It's time for HP fandom to put up or shut up

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Title: It's time for HP fandom to put up or shut up
Creator: telesilla
Date(s): August 16, 2006
Medium: online post
Fandom: Harry Potter
External Links: It's time for HP fandom to put up or shut up; archive link
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It's time for HP fandom to put up or shut up is a 2006 post by telesilla.

It was written in response to The Cassandra Claire Plagiarism Debacle.

The Post

I'm going to say this and risk pissing off any HP fans on my flist.

Harry Potter fandom has no one--not bad_penny, not white_serpent or charlottelennox or anyone else--but themselves to blame for what's going on at the moment. This is the fandom's fault.

OK I know, it's inflammatory and I do exaggerate some for effect.

Perhaps it's more correct to say that in the summer of 2001 HP fandom fell down on the job and they have yet to get back up and do things right.

One of the earliest wanks I remember from fandom_wank's LJ days was a case of plagiarism in Smallville fandom. One of the fandom's BNF's -- harriet_spy -- said something about how she wasn't surprised that the writer had come from HP fandom, because HP fandom tolerates plagiarism. This led to one of FW's longest standing in-joke phrases: "those damn Harry Potter plagiarists."

At the time, HP fans were furious at being tarred by that brush, even though the whole plagiarism thing had append long before that. And yet, here we are, over two and a half years later, talking about those damned Harry Potter plagiarists again--or is it still? And, predictably, HP fandom is in an uproar about it.

There's this thing, though.

harriet_spy was right.

Even in this day and age of LJ and fractured fandoms, there are any number of ways fandom can come down on people who break the rules. Those ways do not include setting up a whole archive so that one BNF who got kicked off a popular archive site because she was a plagiarist has a place for her fic. They do not include lauding the plagiarized work over and over again, or surrounding its author with fame and all the little perks -- or not so little -- that come with being a BNF. They do not involve creating a system in which other writers felt free to plagiarize.

HP fandom could have stood up back in June of 2001 -- yes, for those not involved in this, the fandom has known about Cassie Claire's plagiarism for over five years now -- and said "Hey! That's wrong! Apologize, and then either cite or pull your work and if you don't we'll abandon you." But they didn't.

The story of Cassie Claire and her plagiarism could have been one of those stories old HP hands told to n00bs to make sure they understood the rules and the penalty for breaking them. But it isn't.

Instead Cassie retained her BNF status and even could be said to have gained more status because, in the terms of internet warfare, she won. She came out of the accusations with an even more devoted circle of fangirls and a whole damn archive that was started up -- or possibly started early -- to house her fic. And her stock continued to rise; her Inner Circle was so important and popular that MsScribe went through her contortions to belong to it. Cassie got an iPod when she wanted one and a new lap top when hers was stolen and then CharityGate came along, and Heidi and the rest of the Inner Circle got away with that one as well, although the dissenting voices were louder that time.

And now, if you're on LJ and you say "I'm a Harry Potter fan," you feel like you need to qualify that with "but I don't plagiarize," and you're probably right.

And it sucks if you were never involved in any of this and only heard vague rumors. But still if you had heard them and asked what had been done, you'd have been told that the rumors weren't true and that nothing had been done. And so you'd buy the party line, that the people who accused Cassie of plagiarism were just being petty and jealous....

So as I see it--admittedly from mostly outside the fandom--HP fandom has another chance. They can all run around stuck in a state of denial and throw words like "pastiche" and "homage" around. They can say things like "it's only fandom" or "all fanfic is plagiarism."

Or they can finally stand up and say "no, this is wrong. And here's what I'm going to do about it." There can be defriendings, and denouncements, and people refusing to participate in cons that honor plagiarists, and people pulling their fic from any archive that archives plagiarized, and people refusing to be involved in forums in which plagiarists participate.

Sounds like a lot of work, yeah? Well just remember that five years ago the fandom pulled together rallied around one of its own and realize that yes, the fandom can, in fact, rally against her.

