Tag Archives: copyright

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

 

 

Posted in Biology, Education, Graphic design, Plagiarism, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Adding photo credits to Powerpoint shows

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 …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In other news, my other thoughts on Powerpoint.

And, since you’re reading below the fold … any advice on getting WordPress to display Powerpoint slides so that URLs work?  I’ve tried several plug-ins, but nothing seems to work.

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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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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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Citing text in Powerpoint presentations

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.

Citing sources in an oral presentationPlease also see Kyle D. Stedman’s article on annoying sources.  And if you need a laugh, I highly recommend The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotations.  (Search for Colin Purrington if you’d like to see my contributions.)

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