Category Archives: Plagiarism

A final post on Cooks Source (updated)

Over the weekend, the Daily Hampshire Gazette posted an article by Dan Crowley containing an interview with Judith Griggs about the Cook Source copyright infringement kerfuffle. (See my two previous posts for background.)

I found the article rather sad, as she still doesn’t seem to get it. She admits printing Monica’s article without permission was wrong but continues to make vague excuses about overwork (she and her daughter run the magazine alone) and her “shortcomings when it comes to understanding copyright law.” She clearly doesn’t understand that what sent everyone into a frenzy was the tone and content of her truly extraordinary e-mail to Monica. It was just so wrong, arrogant, and unintentionally funny that it became an instant meme.

And now she has replaced her previous unsigned statement on the Cooks Source website with a new one, full of anger and self-pity (and lots of spelling and punctuation errors):

Its sad really. The problem is that I have been so overworked and stretched that when this woman — Monica — contacted me, I was on deadline and traveling at the rate of 200 mile a day for that week (over 900 in total for that week), which I actually told her, along with a few other “nice” things, which she hasnt written about. I was stupid to even answer her that night, her email to me was antagonistic and just plain rude and I was exhausted. But I got suckered in and responded. She doesnt say that she was rude, she doesnt say that I agreed (and did) to pay her. It was my plan to contact her after deadline and have a good discussion about it….

I should add that this email exchange took place the day before she wrote her article for the world. After she (likely) received my email, she called the home office phone at 10PM, I didnt answer that late, was in bed as I was traveling again the next day (left at 7AM the next morning) to Connecticut, and didnt get back to her. This is not an uncommon practice with anyone, to not respond to a phone call for a day or two, it happens to me from other businesses, all the time. I came home that day from being in Connecticut to find hundreds of phone messages and emails telling me I sucked and was a dirtbag… and much MUCH worse.

I really wish she had given me a chance to respond to her before blasting me. She really never gave me a chance….

This is how it happened:
When putting together a magazine, a publishing firm usually has a staff of many, a stable of writers and proofreaders. Cooks Source doesnt, it is just us two…and believe me we would if we could use more help. Consequently I do much, have a few stalwart writers who love to write (for free) and a number of publishers and book agents who send me A LOT of books, recipes, press releases, etc — I recieved one even today. In the past I have also assisted budding writers with their writing skills and given them a portfolio piece they can get jobs with, from magazines and newspapers that will pay them. In short, we do a lot of good, sell a lot of books for authors, and help a lot of people. But one night when working yet another 12 hour day late into the night, I was short one article… Instead of picking up one of the multitude of books sent to me and typing it, I got lazy and went to the www and “found” something. Bleary-eyed I didnt notice it was copy written and reordered some of it. I did keep the author’s name on it rather than outright “stealing” it, and it was my intention to contact the author, but I simply forgot, between proofreading, deliveries, exhaustion….

The bad news is that this is probably the final straw for Cooks Source. We have never been a great money-maker even with all the good we do for businesses. Having a black mark wont help…and now, our black mark will become our shroud. Winters are bleak in Western New England, and as such they are bleak for Cooks Source as well. This will end us….

Thank you to all our readers, thanks to all our advertisers and writers… and to everyone who has been supportive and who has been a part of Cooks Source. To one writer in particular, Monica Gaudio, I wish you had given me a chance.

You can read the whole thing here.

What a shameful way for Judith Griggs to exit the stage.

Update 1: Here’s Monica’s response.

Update 2 (11/17/10, morning): In a new article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dan Crowley reports that Judith Griggs is officially shutting down Cooks Source magazine:

“Cooks Source is gone,” Judith D. Griggs said Tuesday, just days after personally distributing her last issue of the free magazine in western New England. “It’s done.”… In a phone interview Tuesday, Griggs said she will leave her statement up a few more days before eliminating the Cooks Source website altogether.

Update 3 (11/17/10, afternoon): The Cooks Source website is gone. Here’s the Google cache of Judith Griggs’ final statement.

Monica Gaudio has posted copies (with dates) of all of her e-mails to Judith Griggs, but she can’t publish the full text of the e-mails she received without permission.

But honestly, Cooks Source, your apology needs work

The Cooks Source website has been replaced with an unsigned statement (in serious need of editing) which eventually gets around to apologizing for the unauthorized publication of Monica Gaudio’s article in a very passive “mistakes were made” way. Without explicitly acknowledging that their entire business model appeared to be based on reprinting articles from food blogs and websites without permission or payment (see Ed Champion’s post identifying other articles as well as this spreadsheet listing the original sources of dozens of articles reprinted in Cooks Source), they do promise to change their ways.

