Tag Archives: copyright infringement

CRC Press recalls book that plagiarized me

clear and concise communications for scientistsThe book, Clear and Concise Communications for Scientists and Engineers, has been recalled by CRC Press due to plagiarism (of me).  Or at least they said it was going to be recalled: it is still available for purchase at CRC Press a week after their lawyer gave me the news.  But CRC Press / Francis & Taylor / Informa is a massive corporation, so perhaps these things take time.

Anyway, it was nice of CRC to so quickly acknowledge and act on the plagiarism rather than accuse me of plagiarizing them.  They also said they would be happy to give refunds to anyone who had already purchased the book.

My only complaint is that they refused to make a public statement about the recall and the reason.  In my informal research (previous post), most publishers involved in plagiarism cases do tend to make some sort of statement … even if they initially don’t want to.  If CRC wanted to better promote its anti-plagiarism policy to potential authors, making press statements about recalled books would be a wise idea.

Publishers should also get in the habit of running every book through plagiarism-detection software: the sections copy/pasted from my site (Designing conference posters) would have been flagged instantly.  But what publisher these days isn’t doing this?  Taylor & Francis certainly does it.   So the question I have is, why did CRC Press/editor not contact me when those pages were flagged?

By the way, there were a lot of sentences about plagiarism in the book.  None of these sentences was plagiarized from my page on plagiarism.  Now that would be hilarious.

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How publishers deal with plagiarism

Alex Haley's Roots
Image from Wikipedia.

Just because I was curious … here’s how various publishers have dealt with books that contained plagiarism.  Of course, publishers don’t always make public statements about such things, so if you have additions or corrections, please let me know.  Similarly, it’s hard to figure out whether the source authors took the plagiarizer (and/or publisher) to court.  I know I have 19 in the list … am sort of reserving #20.

  1. Roots (Alex Haley 1976). Doubleday & Company was publisher.  Amazon still sells this book.  Haley was taken to court by author of The African, which Haley mined for characters, plot, quotes, etc. [details]
  2. The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (Doris Kearns Goodwin 1987).  I gather she settled with one of her “sources” (Lynne McTaggart) before the plagiarism news was released. Goodwin requested that all copies be destroyed. [details]
  3. Alexander Graham Bell: A Life (James Mackay 1989).  He apparently paid the John Wiley & Sons to have the book recalled … as part of deal to avoid being sued by Robert V. Bruce.  Mackay was caught plagiarizing his next book, by the way. [details]
  4. The Survivor Personality (Patsy Westcott 1995).  Bloomsbury Publishers recalled all the books and had them destroyed.  Amazon sells used copies of this book. [details]
  5. When Love Calls (Gail A. McFarland 1999).  BET Publications recalled the book.  You can still buy used copies on Amazon. Gina Wilkins, who was the author plagiarized, won an out-of-court settlement. [details]
  6. The Wild Blue (Stephen Ambrose 2001).  Simon & Schuster publishes paperback with plagiarism removed. [details]
  7. Captain Henry Wirz and Andersonville Prison: A Reappraisal (R. Fred Ruhlman 2006)University of Tennessee Press recalled the book. [details]
  8. How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life (Kaavya Viswanathan 2006).  Little, Brown and Company recalled book, cancelled book deal with author. [details]
  9. Shadow Bear (Cassie Edwards 2008).  Signet said it found no evidence of plagiarism, then claimed the plagiarism was “fair use”, then decided to part ways with Edwards. [details]
  10. Free (Chris Anderson 2009).  Hyperion didn’t pull version with plagiarized passages, but did promise to correct future editions. [details]
  11. Axolotl Roadkill (Helene Hegemann 2010).  Ullstein bought rights from plagiarized author, then republished book. [details]
  12. How We Decide (Jonah Lehrer 2010).  Pulled by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [details]
  13. Assassin of Secrets (Quentin Rowan 2011).  Little, Brown and Company issued apology, recalled all books from online, brick-and-mortar stores, offered full refund to anyone who purchased book. [details]
  14. The Raven’s Bride (Lenore Hart 2011).  St Martin’s Press defends author.  The best response to this defense is a Poe via the blog, The World of Edgar Allan Poe: “All I can do is offer some more words of wisdom from Mr. Poe himself: ‘To attempt the rebutting of a charge of plagiarism by the broad assertion that no such thing as plagiarism exists, is a sotticism, and no more.’ “  [Here’s the definition of sotticism.]  Amazon still sells this book.
  15. You’re Looking Well (Lewis Wolpert 2011).  Faber and Faber stopped selling the book in 2014.  Though it seems to be on Amazon.  He plagiarized parts of his next book, it appears. [details]
  16. Imagine (Jonah Lehrer 2012).  Houghton Mifflin recalled all copies, reimbursed people if they wanted to bring in copy to where they bought it. [details]
  17. Government Bullies (Rand Paul 2012).  Center Street promised to fix the “misunderstanding.” [details]
  18. A Call to Resurgence (Mark Driscoll 2013).  InterVarsity Press seemed sorry, and explained how author erred, but I don’t think it recalled the book. [details]
  19. Seeds of Hope (Jane Goodall with Gail Hudson 2013).  Grand Central (Hachette) had author(s) rework the book for new publication. Hachette made public announcements about recall, reasons. [details]

 

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Happy anniversary Dr Dorin Schumacher!

