Tag Archives: Arnold and Porter

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The update is that CPBR has not withdrawn its “Cease and Desist All Copyright Infringement” letter that they had sent to me via their lawyer.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