Much of the statement is actually about the attacks on the Cooks Source Facebook page, the fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and the harassment of advertisers. (The situation clearly escalated out of control and did lead to cyber-bullying and trolling. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Judith Griggs because of her copyright infringement and her shocking and arrogant e-mail to Monica, but the rampaging internet hordes went too far with the personal attacks and the harassment of the advertisers.)

Here’s what the statement says about the misuse of Monica’s article and future changes:

Last month an article, “American as Apple Pie — Isn’t,” was placed in error in Cooks Source, without the approval of the writer, Monica Gaudio. We sincerely wish to apologize to her for this error, it was an oversight of a small, overworked staff. We have made a donation at her request, to her chosen institution, the Columbia School of Journalism. In addition, a donation to the Western New England Food Bank, is being made in her name. It should be noted that Monica was given a clear credit for using her article within the publication, and has been paid in the way that she has requested to be paid.

This issue has made certain changes here at Cooks Source. Starting with this month, we will now list all sources. Also we now request that all the articles and informational pieces will have been made with written consent of the writers, the book publishers and/or their agents or distributors, chefs and business owners. All submission authors and chefs and cooks will have emailed, and/or signed a release form for this material to Cooks Source and as such will have approved its final inclusion. Email submissions are considered consent, with a verbal/written follow-up….

However: Cooks Source can not vouch for all the writers we have used in the past, and in the future can only check to a certain extent.

That’s nice– blame unnamed writers for the magazine’s repeated copyright infringement. I don’t think that will get you off the hook when the lawyers from Food Network and Martha Stewart come knocking.

You can read the whole statement here.

John Scalzi gave the apology a D+. What do you think?

If you somehow missed the original kerfuffle, see my previous blog post, “No, the web is not ‘public domain.’”

Update: I love this very funny “slightly corrected” version of the Cooks Source statement on the KitchenMage blog.

No, the web is not “public domain”

If you haven’t been following the mind-boggling copyright infringement kerfuffle that’s currently setting the web on fire, here’s a quick recap. A copyrighted article was copied off a website and published in a print magazine named Cooks Source without the knowledge or consent (or payment) of the author, Monica Gaudio. When Monica found out, she contacted the magazine’s editor, Judith Griggs:

After the first couple of emails, the editor of Cooks Source asked me what I wanted — I responded that I wanted an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.What I got instead was this (I am just quoting a piece of it here:)

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

That’s the very definition of chutzpah.

This is a case of copyright infringement, not plagiarism. It would have been plagiarism if the magazine had published the article without crediting the original author. The magazine made unauthorized use of material protected by copyright. This could be quickly resolved if both parties reach a settlement, or else the magazine could theoretically be sued and face financial penalties, though that is unlikely, as the legal fees would be prohibitive. However, I suspect the magazine is not long for this world, as on the magazine’s Facebook page advertisers are pulling out and people are identifying other examples of copyright infringement. If they’ve copied material from major food magazines or websites with deep pockets and lawyers, they’re toast.

Some related links:

Update 1: A post on “How Publishing Really Works” has more information and links, and it points out a new Facebook page for reporting the original sources of other articles published in the magazine, which apparently include the websites of Food Network, Paula Deen, and Martha Stewart, among other big names.

Update 2: BoingBoing, Gawker, and The Consumerist have now picked up the story, and the Twitter storm continues to grow.

Did Tony Blair borrow dialogue from the movie The Queen?

Today’s Telegraph has an article by Tim Walker in which Peter Morgan, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Queen, says he suspects that Tony Blair incorporated lines from the movie into his autobiography:

In A Journey, Blair claims that the Queen said to him: “You are my 10th prime minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born.” In Morgan’s script to the 2006 film The Queen, Mirren, in the title role, tells Michael Sheen’s Blair: “You are my 10th prime minister, Mr Blair. My first was Winston Churchill.” Morgan tells me: “I wish I could pretend that I had inside knowledge, but I made up those lines. No minutes are taken of meetings between prime ministers and monarchs and the convention is that no one ever speaks about them, so I didn’t even attempt to find out what had been said.