Dorin Schumacher with motocycle.
Photograph of Dorin Schumacher from Cambridge Who’s Who. She was Professional of the Year for Non-Profits Management in 2011.

One of the mildly entertaining things about having a blog is seeing what type of web searches lead people to my site.  For me, key search terms usually include “killing camel crickets”.  But “Dr Dorin Schumacher” is up there, too.  The former is a pestiferous creature that dwells in dark places and leaves frass stains everywhere. The latter has a doctorate in French literature, has a fondness for wearing black, and heads a Georgia-based non-profit (The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research) that plagiarizes my site heavily.  When I complained about the plagiarism, she used CPBR’s money (which comes from the DOE, USDA, and EPA … i.e., you) to hire a fancy lawyer to threaten me with copyright infringement.  She has demanded that I take down my site or face hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

That was a year ago, and it seems like a fine day to make an anniversary post in her honor, if for no other reason than to solidify my awesome “Dr Dorin Schumacher” Google ranking.

When news of this frass behavior hit the internet last year, there was a lot of interest (albeit brief), even from people who don’t normally care about the design of scientific posters (the content of mine that CPBR had stolen and claimed was theirs).  For example, the story crashed the servers at The Chronicle of Higher Education (that had never happened before, I was told).  A lot of people contacted me with emails of sympathy, but nothing really affected Dr Schumacher’s little hive in St Simon’s Island (a resort town).

So here’s what I did: I spent a fun-filled week contacting Presidents, Grants Administration Chairs, and designated DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Agents at every single one of CPBR’s member institutions.  I informed them that CPBR’s document infringed on my copyrighted material, attached proof (PDFs, etc.), and asked them to stop emailing the document to their researchers.  Naturally, forwarding material that is known to violate copyright is something universities traditionally avoid.  I also informed the private corporations that they were trafficking a document that violated my copyright. Biotechnology corporations generally like copyright law, too.

One year later: not a single member has complied with my wishes — they are all still members of the CPBR racket (it diverts millions of dollars of taxpayer money that would normally go to USDA, EPA, and DOE grants).  The only encouraging response I got was from a person who said, “we will continue to follow this” (yeah, thanks a lot).  All of them apparently decided that ignoring my request (after all, just some snarky botanist in Swarthmore) would preserve the juicy financial benefits of continued CPBR membership.

And CPBR continues to email the document containing my text to all its member institutions and still has “copyright CPBR” plastered on the pages in question.  In fact, everything seems to be peachy at CPBR in the resort town of St Simon’s Island, Georgia.  They just finished an annual gathering in DC, and even had important government officials (Dr Johnathan Male, Department of Energy; Sanford Bishop, US House of Representatives) and scientists give keynote talks (see program details).  And its funding seems rather secure (according to the DOE’s Dr Male in this PDF).  The Department of Energy has given them $23 million dollars.  Dr Schumacher pays herself $1/4 million per year.

So I thought it would be fun to list the member institutions below as a way to call attention to their inaction.  If you’re an alum who might care to contact them, you’d get 17 karma points. If you want to contact the DOE office that gives CPBR its money, you can email them.

cpbr member institutions

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Kids learn to plagiarize from their public school teachers

Use quotation marks to avoid plagiarism
This is a made-up quote inspired by a public school teacher who plagiarized me (twice). Please use this slide in your presentations to teachers-in-training.

This post is for public school principals and superintendents — people who are in a position to set broad educational policies and to rally teachers, staff, and students to achieve those goals.

Here’s my plea: ask your teachers to use quotation marks and citations when they copy/paste text into Prezi shows and syllabi.  Without explicit marching orders, some teachers seem to plagiarize, and then their impressionable students may end up believing plagiarism is “mildly bad but acceptable,” just like sharing MP3 files and bootleg Gossip Girl episodes.

How often do public school teachers plagiarize?  I don’t have any real data, but I’ve recognized chunks of my text on perhaps several hundred syllabi, slides, and handouts.  That might seem like a small number (there are a lot of teachers), but I see the frequency as rather depressing.  They are teachers — of all people on the planet, shouldn’t they be on top of attribution?  You don’t even need to find a special character code: it’s SHIFT + ‘.  Easy peasy.

