First off this issue, the BBC reports that poet CJ Allen has decided to withdraw his name from the prestigious Forward Prize shortlist after admitting to plagiarism in his earlier work. The plagiarism was spotted by fellow poet Matthew Welton, who claims to have noticed the plagiarism back in May of 2012, shortly after seeing Allen give a reading in Nottingham and he realized that several of Allen’s poems were early versions of his own work. Welton said that, at the time, he wanted to write something about it but didn’t feel any urgency. However, Allen’s Forward Prize nomination helped to spur him to speak publicly about his discoveries. Allen, in turn, has admitted to plagiarizing “certain works” but said that he never intended to deceive and that his submission to the Forward Prize was original. Welton, for his part, also believes the Forward Prize submission to be original. Nonetheless, due to “negative publicity” surrounding his actions, Allen felt it best to withdraw. The Forward Prize will be awarded in a ceremony on October first that will include a reading of all the nominated poems. Allen’s poem, however, will not be among those that are read.
Analysis: Though plagiarism is an ethical failing in almost any field of publication, nowhere is it more deeply felt than in the field of poetry. Poetry is meant to be a personal expression of one’s experiences and views of the world. In short, a poem is meant to be an expression of one’s identity on a personal level. As such, to many poets, plagiarism is more than just the copying of one’s work, but a form of identity theft. Unfortunately, despite how deeply felt the act of plagiarism is among poets, the poetry community is no stranger to plagiarism scandals. Allen’s case is just the latest in a long line of allegations and proved cases. In fact, as we’ll see below, it’s just the latest this month. The truth is that poets are under many of the same pressures as researchers and other authors. The pressure to constantly churn out top-tier work, to publish more with less time and to consistently outperform their earlier efforts. As such, the scandal itself isn’t much of a surprise but what is unusual is that Welton waited so long, over a year, to reveal his findings. Whether it was deliberate or not, the timing is devastating for Allen as he is both forced to pull out of contention for a major award and the timing ensured maximum publicity. In short, regardless of the reason Welton waited, the case shows that plagiarism can come back to haunt someone at any moment and, most often, at the least convenient time imaginable.
Next up this edition, Susan Wyndham at The Sydney Morning Herald reports on another plagiarism scandal striking the poetry community, this time in Australia. The saga began on September 13th when “poetry sleuth” Ira Lightman posted evidence that Australian poets Graham Nunn and Andrew Slattery were serial plagiarists, highlighting several examples of their alleged infractions. The case became fodder for the Australian poetry and literary community, which began to pass the evidence and accusations around via social media. Nunn, for his part, posted an explanation on his blog, which only seemed to enrage the community even more. However, it was Slattery that was the more interesting case. Not only was he the more critically acclaimed of the two authors, having won many awards and widespread recognition, but he claimed that, while he should have cited his sources, the plagiarism was part of his style of poetry. Specifically, Slattery claimed to be writing centos, a form of poetry that is wholly composed using the lines from other authors. In short, Slattery claimed to be a “mash up” artist, using the works of others (without attribution) to create new works. However, the explanation has not helped Slattery avoid the fallout of the revelations. So far, he has had two awards revoked, including the Griffith University Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize, which disqualified him from receiving the $10,000 in prize money and the Cardiff International Poetry Competition, which cost him the $8,000 in prize money for that award.
Analysis: With poetry, as with all forms of art, the debate about what is plagiarism versus what is homage or even a legitimate reuse is a hotly debated one. There are simply no clear cut answers on when the reuse of a passage or an idea crosses the line between art and plagiarism. However, the poetry community seems to have almost universally come down against Slattery in this case. His works, as well as his actions, don’t really match what is commonly thought of as centos poetry. Not only did Slattery fail to cite his sources, but many of the works involved were a hybrid of original and copied passages. While there is certainly a place for appropriation art, including appropriation poetry, Slattery’s use doesn’t meet the criteria. Still, it is important to look at Slattery’s case as yet another study in where the lines between legitimate appropriation and plagiarism are drawn. This is true not only because the lines are constantly shifting, but because there is little agreement on them. Cases like Slattery’s become not just interesting studies in plagiarism, but also studies in the nature of art and when appropriation begins to cross the line into unethical territory.
