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Wish list for The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research

So I just paid my first legal bill for smacking down CPBR’s insane claim that I violated their copyright. I had naively hoped CPBR would offer a sincere apology and pay my legal fees (because they actually plagiarized me), but they haven’t.  But because I know they read my blog rather carefully, I wanted to provide a way for them to privately make it up to me…so here is a link to my Wish List on Amazon, populated with some camera items that I might actually own right now if I hadn’t written a large check to my lawyer. If CPBR bought everything on it, the bill would be a small fraction of what they’ve spent on fancy lawyers already (I’m guessing $50,000 – $100,000).  CPBR is a non-profit, so you will be able to see the exact amount when they post their 2013 tax returns online.

Anyway, thanks CPBR!

Colin Purrington's wish list on Amazon

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Update on The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research plagiarism charge

Definition of plagiarismHundreds of people have been asking, so I wanted to give a quick update on the plagiarism charge brought against me by The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology (CBPR).  But first, in the likely event that you haven’t heard: CPBR has accused me of violating the copyright on its “Call for Preproposals,” a document that is delivered to thousands of interested grant applicants each year.  It has demanded that I permanently remove my “Designing conference posters” page or face over $150,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.  The bizarre part of all this is that CPBR’s content is actually, truly, verifiably mine — they infringed upon my clearly copyrighted text and are thus using a threat of bankruptcy-via-legal-action to force me to just give it to them.  Somebody at CPBR is certifiably demented or delusional, perhaps both.

The update is that CPBR has not withdrawn its “Cease and Desist All Copyright Infringement” letter that they had sent to me via their lawyer.

Just in case you doubt me when I say CPBR clearly plagiarized my text, the image below shows the similarity between my document and the relevant section in CPBR’s.  I highlighted phrases that are identical to phrases found on my site.

Copyright disputes are decided on primacy, of course — who wrote the text first.  I created my version in 1997 for students at Swarthmore College (as part of my Evolution course), and you can see archives of my page via the Wayback Machine if you doubt me. CPBR claims to have first drafted its version in 2005. Because I wrote mine eight years before they wrote their instructions, there is no possible way I could have copied them. Zero possibility that I copied them.  100% proof that they copied me.  Facts, folks!  Verifiable ones, too!

I’m being frequently asked why CPBR brought infringement charges against me when their guide text was clearly taken from me.  I actually don’t have the slightest idea. Dorin Schumacher, the founder, CEO, most surely knows.  She’s been called by reporters but seems to hang up on them. But according to a reporter who tried to reach her, her voice sounded really, really angry.  She clearly thought this would all go differently. CPBR is in a public relations mess that can only be fixed by doing things she really doesn’t want to do.  In a way, I feel for her. Sucks to be her.

That’s the update, unexciting as it is.  If you are an administrator at any of the CPBR member companies or universities, I’d be grateful to be alerted if my content is included in future CPBR documents in any way, even if it’s pared down to short phrases.  If CPBR chooses to remove my content in future “call for proposals”, that’s sort of admitting that they were previously infringing… so it’s likely they will keep things as is.  Similarly, if you are a grant applicant and attend the annual CPBR poster session in D.C., I’d be grateful to know whether my text is distributed in the how-to sessions.

UPDATE on UPDATE: According to the site tracking software that is built into WordPress, CPBR.org has read this update.  Several times.

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Bad PR day for The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc.

Logo of the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc.  From its website.
Logo of the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. From its website.

CPBR, based in St Simons Island, Georgia, is apparently in the process of registering a copyright on some of my text in “Designing conference posters,” and is in the process of preparing for litigation against me, claiming I infringed on their copyright. I had previously accused them of infringing upon my copyright. I know, sounds like two kids in the back seat, bickering. And, for the record, Mom, they started it.

I thought I’d share a few newsy links with anyone who might be curious in the details. Listed chronologically.

