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Plagiarizing Wikipedia For Profit 223

Posted by kdawson
from the ip-is-on-the-other-foot dept.
An anonymous reader sends word of a dustup involving the publisher John Wiley and Sons and Wikipedia. Two pages from a Wiley book, Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors, consist of a verbatim copy from the English Wikipedia article on the Khobar Towers bombing. This is the publisher that touched off a fair use brouhaha earlier this year when they threatened to sue a blogger who had reproduced a chart and a table (fully attributed) from one of their journals.
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Plagiarizing Wikipedia For Profit

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  • by dotancohen (1015143) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @06:56AM (#21334225) Homepage
    According to law, they are doing nothing illegal and are even protecting their own legal rights. This is what happens when law dictates human behaviour, instead of morals. Precisely this situation Plato envisioned when he said that good men need no laws to tell them how to behave, and evil men will find ways around the laws.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aladrin (926209)
      Yeah, because that works -so- well. Let's see... Completely disregarding what the Bible says (which is the moral guidance for a -lot- of people), there have been plenty of other 'moral' actions that we no longer consider moral, or that a portion of the world, and a portion doesn't... Slavery, the equality of women and men, war, circumcision, -many- aspects of sex... The list goes on and on.

      There are those who honestly believe it's okay to just physically take whatever you want. Does that mean it's okay
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by KaoticEvil (91813)
        I personally think that "morals" should play no part whatsoever in lawmaking. What one person thinks is "morally correct" I may feel is immoral. Or vice versa.

        For example: I am quite sure that my wife and I do things in our bedroom that some bible-thumping religious nazi would find highly immoral. Does that mean they should be illegal? I think not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Floritard (1058660)

        There are those who honestly believe it's okay to just copy whatever files they want. Does that mean it's okay?


        Yes.

        Well that settles that then. Thanks for your time.
      • by hondo77 (324058)

        Completely disregarding what the Bible says (which is the moral guidance for a -lot- of people)...

        Hey, if disregarding the bible is good enough for the President, it is good enough for the rest of us!

    • So there's no one in jail, then?
  • by MollyB (162595) * on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:00AM (#21334243) Journal
    Perhaps an imaginative programmer out there will develop a "De-Plagiarize" application and port it to all platforms. Paste the text or graph into the box and out pops a perfect paraphrase.
    (Profit?)
    • by jamesh (87723)
      I think its already been done [yodaspeak.co.uk]

      Develop a, perhaps an imaginative programmer out there will "De-plagiarize" To all platforms application and port it. Paste the text or graph into the box and out pops a perfect paraphrase. Yes, hmmm.

      Does it get any more perfect than that?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by geordieboozer (849533)
      this is already available by using babelfish to translate to another language and then back again:

      "Possibly imaginative programmer will outside there begin "de -.Plagiatorstvuet" application and holds it to all platforms. You will stick text or diagram into the box and outside flap the perfect paraphrase (profit?)"
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:19AM (#21334589)
      "Hi! It looks like you're trying to steal someone else's intellectual property! Would you like me to a. attribute it properly for you or b. adjust it so your theft isn't so blatantly obvious?"
    • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot@davidgerar d . c o.uk> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @04:32PM (#21341039) Homepage

      There is actually a bot on Wikipedia that runs Google checks on all new articles and marks any text it finds elsewhere for speedy zapping. This turns up more than a few false positives, but mostly huge amounts of copyright violations that then get quickly zapped.

      Wikipedia remains the only "Web 2.0" project that proactively gives a damn about copyright.

  • by artifex2004 (766107) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:01AM (#21334245) Journal
    Although the author of the linked page says he wrote much of the disputed text and released it into public domain, the license governing Wikipedia is GNU FDL, as can be seen by a link at the bottom of every page. The combined work, because it includes work by others, is covered by that license.