“There are three possibilities. The first is I guessed absolutely perfectly, which is highly unlikely; the second is Blair decided to endorse what I imagined as the official line; and the third is that he had one gin and tonic too many and confused the scene in the film with what had actually happened, and this I find amusing because he always insisted he had never even seen it.”

As this is impossible to fact-check without the cooperation of Elizabeth II, we may have to give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt and just marvel at Peter Morgan’s ability to get inside the heads of his characters. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s an excellent film– the screenplay and the performances are exceptional.)

How cutting and pasting can lead to plagiarism

In today’s New York Times, Public Editor Clark Hoyt’s column, titled “Journalistic Shoplifting,” is about the recent plagiarism scandal surrounding Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe.

I wanted to point out this particular passage, in which Hoyt notes that both Zachery Kouwe and Gerald Posner claim that their plagiarism was unintentional, caused by cutting and pasting material from other sources and mixing it up with their own writing:

Kouwe told [John Koblin of the New York Observer] that the plagiarism happened with minor news reported elsewhere that needed to be matched on DealBook. He said he would copy stories from wires, paste them into a file in the editing system, verify the information and then put the material in his own words. At least, he said, that is what he intended to do. When I asked him how he could fail to notice that he was copying someone else’s work, he added further explanation: He said the raw material in the computer files in which he assembled his stories included not only reports from other sources but also context and background from previous articles that he had written himself. When putting it all together, he said, he must have thought the words he copied were his own, earlier ones. “It was just my carelessness in trying to get it up quickly,” he said.

The explanation was similar to one offered only days earlier by Gerald Posner, a reporter for The Daily Beast, who was caught by Jack Shafer of Slate cribbing sentences from The Miami Herald. Posner, who resigned after even more plagiarism was found, also said that he did not do it intentionally. He said he had poured all his research — interviews, public documents, published articles — into a master electronic file and then boiled it into an article under tight Web deadlines, a process that led to disaster.

We’ve seen before how cutting and pasting material written by others can lead to plagiarism, as in the Chris Anderson Free/Wikipedia scandal.

Writers can protect themselves from this kind of  “unintentional plagiarism” by incorporating some simple and practical tips into their research and writing process. In a July 2009 blog post on avoiding plagiarism, I recommended Harvard University’s excellent PDF publication Writing with Internet Sources. The chapter on “Incorporating Electronic Sources into Your Writing” contains a section called “Strategies for Avoiding Internet Plagiarism” (pages 42-44), with important advice for writers:

Internet plagiarism most often occurs when writers cut and paste from the Internet or paraphrase carelessly… The following tips will help you research and write with honesty and integrity.

  • Plan ahead
    … Budget enough time to search for sources, take notes on them, and think about how to use them… Moments of carelessness are more common when you leave your [writing] until the last minute and are tired or stressed. Honest mistakes can lead to charges of plagiarism just as dishonesty can; be careful when note-taking and in the incorporation of ideas and language from electronic sources so you don’t “borrow”—i.e., unintentionally plagiarize—the work of another writer.
  • Print your sources
    Print the relevant pages from any websites you use, making sure that you note the complete URL….
  • File and label your sources
    Never cut and paste information from an electronic source straight into your own [writing]. Instead, open a separate document on your computer for each electronic source so you can file research information. When you cut and paste into that document, make sure to include the full URL….
  • Keep your own writing and your sources separate
    Work with either the printed copy of your source(s) or the copy you pasted into a separate document—not the online version—as you [write]….
  • Keep your notes and your draft separate
    Be careful to keep your research notes separate from your actual draft; this will ensure you don’t cut language from a source and paste it directly into your draft without proper attribution. You can open your notes and your draft next to each other on your computer screen and work back and forth.
  • Acknowledge your sources explicitly when paraphrasing
    In your research notes, use some form of notation to indicate what you’ve paraphrased (e.g., put brace brackets around the paraphrase), and mention the author’s name within the material you paraphrase. Once you start writing and revising, make sure you avoid gradually rewording the paraphrased material until you lose sight of the fact that it is still a paraphrase of someone else’s ideas….
  • Quote your sources properly
    Always use quotation marks for directly quoted material, even for short phrases and key terms….
  • Keep a source trail
    As you write and revise…, keep a source trail of notes and of each successive draft…. You ought to be able to reconstruct the path you took from your sources, to your notes, to your drafts, to your revision….