So some teachers clearly plagiarize (and then post the files on the Internet for the whole world to see).  But why?  Let me allow a teacher to answer that.  The teacher quoted below plagiarized from me several times, excerpting parts of my Designing conference posters page onto her syllabus (no quotation marks or citation).  When I mentioned this to her, she replied,

“You’re absolutely right. Sorry again. It is a good resource and it helps kids, which is why I use it. I can see why you take issue that it is part of my syllabus which is tied to me/my class, but the teaching world couldn’t possibly, on every single document/worksheet/test we give our students, quote or cite source for chunks of information we use to help our students learn things. Education (at least where I teach) moves too quickly to do so, and we already have too much asked of us in and outside of the classroom. But yes, it is a large amount of information taken directly from your site/work.”

On her syllabus are chunks taken from other people, too (you can tell partly because the font and writing style are completely different; again, no quotation marks and no citations).  If students are able to recognize such patchwriting (likely, given it was an Advance Placement course), the students may assume plagiarism is socially acceptable.  If a lot of teachers plagiarize like the above, I think it may explain why so many students in college plagiarize.  It can also explain why they seem so shocked when they get penalized.

The teacher above is using what I like to call the Fair Use Excuse.  “Fair use” is a quasi-official term that describes a clause in the US Copyright Act, and allows people to legally use copyrighted text or images under some circumstances.  But “fair use” does not relate to (or permit) plagiarism, which is when people pass off other people’s text as theirs (no quotation marks, no attribution).  I’ve even had university copyright lawyers try the Fair Use Excuse when I mention that a faculty member has plagiarized me (i.e., copy/pasted my text with no quotation marks, no attribution).  Would teachers accept a “fair use” explanation from their students?  I don’t think so.

The Fair Use Excuse for plagiarism seems especially common among younger teachers, and I suspect they are second-generation plagiarizers who learned how to plagiarize from their teachers, the first generation that started using Powerpoint in class. Powerpoint is the entry drug for chronic plagiarizers.  Soon they moved onto Prezi, then started plagiarizing even their plagiarism statements.

By the way, the teacher mentioned above has a strong (one-sentence) warning about plagiarism in her syllabus — she clearly knows what plagiarism is and views it as academic dishonesty.  (Also by the way, her school’s academic honesty policy is plagiarized from another school.  That’s a different post, which, in fact, I’ve already made.)

So if you are a principal or superintendent, please use your influence to encourage your teachers to model academic honesty.  It’s in the same vein as asking them not to smoke in front of the school, behavior you’d think you didn’t need to explicitly prohibit, but do (you do, right?). Of course, if you’re a typical principal or superintendent, you’re thinking right now, “But my teachers are all great — this is simply not an issue at my school/district.”  And — forgive my bluntness — you’d be delusional.

If you are not a principal or superintendent, but know one, please consider sending this post to them. If you happen to be an education professor in college, you might want to add this issue to your teacher certification program (but that’s just me).

And if you are a student who has just been caught plagiarizing (oopsy!), the above information is your ticket out of the trouble!  Just analyze (via Google search) your teacher’s syllabus (or Prezi slides, or whatever) and document his/her plagiarism.  Then show the results to the principal and argue that your teacher showed you, by example, that it was totally acceptable to copy/paste without attribution.  To further make your case, plug in your school’s academic honesty policy into Google — chances are that your principal plagiarized it from a university web page. If teachers and principals do it (they’re busy!), you can, too (because you’re busier!).

For a great overview of how teachers can better reduce plagiarism in public school, this.  Please also see my page on Preventing Plagiarism, wherein I make a special plea to elementary schools teachers.

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False statement in Arnold & Porter letter?

Arnold & Porter LLP is threatening me with a big lawsuit, and I am wondering if anyone could help me parse a statement their lead lawyer made in a letter on behalf of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc.:

CPBR owns a copyright in a document titled “2014 Competition, Bioenergy and Biomass Conversion, From Plant-Based Research to Prototype Bio-Materials, Request for Preproposals, Submission Deadline: December 14, 2012.”

(The bolding is mine.) If CPBR “owns a copyright,” then it seems like the title or author would have to be registered in some database at the U.S. Copyright Office. I tried searching for the title, and also for the author, but couldn’t find any matches.

It would be inconceivable (to me, at least) that CPBR’s lawyers didn’t check the copyright status of the document. And also inconceivable that they wouldn’t do a quick Google search to see whose poster hints had primacy on the internet.

Any thoughts, folks?

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