I do have a response for those who say "it's just fandom, why should we care?" If you love Harry Potter fandom and love being a part of it, then you should care because something you love has been tarnished in the eyes of your peers.

HP fandom, the ball's in your court now.

And incidentally:

I'm a Harry Potter fan and I neither support nor tolerate plagiarism.

Post it in your LJ if you agree.

Excerpts from Comments at the Post


I keep seeing this subject come up and I have a couple of questions. Admittedly, I'm lazy and haven't bothered to read all the wank, but I have talked to a couple HP-fandom people about the subject and I'm frankly more confused than I was before.

Note: I agree plagiarism is wrong, both immoral and uncreative, and I in no way condone it.

But sometimes I wonder what counts as plagiarism. Is re-writing "Jane Eyre" or "Pretty Woman" with slash characters wrong? Is it all right if the author clearly specifies somewhere that it's a re-do of a famous book or movie? If I write a fic and I note that part of it was almost certainly inspired by another fic that another author wrote and link it with a "please go read her work as well", is that wrong?

Is the problem the lack of attributing sources? Is there a difference if the source is Charlotte Bronte or whoever wrote "Pretty Woman" or anther fanfic writer?

As I said, I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of plagiarism or to change the topic in your own journal. I'm just not 100% clear on what actually happened (who was plagiarized from), and if the critical response would be different if it were 1) a "famous" work versus another slasher or 2) if it was attributed.

At it's most basic, plagiarism is passing off someone else's words or work as your own. So the examples you give aren't plagiarism any more than any FPS that acknowledges the source material is. If you rewrite--as someone is right now I think--Jane Eyre with slash characters and say you're doing so, then it's not plagiarism.

Using another person's copywritten material is copyright infringement, even if you acknowledge the source. This is the reason FPS writers use disclaimers even though the disclaimers don't actually cover your ass legally. FPS fanfic exists on the sufferance of the copyright holder and Cease and Desist letters have been sent out more than once in the history of fanfic.

Essentially, the HP cases -- three so far, involving people who are huge in the fandom [1] -- consist of lifting material word for word, line for line and sometimes paragraph for paragraph from other books and in some cases TV shows and not acknowledging the sources they lifted from. We've now see side by side comparisons showing the original work and the fanfic and it's unbelievable to think that someone sat there and typed all that in without citing the source and then has the gall to say they've never plagiarized.

What makes it worse is that the three people in question are a journalist, a lawyer who claims to specialize in intellectual property law and an English teacher. They of all people should know how wrong plagiarism is.
[green grrl]:

*sigh* It makes me glad not to be in the HP fandom. I mean, I think Lucius and Severus are the hottest things ever, and I love reading good, recced HP fic, but the fandom has mostly seemed, to me as an outsider, as... volatile, I guess. I'm glad bad_penny has been documenting the history of the plagiarism scandal, because a researched accounting has been sorely needed. It's just appalling that at the time the BNF groupies were uncritical apologists. Even worse, now that the documentation is in black and white, they are still apologists! It's enabling to the worst degree. (I'm also not quite sure why b_p seems to be backing away from common sense suggestions, like, don't feature plagiarists at coms.)

I'm sorry your fandom looks so crazy by the actions of that circle. At least you and a few others are speaking out as sane fans.
[second banana]:

A-fucking-men. I participate in the HP fandom, but not on LJ. I am a mod on a website/forum that takes a very hard stance on plagiarism. I couldn't stomach Cassie Claire's Draco fic because it was so painfully clear that she had not written a good amount of the material.

It really isn't that hard to shut down plagiarism. Don't tollerate it. Don't rec it. Don't archive it. It puts the admin at risk if they house plagiarised fic.

I am so sick of apologizing for my fandom. I wish it weren't something I feel I need to apologize for.
[vulgar weed]:

I've never understood this whole idea that "HP fandom = Cassie Claire" and therefore, the whole fandom needs to take some kind of hair-shirt responsibility for her.

