The Longest Now


Brockhaus freelancer suspected of plagiarizing Wikipedia article
Sunday May 08th 2005, 8:28 am
Filed under: international

One might say this is a case of “Man bites dog,” which would hardly be newsworthy the other way around. Wikipedia contributors plagiarize from other sources all the time; not knowing or not caring enough to properly reference their research, or engaging in wholesale copyright violation which is only caught with great effort or, worse yet, only when the original author complains.

However. Wikipedia does take every copyvio claim extremely seriously, and acts as quickly as is humanly possible to take down alleged copyvios while investigating their copyright status. With these caveats, on to the story!

I thought of various euphemistic ways to title this piece (and the contextual translations I am writing on the subject), but there’s no beating around the bush.
A freelancer for Brockhaus Online last week submitted an article on the newly-elected Pope Benedict XVI. A Wikipedian who saw the result noticed its similarity to the German Wikipedia article; comparison of the freelancer’s article (submitted April 27) with a version of the Wikipedia article from April 26 indicated that he almost certainly copied sections directly from the Wikipedia article — without acknowledging the original or complying with its license (reusers must let the readers know that some of the content they are reading is available under a free license).

Unfortunately, Brockhaus’s initial reaction was a mild “we’ll look into this,” and “we checked the submission for correctness and found it to be accurate.” Marco Krohn, a Brockhaus spokesperson, added ‘The similarity of the texts is definitely not coincidental. There are many ways to formulate a criterion which on its own could similarly exclude 100 articles about [Pope] Benedict by different authors.’ The freelancer’s initial reaction (as conveyed by Brockhaus, I believe) was to deny it and suggest that similar base references were used. This hypothesis was somewhat discredited by finding single sentences which were, in the Wikipedia article, the result of collaboration among many users; and which were repeated verbatim in the article submitted to Brockhaus.

For two days after this was discovered, Brockhaus received private feedback from Wikipedia editors about this matter; however, it was also mentioned on a public Wikipedia mailing list. A reporter took the public discussion, and without contacting any of the parties involved, published a long report on the potential scandal (much to everyone’s dismay). Finally, on Friday, Brockhaus commented that ‘mistakes had probably been made,’ and that they would talk with the author next week to clarify the matter; and they removed the controversial article from their site. (PC Welt article)


1 Comment so far
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Marco Krohn is definitely not a Brockhaus spokesman, but represents Wikipedia.

Comment by carsten 05.10.05 @ 2:22 pm



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