within the general public? If it has any intent to do the latter (which seems to coincide with some of the other things that RWA makes available on the internet), then I think it has to do something about the Edwards matter if only just to investigate it. (and by RWA, I understand that it is the decision of the board, not the staff).

    I think the RWA, as an organization, stands as somewhat the face of romance at times, particularly within the genre and in this increasingly connected world much like Nora Roberts is the face of the genre.

  32. Jane
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 23:36:37

    Layne – have you ever been to the Vagina Monologues? One underlying theme of the play is to reclaim the terms and meanings that have been negatively associated with women. I.e., the word bitch really means a female dog but has come to adopt a pejorative meaning.

    The use of “Bitch” by Sarah and Candy is an intentional one to reclaim the meaning of a word. It’s like they are thumbing their noses at a patriarchal system that has attached negative meanings to female elements of society. It’s deliciously subversive.

  33. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 23:51:39

    I'm pretty sure that breaking client confidentiality would get me suspended if not disbarred.

    And likewise, I could lose my license…at the very least, face suspension which means losing my job. Furthermore, future jobs are allowed to ask if I’ve faced disciplinary measures. A person answers yes, they can be shown the door without so much as a how do you do.

    The relevant point of all of this… certain professions are held to higher standards, like the legal or medical fields. We spend hours and hours learning the in and outs of ethics, we’can’t practice without a license and we understand that violating those ethics, if they don’t land us in jail, can certainly cost us jobs. That’s a huge deterrent. We have boards that monitor ethical behavior, the financial clout behind those boards to enforce disciplinary action.

    More, our professions require licensure.

    That’s not something you see in organization like RWA. The only thing required for joining is paying the fee.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t think there shouldn’t be ethical standards. I do. I think ethical behavior is simply a basic part of being a decent person. Ethics are what separate the decent from the not so decent.

    But they have to be enforced. RWA, a voluntary organization, only has so much they can to enforce anything. Somebody lets their membership lapse, it won’t cost them a contract. By if I didn’t pay my dues to the board every two years, my nursing license would lapse and if I ever had to go back to work, I’d have to do the necessary steps, pay the fees, and probably take extra classes just to get relicensed…and therefore get a job.

    I have to admit I am totally confused on the purpose of the RWA. Is it just advocacy? Is it for networking resource? Is it support?

    Is it about educating the public about romance and advancing the idea of respectability of romance within the general public?

    I’m probably not the best person to ask. I joined after I was published because I was told it wasn’t a bad idea. I stay a member because I adore my local chapter. But I don’t pay as much attention to some of the other resources.

    But networking, support, advocacy, craft… these are things that I know RWA can offer. Beyond that… eh, we’d need to ask somebody that’s not such a lazy member.

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