I also recommend that you read Craig Silverman’s recent column for the Columbia Journalism Review, “The Counter-Plagiarism Handbook: Tips for writers and editors on how to avoid or detect journalistic plagiarism.” Here are two of his useful tips for writers:

  • Use a different font and text color for your research files. This will help you instantly recognize other people’s words when you paste them into your story.
  • Add in the proper attribution as soon as you paste any research into your draft.

I have treats for you…

* Last night I spoke with Stesha Brandon, the events manager of the University Book Store in Seattle, and she told me that they are getting an Espresso Book Machine in January. (See my post “…an ATM for books” for more about the Espresso Book Machine, including video of it in action.) That makes a total of three EBMs in Washington state (University Book Store, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Village Books in Bellingham), more than any other state. Decisions, decisions…. Which public domain work should I print first?

* Thanks to the LiteratEye blog, I’m having great fun browsing through LibraryThing’s “Legacy Libraries” project, in which members of the “I See Dead People’s Books” group enter the libraries of famous dead people as LibraryThing catalogues. There are nearly 70 completed libraries, including  John Adams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Hepburn, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, T.E. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and George Washington. There are also over 50 libraries in progress, including  Charles Darwin, John Dee, Emily Dickinson, C.S. Lewis, Mary, Queen of Scots, Herman Melville, Adam Smith, Leonardo da Vinci, and William Butler Yeats.

* For those who are total Shakespeare geeks like me, behold the new Shakespeare Quarto Archives, containing digital reproductions and transcriptions of 32 copies of the five earliest editions of Hamlet published before 1642. Here’s a video introduction to the Shakespeare Quarto Archives:

* There are lots of end of the year lists, but I always look forward to those by Craig Silverman on his Regret the Error blog. For your reading pleasure:

Crunks 2009: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

2009 Plagiarism Round-Up

* And finally:

Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

Ceiling Cat creats teh universes and stuffs

Yes, Virginia, there is a LOLCat Bible. I discovered the LOLCat Bible Translation project through Steve Wiggins (Neal Stephenson’s brother-in-law), a scholar of ancient and modern religions with a blog named Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

Avoiding plagiarism

I’ve blogged a lot about plagiarism over the last few weeks, so I thought I’d mention that Jane Smith of the How Publishing Really Works blog has declared today Anti-Plagiarism Day and is collecting links to other blog posts on the subject.

For my part, I wanted to link to some useful information about using Internet sources and avoiding plagiarism.

– A few days ago John E. McIntyre wrote a short primer on plagiarism on the Regret the Error blog.

– The excellent booklet Writing with Internet Sources is available as a free PDF on the Harvard College Writing Program website. Though written for Harvard students, it contains great information for everyone on using, evaluating, incorporating, and citing Internet sources and avoiding plagiarism. If you aren’t going to read the entire thing, at least look over this excerpt from the checklist that appears in the booklet:

When USING any source, remember to:

  • Avoid plagiarism by clearly distinguishing between your ideas and those of your sources
  • Cite every source from which you draw a fact or idea that is not common knowledge
  • Acknowledge your sources when paraphrasing or quoting
  • Place any language taken from a source between quotation marks…

When EVALUATING electronic sources,… remember to:

  • Determine the author’s qualifications
  • Determine the purpose and scope of the source
  • Determine the accuracy and reliability of the source
  • Determine the currency and coverage of the source

When INCORPORATING electronic sources into your writing, remember to:

  • Handle your sources carefully
  • Keep track of source locations and changes to online content
  • Keep sources in correct context in your notes
  • Print, file, and label your sources
  • Keep your draft and your notes separate
  • Keep a source trail
  • Don’t leave writing papers until the last minute, since deadline pressure makes it tempting to “borrow” material from the Internet.

“Dear Plagiarist”

More plagiarism in the news this week– actions do (sometimes) have consequences.

Regret the Error reported that Hailey Mac Arthur, a college student working as a summer intern at the Colorado Springs Gazette, was fired after it was discovered that four of her stories were plagiarized from the New York Times.  Here’s the July 7th Editor’s Note from the Gazette revealing the plagiarism and student’s name. Her school, the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, issued a statement on their website that they are “looking into” the plagiarism allegations, they are “withholding judgment” until they investigate, and they emphasized their “unwavering policy against plagiarism of any kind.”

“It’s simple: We don’t tolerate plagiarism,” said the college’s dean, John Wright. “There’s no way you can be a student in our college and not know that we consider plagiarism a grave transgression.”

…Professors and instructors in the college discuss plagiarism in their classes and let students know that even minor offenses can result in a failing grade and possible expulsion from the program and UF.