    If Wiley published this text without citing the FDL, they're in violation of it. Seems pretty clear. Further, the license says that if the work is modified, the resulting document must also be released in FDL, according to section 4. This is where it gets interesting. :)
    • by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:39AM (#21334695) Homepage Journal
      Not that "interesting" really. Saying that it "must be" under the GFDL isn't the same as saying that it automatically is under the GFDL. They are in violation of copyright, plain and simple, the GFDL doesn't automatically apply to the whole book, that's crazy talk. It's then up to the lawyers or the courts to come up with a suitable violation penalty and a solution going forward.
    • by AVee (557523)

      Although the author of the linked page says he wrote much of the disputed text and released it into public domain, the license governing Wikipedia is GNU FDL, as can be seen by a link at the bottom of every page. The combined work, because it includes work by others, is covered by that license.

      I'm not really into how 'public domain' works in copyright, but surely you can't just claim something is your own writing when it is a public domain written by somebody else? Apart from the morals of it when you know who the author is, it is a flat a lie to claim it's written by you when it's actually written by somebody else. The fact that this someone else doesn't care about getting credits for his work doesn't mean you can take credit for what is not your work.

      • to NOT sound like everything you write is uncorroborated and unsupported supposition?

        When I write on my blogs or for my podcast, I publish the links web pages or to Amazon book purchasing links where I got my information. (If nothing else, it makes me look like I'm well read.)

        That way, if there is a problem with the source, I can tell people to stop arguing with me and take the problem up with my source.

        If my sources turn out to be wrong, I can apologize for getting misled without having to defend the thoug
    • - except it was an application included on a CD in David Pogue's Palm PDA book:

      http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/palmpilot/ [oreilly.com]

      - my client's simple license clearly stated 'no distribution on media without permission,' but it was included...

      - i never busted o'reilly's chops about it, 'cause i met him one time at a Perl conference in Monterey and he was very nice to me...

  • by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:03AM (#21334259)
    The Wikipedia link discusses the problem of bringing copyright violation charges. But, even if it is released in the public domain, the problem for the publisher and author is the charge of plagiarism.

    Many high-profile authors have been brought down by charges of plagiarism. They have not been sued for copyright violations but they have suffered significant consequences nonetheless. See, for example, the recent case of Kaavya Viswanathan [nytimes.com]. As such, I would think that the copyright violation angle can be pretty much ignored. It's distracting and weak. The plagiarism charge, however, could have significant consequences.
  • by od05 (915556)
    Is it plagiarism if I make up something, post it in Wikipedia, write an academic paper, and cite the reference I previously had made up?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      No, that's just silly.
    • by Dunbal (464142) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:22AM (#21334605)
      If your academic paper cites wikipedia, well, good luck with peer review...
    • by Archtech (159117)
      Despite all the replies pointing out that Wikipedia's academic standing is relatively low, the question itself is valid, interesting, and of some importance.

      I am reminded of the story about the guy who writes a paper for the government which is then classified so that he is no longer entitled to read it. (Always wondered if he is also legally obliged to forget everything he wrote? What if he has an eidetic memory?)
      • by benna (614220)
        The point is not really Wikipedia's academic standing in particular, but rather that one should not cite any encyclopedia in academic writing.
    • by japhmi (225606)
      Considering my college considered it to be a violation of academic honesty to submit the same paper to two different classes, I think referencing a Wikipedia article you wrote (regardless of the merit of that particular article or Wikipedia as a whole) would be frowned upon.
    • by Bloater (12932)
      No, citing Wikipedia in an academic paper, whether your own work or not, is called "a third".
    • This actually happens way too often in journalism - someone puts a press reference into a Wikipedia article, someone else tracks it down, the reporter then confesses to having obtained the factoid from Wikipedia a few years previously. All die. Oh, the embarrassment!
  • by DreamingDaemon (1185117) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:29AM (#21334347)
    As the incredibly-talented sci-fi writer Bob Unherdof said to his struggling burger-flipper friend George Lucas in 1975....
  • Slashdot tags (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvanED (569694) <evaned.gmail@com> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:39AM (#21334389)
    This article is tagged "thief". I thought it was standard /. wisdom that copyright infringement isn't theft?

