Wednesday, December 23, 2009

German court finds ghostwriting okay

A terrible backlog of articles about plagiarism has accumulated. I hope to clear it out over the holidays. Since this one just surfaced in the German mainstream media, I'll link it here:

The Frankfurter Rundschau (and the Berliner Zeitung) ran an article by Hermann Horstkotte about the judgment taken in September by the High Court in Frankfurt/Main about a plagiarism case.

An honorary professor (who also happens to be responsible for corporate social responsibility at a large German company) hired a ghostwriter in 2002 to write an article for him. The article appeared in a journal under the name of the honorary professor, with just a footnote thanking the true author, who was an employee at that time.

Four years later the employee discovers this article in the literature list of the honorary professor. And since this person is now in business for himself, he doesn't like the idea of his own work being used by the other guy, and he requests from him removal of the work from his literature list (which he complies with) and a signature under a cease-and-desist order (which he refuses).

It ends up in court, and the court decides, that since the honorary professor is not a "real" member of the university, this is just a normal text-writing contract and is fine. That this is against university policy, German research system policy, and is highly unethical, has nothing to do with German law.

A university spokesman said that the university will strengthen its efforts to make it clear that ghostwriting is unacceptable, both for students and for professors.

I feel that if the courts make such a distinction between honorary and "real" professors, then we need to get rid of honorary professors. They should be held to the same standards as the rest of us, or they can't print "Prof." on their calling cards.

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