Tag Archives: biotechnology

Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research has finally stopped plagiarizing me

I’m delighted to report that The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research (CPBR) has finally decided to stop plagiarizing me. Details below. But first, the back story in case you missed it, which is likely.

For the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, CPBR included approximately four pages of my poster advice (my full version is here) as an appendix in a PDF they emailed to thousands of researchers around the country who wanted CPBR grant funding (the PDF was a call for proposals). A sample page of this appendix is at the bottom of this post, with the plagiarized text highlighted in red. There was no indication anywhere in the entire document that the text had been copied from my web page (e.g., there were no quotation marks around text, and no generous citation like, “Text on how to make a poster courtesy Dr Colin Purrington”). This type of plagiarism would be classified as “blatant plagiarism” and would earn you an automatic F in a college course, with possibility of expulsion from the school (I know this because I had served for years on the Swarthmore College judiciary board, where plagiarism cases were often heard). I was also annoyed that they’d decided to copyright my text: at the bottom of the pages in question there was the line, “Copyright CPBR”, verbiage that claimed legal ownership of the text. CPBR also told recipients of the PDF to not post the document online, effectively hiding it from public scrutiny.

But somebody at Purdue University’s grants office decided to post the document (oops), and I stumbled onto it in 2013. Via email, I asked that the document be taken down (or my content removed), and CC’d the folks at CPBR.

At this point, CPBR might have contacted me. For example, they might have said, “Oh, gosh, we had a moron on our staff back in 2006, and he must have just copied that text because he thought it was funny. So sorry, we’ll remove it. Can we link to your web page??”

Instead, they hired a large law firm (Arnold & Porter) and threatened to take me to court if I didn’t take down my website. Yes, that’s right: CPBR officially accused me of plagiarizing them. They threatened very large legal fees, too. In hindsight, I suppose I should have let those threats play out: it would be really amusing to see them try to get my site unplugged. But because the threat was totally legal (so to say) and could potentially bankrupt me, I decided to hire a lawyer, too.

And this is when the story gets completely unsatisfying: I haven’t heard from CPBR or it’s lawyers for over a year. I suspect CPBR’s lawyer became furious at CPBR, because CPBR probably assured its lawyer that I was the guilty party. But I provided crystal clear proof of the contrary to their lawyer, so their relationship probably soured rather quickly. I was hoping to eventually hear from the lawyer that the threat had been lifted, but I guess that’s not going to happen. And CPBR has never contacted me, either.

My only evidence that CPBR admits to the plagiarism is that they’ve finally stopped using my text in their most recent PDF (kindly sent to me by several of the member universities).

So that’s the update.

What continues to depresses me about this whole experience is that CPBR and Dorin Schumacher have faced zero consequences for (1) plagiarizing me rather extensively and (2) falsely accusing me of copyright violation. Most people roll their eyes about (1), viewing advice on “poster design” as far too boring to care about (note: my goal was to craft advice that was less boring than other how-to guides; the theft of my text suggests I might have been successful). But (2), making knowingly false allegations about copyright infringement is really terrible regardless of the topic. I would have thought that after the story went public last year, that Dr Schumacher would quickly lose her job or that CPBR would stop getting government money. But Dr Schumacher still gives herself $250,000+ per year (she owns the company, it turns out) and CPBR still gets millions of dollars each year from the USDA, Department of Energy, and EPA. Some — perhaps tens of thousands — of that money went to a lawyer directed to pursue a legal claim she knew was false. That’s public money, some of it contributed by me (!), a taxpayer. If there was any justice in the world there would be a high-level governmental liaison who would say, “Dr Schumacher, this use of public money is objectionable and you are officially defunded.” (I’ve contacted all the government officials that give the checks to CPBR; they all have told me they cannot get involved.)

What makes this especially bizarre is that CPBR’s goal is to get plant biotechnology research ideas into trademarked products. Hence there’s a lot of talk in CPBR’s documents about trademarks, privacy, and copyrights. For an organization that clearly values intellectual property, it’s really shameful it engaged in blatant plagiarism. And it’s shocking that such an organization would falsely accuse somebody else of copyright infringement as a way to bully the weaker party (me) into ceding legal ownership. Simply shameful.

It’s also rather strange that CPBR would ever choose to plagiarize me in the first place. First, when in doubt, don’t plagiarize from sites that have “please don’t plagiarize” verbiage on their pages (I do), especially if the author also has a page dedicated to the evils of plagiarism and how to stop fight it (I do). There are thousands of sites on how to craft conference posters (plus plenty of articles and books), and the vast majority have no such verbiage. Second, don’t ever plagiarize from people who might reasonably come across your stuff. I’ve actually published on plant biotechnology (e.g.), and it would be completely likely that I’d eventually read CPBR’s PDF on funding sources (and thus discover the plagiarism). So odd, on both counts.

If you’d like to see the PDFs with and without the plagiarism, just let me know and I’ll send them to you (I don’t want to post them). If you have questions for Dr Schumacher, here’s her email: info@cpbr.org. And here’s her lawyer’s: david.metzger@aporter.com. And, just in case you’re curious: I do have official copyright on my text from the US Copyright Office; CPBR most certainly does not.

Thanks to all the people who’ve sent kind words of support to me during over this issue, or who’ve sent messages to member universities or governmental officials. I’m truly grateful for all.

By the way, The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research is on day 2 of its annual symposium today (March 4th). If you’re in DC, please stop by the (posh) George Town Club (1530 Wisconsin Ave, NW) if you have a few minutes to spare. It’s fully funded by US taxpayers so I’m sure they’d let you come in. Oh, and there’s a poster session! And I’d love to know if the posters are any good this year, so if you go, please drop me a line.

Plagiarism by The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research

 

 

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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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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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