    Anyway, are we sure that the text is from Wikipedia, and not both from a third source? It's probably unlikely, but "they copied from Wikipedia" is far from the only explanation.
    • Re:Slashdot tags (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sirch (82595) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @07:58AM (#21334465) Homepage

      I thought it was standard /. wisdom that copyright infringement isn't theft?
      Only when it's Joe Public doing the infringement. When Bob Corporate infringes, Slashdot's bile rises...

      While that's a gross generalization of what I perceive to be a double-standard, I can see some kind of justification behind it - Joe Public generally doesn't make money off it, whereas Bob Corporate infringes for profit.
      • Re:Slashdot tags (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mgblst (80109) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @09:01AM (#21334843) Homepage
        I think the double standard arises because it is ok to copy something, but to do it for profit is wrong. That seems a more reasonable standard than the one that you propose.
      • Two differences... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @12:25PM (#21337187) Journal
        First, when Joe Public infringes, he generally does so for himself. When Bob Corporate does, it's for the world at large.

        Second, Bob Corporate usually gets away with it. If Joe Public is caught, he faces heavy, personal penalties. Bob Corporate can simply have Bob Corporate Inc cover the damage, assuming that they're caught at all and that they lose in court.

        Finally, we take great delight in finding a similar double-standard in Bob Corporate. This company, for instance, went after someone else for a fairly sizable quote (with attribution), and we now find them stealing wholesale (with no attribution). This seems almost second nature to most corporations -- in fact, I forget where it was, but I seem to remember reading someone psychoanalyzing a corporation (as if it were a human) and finding that it's insane.

        Which comes back to "A person is smart. People are dumb, stupid, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by olddotter (638430)
        Only when it's Joe Public doing the infringement. When Bob Corporate infringes, Slashdot's bile rises...

        While that's a gross generalization of what I perceive to be a double-standard, I can see some kind of justification behind it - Joe Public generally doesn't make money off it, whereas Bob Corporate infringes for profit.


        Especially when Bob corporate earlier sued a member of Joe Public for the same actions. "May he who is with out sin cast the first stone."
    • by TheLink (130905)
      1) Not everyone on Slashdot agrees on everything.
      2) I don't think it takes that much to make a tag appear.
      3) It might be a "meta" statement.
    • Re:Slashdot tags (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:31AM (#21334643) Homepage
      The thing is that they did copy the text and said "this is mine, I created this", thus you stole the attribution. This does not happen when you send an mp3 to a friend.
      • Identity theft is another example. It's not the material itself that's stolen, it's the status in the social sphere.
      • by Kjella (173770)
        Which is fraud, not theft. You know, different crimes but both illegal? If you don't care about that distinction, why should you care about the distinction between copyright infringement and theft?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bogtha (906264)

        you stole the attribution

        That's as disingenuous as when record companies claim that you "steal" potential profits. This is not theft. Nothing is being taken away from the original author's possession. There is a perfectly accurate word for what has happened here, it is "plagiarism". Why play word games instead of using the proper word for things?

        • plagiarism

          Literary theft. Plagiarism occurs when a writer duplicates another writer's language or ideas and then calls the work his or her own. Copyright laws protect writers' words as their legal property. To avoid the charge of plagiarism, writers take care to credit those from whom they borrow and quote.

          "plagiarism." The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 13 Nov. 2007. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/plagiarism>.
        • Re:Slashdot tags (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DarkOx (621550) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:28AM (#21335599) Journal
          You are totally correct in that plagiarism is the correct word and that it is the word we should be using to talk about the issue. To the point being made by other posters however plagiarism is a more serious matter then copyright infringement IMHO. With copyright infringement some control over the content is lost to the owner/author. With plagiarism not only is some of the control lost to the author but also the credit for the work.