I came into the fandom around 2001, realized pretty quickly that a lot of the existing fora were not conducive to my main fanfic interest (that is, Snapefic, preferably adult-rated) and still easily found other niches to be at home in. The only thing of CC's I think I've read all the way through is her Very Secret Diaries -- Lord of the Rings fandom, not HP, and they were amusing but hardly seminal. I barely thought about her at all until this recent wank (because I don't give a rat's arse about Draco and so obviously never spent much energy on the Draco Trilogy).

Fuck, if someone wants to go back to the alleged "Golden Age" of '01-'02, for me that's Grindylowe and "Death Eaters at the Malfoy Estate."

So when someone tries to say this is representative of "HP Fandom", and "HP Fandom" has some kind of collective responsibility, I say, wha...? It's like saying any half-dozen Mafia conspirators represent all 9 million people in New York City, most of whom have never heard of them.

Like all fandoms, HP fandom is made up of individuals, all of whom are responsible for what each one does, and not at all responsible for what anyone else does or doesn't do.
[ ratcreature ]:
Word. I've been in HP fandom for a couple of years now (though not as far back as 2001) and all those people who are mentioned as "BNFs" in these kerfuffles over and over again never impacted any of my HP fandom experience except that they get mild name recognition because of wanks linked in newsletters. When I entered HP fandom I had heard about the CC plagiarism thing even in other fandoms, so I never read her stuff and that's it.
[lady sorka]:

Yes. I was in HP fandom in that 2000-2001 era, looked around, went "WTF, Draco" and then promptly left because everything that was currently being talked about in the fandom bored the crap out of me.

I came back, but when I did I stuck to hanging out in Snape corners, the corners that never dealt with Heidi or CC to begin with - basically, the Snape corners were an entirely separate fandom.

I don't think it's fair to say "HP fandom" like this, because there were whole corners of HP fandom who probably never even heard of the conflict, and definitely never read the stories.
Are the professional writers who are hearing about this and blogging about this going to realize or care that these BNFs don't represent the entire fandom? Is the fact that there are many writers in HP fandom who aren't affiliated with these plagiarists going to matter to any pro author who looks at this and allows their opinion about fanfiction to be influenced by this scandal? Fanfiction exists at the sufferance of the creator(s) of the original source-- something that could blacken the reputation of fandom, as a whole, with those creators is something that fandom, as a whole, had *better* care about. Fanfiction, to both pro writers and the general population, hasn't got a terribly great reputation as it is. Add "and they steal your text, word for word, and call it theirs" to that package, and it's that much worse. I just don't see how there's room to say "huh, not my problem" in this situation, nor do I see how there's any option *but* a zero tolerance policy toward plagiarism.
[vulgar weed]:
As to what the professional writers and bloggers think -- the best thing to do is remind them of just how many fanfic writers there are out there who don't do this and were, in fact, not involved. By acting as though Cassie Claire "represents" the fandom, it gives her that power, when she didn't have it before. I think a response of "Cassie who? Oh yeah, the Draco-in-leather-pants chick. Never read her stuff, not my thing. Sorry to hear she's a thief" goes a long way to restoring her to her proper place, in both insiders' and outsiders' perceptions--someone who got to an unrealistic position of fame for a little while by dishonest means.
The only people who support CC are the Draco fans. Everyone else is against her and her methods since years, and wish nothing more then see her gone, because she gives all HP fans a bad name.
Yeah, I must say that this is also more than a little bit surreal for those of us who only travel in the 'meta' and canon discussion corners of the fandom. It's not as if everyone in the "HP Fandom" reads fanfic, or for that matter, even pays all that much attention to it. I mean, if you asked me about the "Golden Age" of '00-'01, my mind would probably go to the rise of Steve's HP Lexicon and the "fanonization" of lots of elaborate fanwank about the precise dates on which various canon events were supposed to have occurred.


  1. ^ Heidi8, Ebony Elizabeth, Cassandra Claire