  1. Plagiarism spat over scientific poster prep advice escalates to legal threats” (by Adam Marcus @ Retraction Watch blog)
  2. Adding Insult to Plagiary?” (by Tom Bartlett @ The Chronicle of Higher Education)
  3. Scientist writes funny, helpful guide for making science posters. A big company steals it. Then the company sues him” (tomb123 @ reddit)
  4. Bring Me The Head Of That Threatening Lawyer!” (by Ken at Popehat blog)
  5. Swarthmore Biologist Accused of Plagiarizing…his Own Work” (by Simon van Zuylen-Wood @ The Philly Post)

From tax records (gross receipts in 2010 = $3,314,709), it appears that the CPBR show is run by founder and CEO extraordinaire, Dorin Schumacher. She is, I guess, also in charge of public relations, so I’m sure she’ll be on this, soon. If you’d like to know more about her, she has posted a listing in the Cambridge Who’s Who [thanks Dina Smith for link], where you can read about her amazing accomplishments and also see a photograph of her grandmother in a slinky dress. (I remember getting letters from Cambridge Who’s Who, but I’d always assumed it was a scam. Typically, you have to pay to get yourself listed in these things, and I’m not so easily suckered. Also, once you pay, you have to say flattering things about yourself in the third person, which is really against Colin Purrington’s personality type.)

If you’re interested in even more details of my little drama, here you go:

PDF showing how CPBR plagiarized me (this is the same method of highlighting I’d use when my students at Swarthmore College plagiarized; this is the worst I’ve ever seen)

If you’re curious about anything else, or might have information that would be useful for my defense, please email ASAP. Operators are standing by.

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The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc.

This post is about a non-profit that calls itself the The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. (www.cpbr.org). It promotes biotech research, and, apparently, has low regard for intellectual property. Or at least for my intellectual property. Read on if you’re interested.

So I have this little page on designing scientific posters, and it’s had maybe 2 million hits in its lifetime. I published it on the internet to help people around the world design a poster for a meeting, and in return I occasionally receive emails, funny postcards, and even baked goods as thanks. It’s a fun page to maintain and keeps me off the streets. And sometimes people hire me to give seminars on poster design, which is fun, too. And I’ve had a book offer, which impressed my mom.

Of course, the page is on the internet so people plagiarize me. When I stumble onto them, I ask the page owner to remove the text. I have “Copyright Colin Purrington” on all my pages, plus verbiage asking people to not steal my stuff, so most plagiarizers comply pretty quickly.

Still, some drag their feet a bit when I issue take-down requests. Some say, “But I rather like your content on my site, and I’d prefer to keep it without attribution.” Another favorite is, “But I’m a teacher and plagiarizing is protected under Fair Use!” (I’m not making this up.) These instances are really annoying, of course, but thankfully rare.

But this week I got the ultimate response, from The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. in Georgia (I’ll paraphrase): “No, we won’t comply…and instead we will accuse you of plagiarizing us.” In case you don’t know about CPBR, it is an entity that receives millions of dollars each year from the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Then it gives the money to worthy researchers in the form of grants. Part of the granting process involves applicants making posters and presenting them in D.C., hence their need for a section in their application document for how to craft an effective scientific poster — if you happen to have a copy, it’s Appendix 5. The 2 1/2 pages of tips in that section might seem oddly familiar if you’ve ever been on my site (approximately 90-95% similarity…and trust me, it’s not by chance). You won’t be able to easily find a copy of the document on the internet because they have, in red, at the top “Do not post on the internet.” But there are copies on the internet if you look carefully, and I did.

The CPBR’s response wasn’t just an email, either, it was massive package from a fancy lawyer in a fancy suit at a fancy law firm (Arnold and Porter) demanding I take down my page, forever, or face accruing $150,000 in damages plus litigation fees. It probably cost $5,000 just to craft that document. The lawyer’s suit cost probably cost even more.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on how I should respond to this, please send me an email via the Contact button.

Personally, I’d like (1) a check from them that fully covers my legal costs, (2) a written apology from the CEO that is posted on their home page for 1 year, (3) a message emailed to all past proposal applicants and research directors stating that Appendix 5 was plagiarized from my site, and (4) an all-expense paid trip to St Simons Island, Georgia for me and my family, to compensate us for the pain and suffering that their bullying has caused. And about that last one — we better end up having a damn good time on St Simons Island. No poison in the soup, or anything like that! Or maybe (5) $150,000 in damages, for each of the years that they infringed upon my copyright?? Oh, and (6) it goes without saying that they can never, ever use my material in the future…so if you are on their mailing list and get the next announcement, please send me a copy if you see my text in Appendix 5 again (I’ll send you cookies if you’re the first!). Finally, (8) I think it would be good to have the plagiarizer fired — that amount of plagiarizing in college would get you expelled for a semester, and is equally inexcusable in the private sector…there should be consequences.