          In both the academic and artistic circles this is much more damaging than copyright infringement. Once you have created a work of academic or artistic value and its recognized by others as one of those things, it really becomes your personal credibility in the field. If your an artist, it gets you hired to perform, or patronized, if your an academic it gets you a job in industry, a teaching position, funding to more similar work, etc.

          If someone plagiarizes your work then they may get these things instead of you and worse yet possible get you accused or suspected of plagiarism. I think its clear the original author is hurt much more by plagiarism then mere copyright infringement, which if people are bothering to infringe on your copyrights probably does more for your general credibility then anything else could and may actually benefit you in a variety, although certainly not all circumstances. If anyone wants to compare this to the RIAA crying about mp3z its would have to be like you uploading the latest top 40 song and then claiming you and your buddies performed it in the garage the other day.
          • by Bogtha (906264)

            To the point being made by other posters however plagiarism is a more serious matter then copyright infringement IMHO.

            If you want to address that point, then with all due respect, please reply to the people saying it. I haven't even remotely touched on the issue of the relative seriousness of these actions. An argument against misleading rhetoric is an entirely different thing to judging the ethical implications of these actions, and I'm thoroughly sick of people attempting to tie the two together.

        • Why play word games instead of using the proper word for things?

          It's quite amusing that you can say that with a straight face... Because you are the one playing word games, not the OP. Thievery and piracy have been accepted terms for this behavior for centuries. It's only in the last few years that advocates of IP reform have attempted to change what the acts are called.
        • by Kupek (75469)
          From dictionary.com:

          steal /stil/, verb, stole, stolen, stealing, noun
          -verb (used with object)
          1. to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, esp. secretly or by force: A pickpocket stole his watch.
          2. to appropriate (ideas, credit, words, etc.) without right or acknowledgment.

          The grandparent's usage of the word "stole" is correct. You're actually trying to narrow the definition.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bzipitidoo (647217)

      Copyright infringement != theft. But this is about plagiarism, and that is theft.

      There's a world of difference between copying some Beatles song versus you claiming to be the author of a "new" song that is actually a Beatles song. (Yet other issues are raised by unintentional plagiarism such as Harrison's "My Sweet Lord".) The difference is even more pronounced for out-of-copyright material such as a Beethoven work. Copy that all you like, but don't try to claim you wrote it, and sue everyone to colle

    • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
      Theft is a misnomer, plagiarism is more descriptive, but hey theft will do. Sure you can quote sections of text with proper attribution under fair use, but 2 verbatim pages would probably be considered theft (IANAL etc). The guy that wrote most of it put his work in the public domain for anyone to use however they see fit, but the other contributors haven't and still own the copyright to their works. The copy on Wikipedia is covered by the GFDL and one of the conditions is derivative works must also be cove
    • by Sparr0 (451780)
      Since you brought up tags... How do weird tags (not that "thief" is especially weird) happen? Some random guy adds a "somelongrandomstringofwords" tag. How does that tag get onto the tag list that I see on the front page? I would expect it needs to be tagged that way by a bunch of people before it shows up, but how would those other people know to use that exact same long random string of words?
  • by harmonica (29841) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:11AM (#21334545)
    There are (or were) at least two articles in Wikipedia that are my texts (from my site) with slight variations on sentences. So whoever visits those Wikipedia articles (or did so in the past) and then my pages must come to the conclusion that I stole the stuff from Wikipedia without giving credit. I can't even prove that because I don't have a public version history, and archive.org is spotty when it comes to my site.

    In this case (Wiley book) the articles were there way before the book, so the case seems to be clear, but in general, I recommend to keep an open mind about who copied where.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pedrito (94783)
      Actually, you can notify Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] of copyright violations. They're usually pretty good about following up. As for how to know which came first, one way is with The Wayback Machine [archive.org].