“From the first semester of the freshman year, journalism students have the evils of plagiarism pounded into their skulls,” said the chair of the journalism department, William McKeen. “That message is part of every course we teach.”

Master Lecturer Mike Foley, former executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times, tells his students on the first day of class that he would advocate kicking out anyone who “steals the words of others.”…

“This case is a stunning aberration,” Foley said. “Our students know better.”

On the Inside Higher Ed website, G. Thomas Couser, a professor of English at Hofstra University, has written an open letter to one of his students, titled “Dear Plagiarist.” Here’s an excerpt:

When you got your paper back with a grade of F for plagiarism, you reacted in predictable fashion — with indignant denial of any wrongdoing. You claimed “you cited everything” and denied that you had committed intentional plagiarism, or ever would….

I suspect that, because too many professors (many of them adjuncts fearful of student backlash) overlook or are unwilling to pursue plagiarism — the process can be labor intensive, and it is always unpleasant — cheating has become a way of life for many students, and they are genuinely surprised at being held responsible for it. So I don’t doubt that your shock is real.

When I declined to believe your initial denial, you reiterated it less strongly (“OK, I used SparkNotes, but I reworded everything”) and appealed to me for leniency on various grounds: first, that you didn’t know that paraphrase required documentation; second, that you had in fact read the book you were supposed to be analyzing (Susannah Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted); and, third, that the low term grade resulting from your F on the paper would cost you your scholarship.

With regard to your first claim, I have to admit that your paraphrase was very thorough, so much so that Turnitin.com, to which you were required to submit your paper for screening, did not lead me to SparkNotes. There were other clues, however: the potted nature of your off-topic observations and, more obviously, your paper’s entire lack of specific page references to your primary source. Also, earlier, less skillful plagiarists had alerted me to the SparkNotes on Girl, Interrupted, so I knew where to look.

Your second claim is also familiar; student plagiarists often claim that they thought documentation is only necessary for quotation. For all I know, this excuse may have worked for them before. But any adequate discussion of plagiarism will correct that misimpression, as I do in course documents you should have read. As a college student, you should know that the key to responsible use of secondary sources is to cite them openly from the get-go and to indicate clearly the boundary between your words, insights, and ideas, and those of your source. But you relied almost entirely on SparkNotes for your observations…

Your use of the online “study guide” SparkNotes is a problem not only because it was unacknowledged but also because it entirely short-circuited your thinking process. Such guides very rarely enable students to carry out independent analysis of primary sources; rather, they tend to inhibit or completely block it because they trade in canned, bland summaries and commentary. When they are sound (which isn’t always the case) they may be helpful for quick review of material a student has actually read (as a student I occasionally used them that way myself), but such general-purpose commentary is no substitute for — or stimulus to — the kind of analysis and argument that are characteristic of true college writing….

The reason that plagiarism like yours makes professors so sad – and, yes, sometimes mad — is that it entirely defeats our attempts to educate you. We work hard to put you in a position to reach understandings that you would not otherwise be able to attain… Cannibalizing a source like SparkNotes is not “extra research” for which you should be lauded (as you claim); on the contrary, it’s a substitute for (and the very antithesis of) the intellectual work that you were asked to do… The problem is not so much rule breaking as point missing….

If you take the text I’ve marked above in bold type and make a few simple substitutions (“Wikipedia” for “SparkNotes,” “writer” for “student,” etc.), you get one of the important lessons that Chris Anderson still hasn’t learned from the plagiarism kerfuffle over his new book, Free:

Your use of Wikipedia is a problem not only because it was unacknowledged but also because it entirely short-circuited your thinking process. Such websites very rarely enable writers to carry out independent analysis of primary sources; rather, they tend to inhibit or completely block it because they trade in canned, bland summaries and commentary. When they are sound (which isn’t always the case) they may be helpful for quick review of material a  writer has actually read, but such general-purpose commentary is no substitute for — or stimulus to — the kind of analysis and argument that are characteristic of writing books. Cannibalizing a source like Wikipedia is not “extra research” for which you should be lauded (as you claim); on the contrary, it’s a substitute for (and the very antithesis of) the intellectual work that you were asked to do.

In the New York Times, Janet Maslin calls Chris Anderson “crass, reckless and lazy”

In today’s New York Times, Janet Maslin demolishes two books in one review– Chris Anderson’s Free and Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider Ellen Ruppel Shell’s “Cheap,” Chris Anderson’s “Free” and the story of the one-cent Hershey’s Kiss. This story appears in both books, but the versions are different. Both come from the same source, but these two authors can’t even agree on what to call him….

