Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Judge or Judge Not?

An issue in the world of romance writing raised it's ugly head this past week and caused many to sit back on their heels. Some chose to scrutinize their own work, some became indignant, others hurled insults, some tried to defend or reserve judgment, others enjoyed playing this out.

What happened? An author was publicly exposed for plagiarism on a blog site titled, Smart Bitches who Love Trashy Novels. Before we go any further, I am against plagiarism. But I am also against murder, rape, child abuse, stealing, lying, road rage, cheating, false accusations, flaming, public ridicule, assumptions, self-righteousness, judging others, and oh, yeah, kicking dead horses.

The thing that made me sick to my stomach this week was not the plagiarism (which I know is wrong, wrong, wrong, and when discovered the blog site owners had every right to disclose it) but the way the author was treated. Her treatment was as criminal as the charge made. The pack mentality ran rampant. I don't believe we have the right to judge anyone or to publicly berate and humiliate another person. We can make a statement of concern. We can raise issues. We can make a complaint. We can discuss and give an informed opinion. But I think that's about as far as any individual can go. Aren't we supposed to give everyone the benefit of doubt? Aren't they considered innocent until proven guilty, no matter how damaging evidence looks on first appraisal, or even second or third appraisal?

The author in question (who by the way, I do not know nor have I ever read her work) was interviewed and she made a public statement, Romance Writers of America made a statement, the publishers who published the novels made a statement. Each one used their right to remain silent, or reserve judgment, until a full examination of the claim of plagiarism is made.

Unfortunately, the commenters on the blog site mentioned continued to berate, and in my opinion, harrass the author to the extent that they would not accept any reference to a "let's wait and see" attitude or any opinion that disagreed with theirs. They gloated and congratulated each other with every new mention in a blog or newspaper article. It was a sad week for women, for romance authors, and for writers everywhere.

Plagiarism is a crime punishable by law. There are fair right usage laws, copyright laws, ways to attribute research. If the author did not follow the law she'll be punished by the law, not by fellow authors or blog owners or readers of romance novels. There is a common decency in treating another human being who is under scrutiny. Innocent until proven guilty is one of them. Compassion is another. We all make mistakes. Allowing a person to present their case, get a fair trial, accept a judgment, pay a penalty, serve time, apologise for any wrong doing, those are their rights as a human being in our society and I don't know about you, but I'm willing to take a non-judgmental attitude and wait and see how the author handles this awful situation.

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