Next up this edition, Michael Cass at The Tennessean reports that Tennessee State Senator and U.S. Senate Candidate Joe Carr has sparked allegations of plagiarism over his responses to a questionnaire presented by the Coalition for a Constitutional Senate. According to reports, Lamar copied lengthy passages from four different articles on the website for The Heritage Foundation. Carr, however, said that he didn’t consider the copying plagiarism because he didn’t intend to present the work as his own. “There’s nothing in there, quite honestly, that’s uniquely mine,” Carr said. “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Carr is hoping to challenge fellow Republican and incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander for his seat in the 2014 election.
Analysis: Though Carr’s case is not unique in that he’s a running politician caught using the words of others, what is unique is his response. Carr doesn’t claim to have made a mistake or an error, but rather that he did nothing wrong. The truth is that, when you put your name to a work, it is generally assumed that the words and thoughts are your own. While there are exceptions to that rule, most of the time, without proper attribution, readers naturally assume that that the words on the page are written by the stated author. Politicians need to be especially aware of this. Plagiarism scandals, especially early in the election cycle, can be devastating to a campaign. While this likely won’t end Carr’s run at the Senate, it gives his opponents, including an established incumbent, ammunition to use against him later on. In short, it’s important for politicians to make sure that their work is above reproach and that means not just following the rules of what is and is not plagiarism, but avoiding content use that could even be perceived as plagiarism. As for Carr, he is already considered to be a longshot candidate but this controversy, barely a month into his campaign, is not going to do anything to improve his odds. Hopefully other politicians can learn from this misstep and avoid similar ones as the election cycle ramps up in the U.S. for 2014.
Also this month, Brad Dicken at the Chronicle-Telegram reports that Glenn Faircloth, the Superintendent of the Lorain County Joint Vocational School (JVS) has been reprimanded by the JVS Board of Education over his alleged plagiarism in an update he prepared for the JVS website. According to the allegations, Faircloth plagiarized much of his post from a back-to-school message written by Kenmore Town of Tonawanda Schools Superintendent Mark Mondanaro. Though Faircloth added a few sentences dealing specifically with JVS, much of the post, including a misspelling, was lifted from Mondanaro’s work verbatim or near-verbatim. However, Faircloth said that he did not consider his actions to be plagiarism because he did not receive any benefit from the copying. According to Faircloth, the issue would be different if he had submitted the work for a grade. Mondanaro, however, disagreed saying that he would have considered it plagiarism if he had done it. The school board also disagreed and issued a written letter of reprimand. The move was announced at a JVS Board of Education meeting by the Board’s President, Rex Engle. “It was indicated that there was an error made and we don’t expect any errors like that to be made,” Engle said. Engle also said that Faircloth has apologized to Mondanaro, as well as others, for the incident.
Analysis: As we talked about previously with the Chris Spence case and the Lilla Frederick case, school administrators are in a very different position when it comes to plagiarism. This is because school officials are more than just professionals or academics, they are role models that are supposed to lead their students not just through their words, but by setting an example. For Faircloth to not only plagiarize but to excuse the plagiarism by saying it was acceptable since he didn’t gain any direct benefit from it, is both inaccurate and disingenuous. What he did was clearly plagiarism, after all, he took the works of another and plainly presented it as his own, whether he gained any benefit from it is moot. However, what is perhaps most worrisome is that the school board seems to have taken the case so lightly, simply issuing him a written warning. If plagiarism is to truly be one of the most egregious ethical faults in academia, then clear plagiarism by a superintendent has to be treated as a severe breach of trust. The school board, through the lack of stern action, has done a disservice both to its reputation and to the students it has been put in charge of. After all, how can they be expected to learn proper ethics in writing and research when their own superintendent plagiarizes with relative impunity.