Mr. Ariely did an experiment that used chocolate to dramatize the difference that a small shift in pricing could make. According to “Cheap” he offered his subjects a choice between the 1-cent Kiss and a 26-cent Ferrero Rocher hazelnut. At those prices the test subjects were divided 40 percent to 40 percent, with 20 percent opting for neither. Then the prices came down by one penny each, and 90 percent of the subjects took the free chocolate. Only 10 percent chose the higher-priced brand.

Off we go to “Free,” playing fast and loose with different facts and telling the story in somewhat zingier fashion. “Note: behavioral economists have limited budgets and limited time,” writes Mr. Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine and author of “The Long Tail.” “So a lot of their experiments involve a folding table, candy and random college students.”

In its “Free” version the non-Kiss candy is a Lindt truffle initially priced at 15 cents while the Kiss cost a penny; 73 percent of subjects chose the truffle and 27 percent picked the Kiss, with nobody abstaining. Then the prices were lowered by 1 cent each, and 69 percent of the subjects chose the free Kiss. Mr. Anderson doesn’t bother to account for the rest of the sample group, but he does use a quotation from Mr. Ariely to bolster the case that his “Free” makes: “Zero is not just another price, it turns out. Zero is an emotional hot button — a source of irrational excitement.”

Irrational is an apt word, what with the above-mentioned discrepancies. But what’s the upshot of either version of the experiment? And which book can be trusted? Bear in mind that Mr. Anderson has lately been called to task for making uncredited use of free Wikipedia material….

So neither author is entirely to be trusted. Neither was well-advised to use that chocolate story. And neither has written a book that is as sharp as its one-word catchy title….

Mr. Anderson peers into the future and aims his arguments at the business world. Here is what he means by “Free”: If you want to know what he really thinks, you’re going to have to pay for more than his book. He acknowledges that he is giving his book away online, as well as selling it at the not-free price of $26.99, so he can be hired for much more lucrative speaking and consulting jobs.

“I’ve got a lot of kids, and college isn’t getting any cheaper,” he writes. He is sufficiently crass, reckless and lazy to have had someone else read the science-fiction books he uses to illustrate the perils of scarcity and abundance.

Still, Mr. Anderson has come up with a lively conversation piece. Even when the particulars of his argument are easily assailable, the gist is clear: Now that a cornucopia of Internet material has been made available without fee, and in some cases without scruples, the smart business must find ways to adapt to that new reality….

But after beating the drum for giveaways throughout most of his book, Mr. Anderson eventually acknowledges that his idea is in fact not viable. Such are the perils of his sloppily constructed sweeping argument. No, he doesn’t envision an economy based entirely on giveaways. “Free may be the best price, but it can’t be the only one,” he says. He advocates the balancing of differently priced versions for different markets, acknowledging that this tricky balance is not easily achieved….

Here are links to my two previous blog posts about Chris Anderson:

“Can’t decide which is more embarrassing– failing to cite Wikipedia as a source or using Wikipedia as a source.”

“Laziness is not an excuse for plagiarism”

UPDATE 7/23/09: Today the New York Times printed a correction to Janet Maslin’s review:

The Books of The Times review on July 6, about “Cheap,” by Ellen Ruppel Shell, and “Free,” by Chris Anderson, referred incompletely to experiments involving chocolate conducted by Daniel Ariely and cited in the books. The experiments, in which subjects were offered two different chocolates at different prices, and then offered one at a lower price and one free, were similar but not the same. The books did not describe the same experiment.

Since the original combined review was published, the Times has also published positive separate reviews of each book by different reviewers:

Virginia Postrel’s July 10th review of Free

Laura Shapiro’s July 16th review of Cheap

“Laziness is not an excuse for plagiarism”

There’s been a lot of commentary in the blogosphere about the “Chris Anderson plagiarizing from Wikipedia” kerfuffle. (See my previous post for a recap.) There are too many apologists for Anderson and his use (or misuse) of Wikipedia, and even some criticisms have missed the forest for the trees. Let me spell it out:

