Friday, March 30, 2007

Students sue iParadigms LLC over alleged copyright violation with turnitin

The Washington Post reports on a case of two high-school students, two in Fairfax County, Virginia, and two in Arizona, who are taking iParadigms LLC to court over copyright violations. (Also blogged on RealTechNews in English and Golem in German.)

iParadigms LLC sells the plagiarism detection service "turnitin", which retains a copy of all papers submitted for use in future plagiarism detection. I obtained a legal expertise in 2004 from the Intellectual Property Helpdesk of the EU which noted that such a service is illegal according to EU copyright law (which ist, technically, not copyright but Urheberrecht oder droit d'auteur, author's rights in the French tradition) as it forces the creator of a work to do something with the work against his or her will.

In the US, copyright is the right to make copies and can actually be sold to a person, natural or legal. The students first registered their papers with a copyright authority before submitting them with explicit instructions not to store the papers, which was ignored by iParadigms.

The company, of course, insists that it is not violating the student's rights, so this is a perfect situation for a legal test: straight-A students objected to being considered plagiators, to having to prove their innocence instead of being assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Students at other schools such as McGill and Mount St. Vincent University in Canada have succesfully protested the use of turnitin without getting a court opinion. This case may eventually make it's way to the Supreme Court so that this bit of copyright law can be determined. The students are to be lauded for their courage in exercising their rights in this question.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Identification of Music Plagiarism

markenbusiness reports on a case of itunes being able to identify a purported music plagiarism. Since iTunes uses a signature of the music to identify the performer, a download of one piece suggested it was done by someone else. And since from both the music is digitally identical in the wave forms, something fishy is up.

Of course, it could just be a database error, with the same musical signature stored for both performers. But since one pianist is involved in numerous such pieces, an investigation is being conducted.

Stealing Ideas?

Janet Stemwedel reports in her blog "Adventures of Ethics and Science" :
In this week's issue of Chemical & Engineering News, there's an article about a chemist at Stockholm University who's in hot water for stealing other scientists' ideas that they presented at lectures and symposia -- rushing back to his own lab to set up and run the same experiments, then failing to cite the sources of these stolen ideas. Full disclosure: I'm a quoted source in the article.
The link, unfortunately, is to a page that is for subscribers only. Luckily (I suppose) there is someone in China with no regard for copyright, so the contents of the page is pasted under the title of "Giving Proper Credit" (!! giving no credit to the actual source).

A number of researchers have complained of A. Córdova having listened to them lecture returning to his lab, repeating their results and publishing them in other journals without referencing their work. There has been an investigation, and consequenses have been levied.

From this article we learn about the consequences :
Stockholm University counters that the consequences for Córdova are appropriately tough, pointing out that his violations do not include scientific fraud. Córdova must attend an ethics course, and he must present papers to his dean for review before he submits them to journals for publication-a detrimental delay for a young investigator in a fast-moving field of science.
I can turn up no other google-able reports on this case. Instead, one reads of prize after prize that he has won in Sweden, and there are some papers available online (not that non-chemists can read them).

This is a fine line - what exactly is original research? Is it ethical to get inspiration this way? Should there not perhaps be mandatory ethics courses for all young researchers? I would appreciate more information on this case, if anyone has particulars.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Plagiarism is "usual"?

A troubling letter from the district attorney in Darmstadt about the case of Axel Wirth. There is a bit of controversy here in Germany about this law school professor in Darmstadt. A newish law book was taken from the shelves when it was discovered that the 100 page chapter published under the name of this professor was extremely similar to another book - similar to the point of word-for-word copy without attribution.

The chapter was deemed a plagiarism - but the flak hit one of the professor's assistants, who apparently "wrote" the chapter for his boss. Seems the boss did not check it out too thoroughly before adding his name - this process is called "honorary authorship" and is found ethically troubling in many circles. But both the ombud for good scientific practice at the university as well as the aforementioned district attorney say that this is standard operating procedure at universities.

It does seem to be that way, as the same sort of hubbub is on over at the Humboldt-University in Berlin. Hans-Peter Schwintowski published a book with a lot of non-footnoted material and "quotes". The book has also been removed from the shelves. At least this colleague will be looking into the matter and fixing things, but he does mention that the publisher was unhappy with "all those footnotes".

The point of footnotes is so that the reader who so desires can follow the arguments back to the source. And one writes in one's own words, not the words of others.

At least at the HU there is still the committee looking into the situation. But what troubles me is the nonchalance with which colleagues who do not need to be assembling plagiarisms seem to be using them. We need a discussion about a culture of quoting in Germany, and we need it right now.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


A German professor, Martin Gutbrod, wrote a little software system called "Docoloc" in order to fight the plagiarisms he was finding. The media are singing the praises of this software, although in the test I did of the software in 2004 did not give the software any prizes - it was only able to correctly determine whether an essay was a plagiarism or not in 6 of 10 tests (after some problems getting it to run). I will be repeating this test this summer, more on that to come.

I find it troubling, though, that software that purports to fight plagiarism itself uses a layout that is a blatent plagiarism of Google's layout.....