Please share this post with others so that The Consortium of Plant Biotechnology Research (Inc) gets all the press they truly deserve. If you are a reporter and are interested in even more details, contact me, maybe?

Screen shot of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc.
Screen shot of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. Dorin Schumacher is the CEO.

By the way, if you’re bored and happen to have a copy of the document, I encourage you to search for the phrase, “intellectual property.” In the most recent version of the document, it’s present 28 times. I think that’s hilarious. Intellectual property is important because many of the proposals funded by CPBR relate to highly secret biotech projects involving member companies (Monsanto, Dupont, etc.). The irony here is too strong to spell out fully. The screen would just crack.

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DMCA NOCI RE CPBR PDF

This post is for people tracking the bizarre ethical slide of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. (CPBR).

As you probably know from my earlier posts, CPBR sends out a yearly invitation to plant biotechnology researchers to submit grant proposals.  Part of the emailed PDF has instructions on how to make a scientific poster, and a big part of that section was created by copying/pasting text from my page on the topic (but with no quotation marks and no attribution).

Because I happen to have an official copyright registration on my poster design page, the PDF is in violation of U.S. copyright law.  So, in addition to being able to sue CPBR rather easily, I can can also use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to send Notifications of Copyright Infringement (NOCIs) to have the CPBR document (PDF and any paper copies) destroyed.

So here’s what I’ve done.

  1. I’ve asked every member university to delete the PDF when received from CPBR.  In other words, the grants administration office will no longer forward that PDF to faculty on campus.  Because CPBR forbids member institutions from posting the PDF online (don’t ask me why), this means CPBR will not receive grant applications in the future.  Note that asking universities to help protect my copyright is a friendly request — I was not accusing the universities of anything.  It’s just like asking them to help protect copyrighted movies that might be illegally shared by students.  With one exception (University of Minnesota), they are happy to help. The University of Minnesota’s lawyers insist email forwarding of PDFs is exempt from copyright law (lingering effect of cold temperature?).
  2. I’ve asked every member company to do the same.
  3. I’ve informed the Fraud Alert representatives of the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agencies that CPBR is violating U.S. Copyright Law and should stop receiving Federal funds (DOE has given them almost $23 million, for example).
  4. I’ve informed CPBR’s internet provider that CPBR is using email to send content that infringes on my copyright.

All of the above could have been avoided if CPBR simply linked to my Designing Conference Posters page.  I love it when people link to my page.  Alternatively, if CPBR wanted to quote a sentence or two, that would be totally fine.  Here are two examples (book, website) of how to use quotation marks and attribution.

“Yet the politics of shipwreck can be avoided, I think, if we can construct a theory of feminist criticism within the framework of a general theory of the critical process that is neither purely objective nor purely intuitive; in that way, its processes can be examined beside, compared with, and contrasted to other branches of criticism with some degree of dispassionate distance.” [translate]

— Schumacher, D. 1989.  Subjectivities: a theory of the critical process.  Pages 29-36 in Feminist Literary Criticism: Explorations in Theory, edited by Josephine Donovan. University Press of Kentucky.

“CPBR speeds the transfer of plant-related biotechnologies from the research laboratory to the marketplace, expanding economic opportunities through university research and global networking. Its highly competitive project selection process includes … industrial evaluation of research concepts to insure [sic] industrial relevance … ”

— The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc. Retrieved 22 March 2014, from http://www.cpbr.org/content.html.

It’s really odd that CPBR didn’t just use quotations and attribution.  The CEO has a PhD in literature, and CPBR’s website has images and quotes that are all nicely attributed. Plus the core mission of the company is to foster commercialization of the intellectual property of participating scientists — and CPBR has IP lawyers on retainer for that very purpose.  There are, in short, so many reasons why this is not a company you’d expect to plagiarize or to infringe on copyrights.

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