Saturday, November 06, 2010

What Do You Call Reverse Plagiarism?

There has been a considerable online furor recently over a magazine, Cooks Source, that is apparently in the habit of publishing material lifted from the internet, sometimes without credit, sometimes with credit but without permission. The controversy started when Monica Gaudio, the author of an SCA article on medieval apple pie, discovered that an edited version of her article had appeared, with her name but without her permission, in Cooks Source. She complained to the editor and got back an extraordinarily snarky email informing her that everything on the Internet is public domain—which is, of course, not true—and that she ought to be grateful for the editor's effort improving her article.

As the story spread, a considerable number of people spent time and effort going over back issues of Cooks Source to identify the sources of its material; there is now a Google docs spreadsheet up that provides a list of stolen articles. So far as I can tell, they didn't steal any of my medieval recipes; perhaps I should feel insulted.

The story raises an interesting terminological, and legal, question. Publishing something I wrote over someone else's name is plagiarism. What about publishing something I didn't write over my name? Monica's article was published over her name but had been edited without her permission, so some of what was published was not what she had written.

Putting aside the fact that publishing it without her permission, with or without credit, was a copyright violation, what was the legal status of attributing to her words she had not written?


William H. Stoddard said...

It can't be intrinsically illegal. Steve Jackson Games has published around a dozen of my books; they don't always send me the proofs/pdfs for a final review, and I've had books come out as "by William H. Stoddard" that contained sentences someone else added, or extensive edits. Of course, what I do for them is work for hire, and they hold the copyright. But it's still my name on the book.

Doing it with a work in which someone else still holds copyright is very likely a violation of copyright. The copyright holder has the right to control the published form of the work. Subject, of course, to the publisher saying "Cut that scene or we'll cancel publication!"

Kid said...


Kim Mosley said...

It could be defamation of character... attributing something to a wrong author could demean their character.

dWj said...

There is an element of fraud to a lot of IP rights violation; part of the problem with having people put a designer label on jeans not produced by the designer is that one is free-riding on the reputation of the designer; it's possible that, after wearing the jeans a few times, the consumer will find that they don't meet the designer's usual standards, in which case the consumer has suffered from the fraudulent representation. Similarly, when someone's name is put on a recipe that she might not approve of in the form given, it can harm both her and the person who uses the recipe, having been pleased with her recipes (or cooking) in the past.

Anonymous said...

It is still copyright infringment. I know you're attempting to distinguish that away, and look to the attribution of unwanted editoral, uh, "help". But there is no legal mechanism for that.

Kim is closest, as best I can tell - perhaps libel could be tried, too. In any actual court, neither would work, I think quite obviously, at least in the U.S. (If you were both important and British, you'd likely have a better shot at winning a judgement.) Perhaps it shouldn't be that way, but I think that is how it is.

But if we're thinking about peculiar inversions/perversions of imaginary property laws, this sort of thing does actually happen -- in music. Bruce Springsteen famously takes issue with politicians that use his music in ways that decontextualizes his actual intent from time to time. It happened recently with someone else, can't remember who. And some of the Beatles are pretty routinely annoyed with how the rightholders use the music.

We're all postmodernists now, it seems. Heck, California has an interesting/perverse right of publicity rule that controls your right to make bobble head dolls that look like your former governator.

Copyright really doesn't work very well anymore. The warning-shot that was ignored was Richard Stallman. As soon as copyright could be used as a weapon against the traditional state-sactioned owners, well, it was the beginning of the end for the regime. If statist publishers want to keep the franchise, they have to hobble the net now, and deal with copyright thickets being created around Linux, Wikipedia, and the nascent 3D printing and biohacker crowds. Sco tried that, and failed. Microsoft keeps wasting money on nibbling around the edges. Ironically, Apple is making the most successful assult on open standards at the moment, and while I love the product, they're doomed in the long run.

I do conflate code and copy. There is a reason for that. Wikipedia and Apache are not, fundamentally, different.