(Sorry for not responding to this thread sooner. I've been very busy
in the last few days, including losing my glasses & having to get them
On Thu, 21 Jul 2005, Matt Brown wrote:
On 7/20/05, Geoff Burling
As I pointed out in another email, adding
plagiarised content to Wikipedia
can be understood as taking written material someone owns & releases it
under the GFDL or Creative Commons without first consulting the author
I think you are confusing copyright infringement with plagiarism. We
already have policies against copyright infringement, and enforce them
fairly strictly. I think the rest of us were talking about the kind
of plagiarism that did not involve copyright infringement.
I don't think there is any doubt about having zero tolerance for
Well, since at least one person thinks I am not clear about what I'm
talking about, let's take a look at the article that prompted to ask
for a disinterested opinion about plagiarism, [[1868 expedition to Ethiopia]].
Please take a look at the history of this article, & the source from which
it is taken before reading further.
(Note: my concern for this article, & the whole question of plagiarism
arose from trying to find a way to salvage something from this article:
there are a lot of holes in our coverage of Ethiopia, & this submission
helps to covers an important event of Ethiopian history. If it is deleted,
I could replace it with content for which there is no question of
copyright -- but that would take a long time for me to create, since I
have a couple dozen other articles in the pipeline. So I would like
to save myself some work -- & encourage a Wikipedian to keep contirbuting.)
Now, having examined the two documents, I hope we will all agree that
the Wikipedia article has been derived from the other article, *but*
acknowledge that some changes in the text have occured: the addition of
a header paragraph, section headers, & some rephrasing. This article
has wording unique to Wikipedia, yet it uses words or phrases from the
parent document. Thus I feel that we are confronted with one of 3 cases:
* Conclude that, despite the changes made to the original test that this
is a copyright violation because the original source can be recognized
& delete it. However, if we do this, then we encounter the problem -- as
Fred Bauer expressed it -- of ignoring whether the Wikipedian is guilty
of nothing more than clumsiness in his rephrasing of the original.
* Conclude that the changes, as few as they are, meets the statutory
requirement of creating new content, & keep the article. However, if we
do that, then we are infringing in a visible way on the rights of the
original author. I'm not entirely sure that simply adding an acknowledgement
that we re-used the original author's words to the Wikipedia article
will make everything honkey-dorey now.
* The third conclusion: this is plagiarism, not copyright infringement,
not some original rephrasing or rewriting of a topic someone else has
written about. By doing so, we acknowledge that the text exists in a
state between our first two choices, which might not have become an
issue if the Wikipedian had included in a reasonable time proper credit
to her/his source.
Note: my use of the plagiarism to denote unattributed reuse of wording
from another author falls within the understood use of that word. I
would like to point to http://www.indiana.edu/~istd/definition.html
where the definition of plagiarism includes reuse of "ideas, words,
or statements of another person without appropriate acknowledgment".
Please carefully note the phrases "words or statements"; if someone
can trace the source of a Wikipedia article thru a simple Google search,
& there is no acknowledgement of the source, it is plagiarism, regardless
how extensively the orginal article is rewritten.
And this problem will recur whenever a Wikipedian adapts material
taken from another source, no matter where or how we draw the line between
"original content" & "copyright violation". I feel it is better
acknowledge that there is a fuzzy boundary here, that the fuzziness
should be acknowledged -- but a decision must be made whether to
accept the problematic case into Wikipedia -- or delete it.
And yes, hard cases make bad law, but these are the cases that in the
end get sent up to someone with more authority to make a decision on.
I'd rather let a consensus of a large, informed & thoughtful group do
it, than a small few who don't reflect the opinions of the Wikipedia
And if you are sick of listening to my tendentious whinging on this
matter, then go to the appropriate page & register that you either
agree or disagree with my opinion. Including the person who listed this
article as a copyvio, only 3 people have expressed an opinion about
the copyright status of this article: one person wants to remove the
article, another wants to keep it, & my comment wondering about its
status. If people add to the discussion, then I'll learn -- if nothing
else -- that I'm mistaken about this whole issue.