  • It is simply not acceptable to quote or paraphrase from Wikipedia when writing a book or doing serious research. Wikipedia is a tertiary source, and a deeply flawed one at that. If high school students aren’t allowed to quote or paraphrase from Wikipedia or traditional encyclopedias, it is absurd to think that it’s acceptable for the author of a book to do so. It is not only intellectual laziness of the highest order, it ignores Wikipedia’s own warnings about its limitations and appropriate use. As I quoted in my previous post: “Most educators and professionals do not consider it appropriate to use tertiary sources such as encyclopedias as a sole source for any information… Wikipedia articles should be used for background information, as a reference for correct terminology and search terms, and as a starting point for further research. As with any community-built reference, there is a possibility for error in Wikipedia’s content — please check your facts against multiple sources….”
  • If you insist on using Wikipedia, you must track down the original reference sources cited and verify the information. Errors (including transcription mistakes) in the original Wikipedia entries that Anderson used are reproduced in his own writing, meaning he never looked at the original cited sources, and he apparently didn’t verify or fact-check the information with additional primary or secondary sources. [Note to Chris Anderson:  If you don't have the time to do the research and check sources yourself, you can hire a freelance researcher or journalist to either do it for you or check your work before publication.]
  • It is ridiculous for Anderson to claim that he removed his footnotes because he was “unable to find a good citation format for web sources.” As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many authoritative citation standards which can easily be found in style manuals and websites. Even Wikipedia itself gives you nine different citation formats (including Chicago and MLA) for each entry. Anderson says his publisher insisted on a timestamp for each URL, which Anderson found “clumsy and archaic,” so he cut out the footnotes. WRONG!  And don’t even get me started on the whole “write-through” thing.
  • Given Anderson’s background and his role as editor-in-chief of Wired, I find this all rather shocking, and it makes me wonder about the editorial standards of Anderson himself, his magazine, and his book publisher (Hyperion).

Yesterday Seth Simonds, in a delightfully snarky post titled “Laziness is not an excuse for plagiarism,” demonstrated (with screen shots and step-by-step instructions) what Anderson could (and should) have done to find a source listed in a Wikipedia entry. Here’s an excerpt:

Anderson took a last-minute 5th grade approach to writing. He found the Wikipedia listing for “Usury” and pasted the text into his manuscript…

5 Steps From Wikipedia To A Reliable Source…

Step 1: Find the citation link for the portion of the Wikipedia article you’d like to quote. (Don’t quote it. Not even if you’re a famous editor and you’re really busy.)

A. Click on citation link in the Wikipedia article.

B. Identify the key portions of the citation. In this case, author last name and date of publication.

Step 2: After finding the citation, launch a web search including the author name and original search term. Many bloggers would stop at the citation of Moehlman and use a “^Moehlman, 1934, page 7” attribution. As a professional editor conducting research for a print publication, I’m holding Anderson to a higher standard. Note: pasting from Wikipedia is a bad idea because you’re trusting a stranger’s transcription. Don’t be lazy…

“Can’t decide which is more embarrassing — failing to cite Wikipedia as a source or using Wikipedia as a source.”

From the Virginia Quarterly Review blog, a post by Waldo Jaquith titled “Chris Anderson’s Free Contains Apparent Plagiarism”:

In the course of reading Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price (Hyperion, $26.99), for a review in an upcoming issue of VQR, we have discovered almost a dozen passages that are reproduced nearly verbatim from uncredited sources. These instances were identified after a cursory investigation, after I checked by hand several dozen suspect passages in the whole of the 274-page book. This was not an exhaustive search, since I don’t have access to an electronic version of the book. Most of the passages, but not all, come from Wikipedia. Anderson is the author of the best-selling 2006 book The Long Tail and is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. The official publication date for Free is July 7.

Examples of the passages in question follow. The words and phrases that are found in both Free and the apparent original source are highlighted…

Though reproducing words or original ideas from any uncredited source is widely defined as plagiarism, using text from Wikipedia presents an even more significant problem than reproducing traditional copyrighted text. Under Wikipedia’s Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license, Anderson would be required to credit all contributors to the quoted passages, license his modifications under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, note that the original work has been modified, and provide the text of or a link to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Anderson has not done any of these things in Free.

Anderson responded personally to a request for comments about how this unattributed text came to appear in his book, providing the following remarks by e-mail:

All those are my screwups after we decided not to run notes as planned, due to my inability to find a good citation format for web sources…

This all came about once we collapsed the notes into the copy. I had the original sources footnoted, but once we lost the footnotes at the 11th hour, I went through the document and redid all the attributions, in three groups:

* Long passages of direct quotes (indent, with source)

* Intellectual debts, phrases and other credit due (author credited inline, as with Michael Pollan)

* In the case of source material without an individual author to credit (as in the case of Wikipedia), do a write-through.

Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad. As you’ll note, these are mostly on the margins of the book’s focus, mostly on historical asides, but that’s no excuse. I should have had a better process to make sure the write-through covered all the text that was not directly sourced.

I think what we’ll do is publish those notes after all, online as they should have been to begin with. That way the links are live and we don’t have to wrestle with how to freeze them in time, which is what threw me in the first place….

5:15 p.m. update: Hyperion has provided us with the following statement.

We are completely satisfied with Chris Anderson’s response. It was an unfortunate mistake, and we are working with the author to correct these errors both in the electronic edition before it posts, and in all future editions of the book.

Hyperion says that they intend to have the notes online by the time that the book is published.

Make sure you also read the comments to the post, which are fascinating, especially the smackdown between Chris Anderson and Edward Champion.

Carolyn Kellogg, in the LA Times Jacket Copy blog, comments:

As citations for Web sources have been established for some time, this seems an odd explanation from Anderson, who is no publishing novice. His previous book, “The Long Tail,” was a bestseller, and he is currently editor in chief of Wired magazine…

The lack of attribution may indeed have been a combination of mistake and lack of oversight. But as one commenter on Gawker lamented, “Can’t decide which is more embarrassing — failing to cite Wikipedia as a source or using Wikipedia as a source.”

Wikipedia is one of the resources Anderson lauds — in “The Long Tail,” he called it a phenomenon. In this one, he writes, “there is the amazing ‘gift economy’ of Wikipedia,” later explaining, “Wikipedia makes no money at all, but because an incomparable information resource is now available to all at no cost, our own ability to make money armed with more knowledge is improved.”

The whole point of Anderson’s “Free: The Past and Future of a Radical Price” is to explore what he calls “the paradox of Free,” in which “people are making lots of money and charging nothing.”

Anderson’s hardcover costs $26.99. Wikipedia is still free.

And within hours, Anderson’s Wikipedia’s entry had been updated — with attribution — to reflect the charges of plagiarism. Updates to “Free” are expected to take a while. Which proves Anderson’s point — I think.

Edward Champion decided to investigate himself:

Unfortunately, I have learned that the VQR’s investigations only begin to scratch the surface. A cursory plunge into the book’s contents reveals that Anderson has not only cribbed material from Wikipedia and websites (sometimes without accreditation), but that he has a troubling habit of mentioning a book or an author and using this as an excuse to reproduce the content with very few changes — in some cases, nearly verbatim.

By the way, recent editions of style manuals contain detailed information on how to cite websites and online sources, most notably the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. (See my post “The writer’s bookshelf (part 3)” for more information on style manuals.)

Update 1: Today Chris Anderson posted an explanation on his blog:

First, as readers of my writings know, I’m a supporter of using Wikipedia as a source (not the only one, of course, and checking the original source material whenever possible). I disagree with those who say it should never be used. But the question is how to use it.

In my drafts, I had intended to blockquote Wikipedia passages, footnoting their URL. But my publisher, like many others, was uncomfortable with the changing nature of Wikipedia, and wanted me to timestamp each URL… which struck me as clumsy and archaic… [I]n most cases I did do a writethrough of the non-quoted Wikipedia text, although clearly I didn’t go nearly far enough and too much of the original Wikipedia authors’ language remained… This was sloppy and inexcusable, but the part I feel worst about is that in our failure to find a good way to cite Wikipedia as the source we ended up not crediting it at all. That is, among other things, an injustice to the authors of the Wikipedia entry who had done such fine research in the first place, and I’d like to extend a special apology to them….

This is totally lame. Somewhere Research Cat is crying…

Update 2: My husband pointed out that every Wikipedia entry has a link called “Cite this page,” which contains permanent page links and nine different citation styles, including Chicago, MLA, etc. Here’s the citation page for the Wikipedia article on Chris Anderson. Please note what’s written at the top of the page:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Most educators and professionals do not consider it appropriate to use tertiary sources such as encyclopedias as a sole source for any information — citing an encyclopedia as an important reference in footnotes or bibliographies may result in censure or a failing grade. Wikipedia articles should be used for background information, as a reference for correct terminology and search terms, and as a starting point for further research.

As with any community-built reference, there is a possibility for error in Wikipedia’s content — please check your facts against multiple sources and read our disclaimers for more information.