Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quotation copying

The German online newspaper Travemünde Aktuell reports on a blatant case of plagiarism from one of their articles. They had reported on a (actually rather boring) podium discussion with a bunch of politicians evading questions posed by a moderator.

The Travemünde Aktuell had made a transcript of what was actually said, but it was rather incoherent, so they reformulated it into sentences that actually made sense and reported it online without using quotation marks, since they weren't actually quotations.

The story got picked up by the advertising weekly Lübecker Stadtzeitung. And suddenly it looks like they have direct politician quotes! They have sentences in quotation marks and these are attributed to the various politicians. Except that they did not actually say that in direct speech. The sentences are 1:1 copies of the text Travemünde Aktuell.

The link above is an interesting article commenting on this copy/paste/add quotation marks job. They have documents of the transcript, of their version, and of the Lübecker Stadtzeitung version. And they are pretty clear that they consider this to be a particularly horrible kind of plagiarism. They are suggesting that they did the work, went to the discussion, talked with the politicians, got the quotes verified. But all they really did do was Google, copy and paste and then decorate with quotation marks. Didn't even have to get off their seats to read through other papers in order to steal the words.

This appears to be something very commen - I often find direct quotes from me in some newspapers by some journalists I have never spoken with. Some are quoting my online learning unit (I suppose that is okay), others just steal quotes and take them out of context for their own articles.


  1. Steht dem Original-Autor ein Honorar/Schadensersatz zu oder darf man Zitate ohne weiteres kopieren?

  2. That is an interesting question. I doubt whether the original author could take the plagiator to court in order to obtain the payment. It would take many years for sure, but it might be interesting. The amount you are fighting over would be minimal.

    The problem is that you have to pay your lawyer up front, and only have a chance to recover your costs if you win the case.

    So in a way, plagiarists have nothing to lose, except their good name.


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