      I had some stuff copied off of a web page and made into a wikipedia article. I reported it as soon as I became aware of it and within a few days, the page was replaced. I don't know if they're always that responsive. It probably depends on who monitors the pages in question.
      • by harmonica (29841)
        Actually, you can notify Wikipedia of copyright violations. They're usually pretty good about following up.

        I know, but it wasn't a 1:1 copy and I didn't want to bitch. I also didn't care that much, and I have received a lot from Wikipedia. In the end, with my (grandparent) posting I wanted to point out that cause and effect aren't always as clear as they seem to be, I used my personal experience only as a case in point, not to complain.

        As for how to know which came first, one way is with The Wayback Machine
        • by japhmi (225606)

          I know, but it wasn't a 1:1 copy and I didn't want to bitch. I also didn't care that much, and I have received a lot from Wikipedia.

          Just go and edit the article(s) in question with a reference back to your page.
  • by niceone (992278) * on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:19AM (#21334591) Journal
    John Wiley and Sons could just edit the wikipedia article to be different. Problem solved.
  • by CheeseburgerBrown (553703) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:27AM (#21334635) Homepage Journal
    ...was unfortunately deleted by an overzealous editor who argued that the issue did not meet notability criteria.

  • by Kuj0317 (856656)
    Wiley made my EE intro to circuits book. 1) there were many mistakes, on 3rd edition run. 2) you had to purchase the answer manual seperately. Ordering it got you a cheap, useless book and a registration card for their online system to actually get the answers. The site made it difficult to save the answers, and the registration expired after 1 year. Yeah, scumbags.
  • Wikiplagarism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PhearoX (1187921) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @08:57AM (#21334803)
    I would submit that Wikipedia contains more plagarism than any one textual work ever created.

    So someone copied Wikipedia?

    Meh.
  • Does anyone have a link to the full text of the book so we can judge for ourselves?
  • Wiley are not responsible for copyright infringement in the stuff the publish. They can't possibly be expected to check all of the work submitted by every author against every other known source. They do ask authors to sign a warranty that the work that is submitted for publication is not somebody else's intellectual property. So if the authors did this, and signed it off as their own, then it's the authors fault.
  • stethoscope (Score:3, Funny)

    by pikine (771084) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @10:52AM (#21335895) Journal

    If we have a stethoscope for the minds of various characters involved at different time, it could be like this:

    • Unpaid college intern who worked on that book uncredited, "Shit, I spent too much time playing Bejeweled and IM with friends, and I have this essay to finish by 4pm. Maybe I'll take a little peek at what Wikipedia has to say about this."
    • George Orwel, "Well done, my lowly minion intern. Looks like a fine essay to me. I'll incorporate it into my book."
    • John Wiley and Sons, "Well done, my lowly minion author. Looks like a fine book to us. We will publish it."

    A year later...

    • Ydorb, "What the heck? They copied my Wikipedia article!"
    • Slashdot, "What the heck? They copied someone's Wikipedia article!"
    • John Wiley and Sons to George Orwel, "What the heck, you copied someone's Wikipedia article?"
    • George Orwel, "Shit, I got sabotaged by one of my lowly minions. How can I ever admit this."
    • John Wiley and Sons, "Shit, we got sabotaged by one of my authors. How can we ever admit this?"
    • Meanwhile, the unpaid intern who work uncredited has returned to school, still addicted to Bejeweled, and still submitting Wikipedia articles for his homework assignment.
  • But. . .how can you have profit with out ??? ?
  • This is far worse than normal infringement, because when I infringe copyright, I'm honest about it, and so are millions of others. We know what we're doing, and we don't try to cover it up. We give credit to the creator.

    These entities, on the other hand (the example in the FA, the plagiarism of the Wiki by The Times of India, and many others) are worse - they do not even acknowledge the source. They do not give the creator due credit. Not only do they infringe copyright and break the law, they also try t

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