Also in this edition, Jasper Hamill at The Register reports that three doctors in the U.K. have been brought before the Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service (MPTS) over allegations of plagiarism. However, rather than it being plagiarism in a book or a research article, it’s plagiarism in an iPhone app that landed them in trouble. The three doctors, Dr. Afroze Khan, Dr. Zishan Sheikh and Dr. Shahnawaz Khan, began developing their app, Critical APPraisal in September of 2010 and released it for sale in July of 2011. The aim of the app was to provide guides and instructions that would help physicians evaluate and diagnose patients. However, text in the app bore at least some resemblance to an earlier book “The Doctor’s Guide to Critical Appraisal”. As a result, the MPTS has been looking into whether the trio “copied or used the same, or substantially the same, structure, content and material from the book” in their app. In addition to the plagiarism allegations Dr. Khan also is accused of posting a positive review of the app without disclosing that he worked on it and stood to benefit from it financially. The three could have their licenses to practice revoked or suspended but the results will not be known as the outcome of MPTS hearings are sealed.
Analysis: As we talked about in an earlier blog post, scientists, doctors, researchers and educators all have more opportunities than ever to write, to publish and to create new works. However, those new opportunities come with new obligations and new risks. The same as a researcher can plagiarize a study submitted to a journal, they can plagiarize in a book they publish or, as with this case, an app they produce. It’s important for those in the scientific field to be aware that the standards of ethics, including plagiarism, should be followed wherever you publish your writing. Though this case may seem novel in 2013, it’s likely that in ten or more years examples of plagiarism in various non-traditional environments will become more common. Hopefully though, both the various ethics boards that oversee these issues and those who choose to publish in such environments, will be able to keep on top of the ethical issues these new opportunities raise and ensure that scholarly work, no matter what format it is published, is held to the correct standards.
Also in this issue, GMA News is reporting that the University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG) is condemning one of its students, Joseph Solis, for his plagiarism in a photo content. Solis had entered a photograph in the “Smiles for the World” photo competition, which was sponsored by the Chilean embassy. After his photo was declared the winner, entrepreneur Gregory John Smith came forward to say that he had taken the photograph and that Solis’ entry was a plagiarism. Solis, for his part, has admitted to the plagiarism and also to a similar plagiarism in an earlier contest. He has said that he will cooperate with any investigation and that he committed the plagiarism due to financial troubles. The Chilean embassy has already stripped Solis of his award, which included a $1,000 cash prize and a free trip to Chile or Brazil. They are planning to announce a new set of winners soon. As for the UP-NCPAG, the school says that the incident happened outside of their jurisdiction but they are still investigating the case to see if any ethics rules were broken.
Analysis: It’s easy to forget that plagiarism is not just an issue for writers. Any artists, in any medium, can commit or be a victim of plagiarism. However, where services like iThenticate can help detect most text-based plagiarism, the technology is still catching up when it comes to visual works. But as sympathetic as Solis may be in some respects, what he did was inexcusable and violated the rules of both the ethics of art and the contests that he entered. Regardless of the circumstances, plagiarism is not the solution because, as this case shows, it almost always comes back to haunt the people who commit it. Hopefully both Solis and others are able to learn from this ordeal and make better decisions moving forward.
Finally today, DL Cade at PetaPixel reports on another case of photo plagiarism, but this one involving the President of Chechnya. Earlier this month, Dutch photographer Herbert Schröer discovered from a fan that the President of Chechnya, Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov, had plagiarized one of his photos. Kadyrov posted one of Schröer’s photos, an image of sheep on a hillside, to his Instagram account without attribution. Kadyrov has since removed the photo, which had received over 4,500 likes and 170 comments. Schröer has said that he has no interest in filing a lawsuit or taking legal action and appeared to be just surprised at the plagiarism of his work.
Analysis: Though many social media sites, including Pinterest, encourage the republishing and sharing of works by third parties, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is more about sharing images that one has taken. As such, it’s likely that many people assumed that the photo on Kadyrov’s account belonged to him and weren’t from outside sources. Regardless though, Kadyrov should have provided at least some attribution, if nothing else than to show respect and courtesy to the work Schröer put in to taking the photo. While the story seems to have reached a happy and quiet resolution, it’s easy to imagine how it might not have. Though Schröer could have filed a takedown notice to get the photo removed, if he had wanted to be litigious about the misuse, he would have found it difficult as both Kadyrov’s status and location would make a lawsuit more difficult. Still, it’s not every day a photographer is plagiarized by a President.