Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, July 16, 2007

More on OA and plagiarism

Clement Vincent, The Purloined Bibliography, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 16, 2007. 

Vincent compiled a bibliography, made it OA, and later found it plagiarized in a published book.  (The proof was that the published version repeated Vincent’s typos and annotations.)  When he confronted the publisher with the evidence, it questioned whether a web site or bibliography could be copyrighted.  When Vincent wrote to the authors, he received an acknowledgement of his work and an apology for the omission.  The publisher eventually reprinted the plagiarized portion of the book with credit to Vincent.  Excerpt:

What have I learned from the experience? …First, I am not sure I can call my experiment in open-access publishing a success. I have been thinking about starting a bibliography on another topic. Should I also put it online? I don't know.


  1. Vincent was treated very badly, but he should blame the publisher, not OA.  OA reduces the likelihood of plagiarism, though without eliminating it.  As I’ve often argued:
    OA deters plagiarism.  In the early days, some authors worried that OA would increase the incentive to plagiarize their work.  But this worry made no sense and has not been borne out.  On the contrary.  OA might make plagiarism easier to commit, for people trolling for text to cut and paste.  But…plagiarism from OA sources is the easiest kind to detect.  Not all plagiarists are smart, of course, but the smart ones are steering clear of OA sources….
  2. Yes, web pages can be copyrighted.  Shame on this unnamed publisher either for not knowing that elementary fact of publishing life or for responding to Vincent in bad faith.
  3. The publisher should also know better than to confuse plagiarism with copyright infringement, which are separate misdeeds (even if they overlap, as here).  By chance I wrote about this in SOAN last month:
    Someone can commit plagiarism without infringing copyright (by copying a fair-use excerpt and claiming it as one's own) and infringe copyright without committing plagiarism (by copying a larger excerpt but with attribution).  One can also commit both together (by copying a large excerpt and claiming it as one's own), but that doesn't collapse the distinction….Plagiarism is typically punished by the plagiarist's institution, not by courts, that is, by social norms, not by law….