UPDATE: please see this page for updated slides and additional tips.
Here are tips for educators on how to attribute images in a Powerpoint slide deck (hit pause button to assert manual control of the slide advance). The tips are focused on the logistics of attribution (placement, text color, etc.) since the law aspect is, um, complicated. It’s just a draft, so if you have suggestions, let me know in comments or via email. I made it because very, very few educators seem to provide image credits. Or at least the ones who post their slides online …
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.
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?).
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).
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.
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.
I created the PDF below because many students who post their talks on the internet seem to think it’s OK to plagiarize when using Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc. It’s just six slides because the average person will get bored after the first slide, when references to elevator romance abruptly stop. It ends on a few issues that have short answers, but you can add the details if you want. If you can help spread the word, great.
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 end up viewing plagiarism as “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 proper and careful 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 the second time, 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 this as patchwriting (likely, given it was an Advance Placement course), 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 that allows people to legally use copyrighted text or images under some circumstances. But “fair use” does not allow plagiarism (using text without quotation marks and without attribution). I’ve even had university copyright lawyers try the Fair Use Excuse when I mention that a faculty member has plagiarized me — I laugh at this lame defense. Would teachers accept a “fair use” explanation from their plagiarizing students? I don’t think so.
The Fair Use Excuse for plagiarism seems especially common among younger teachers, and I suspect these individuals are second-generation plagiarizers who learned how to plagiarize from their teachers … the first generation that started using Powerpoint in class. Powerpoint is, in my view, the entry drug for chronic plagiarizers.
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. (Her school’s academic honesty policy is plagiarized from another school, by the way.)
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. 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. Really.
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!).