Khobar plagiarism

Author borrows from Wikipedia article without attribution

Another case has come up of Wikipedia content appearing, unattributed, in a prominent external publication, this time a book from John Wiley & Sons. The publisher has issued a statement acknowledging the situation and said it would change or correct any future editions of the book.

The book in question is Black Gold: The New Frontier in Oil for Investors, by George Orwel. Published in June 2006, the book includes on pages 80-81 a description of the Khobar Towers bombing, which it turns out significantly resembles the Wikipedia article on the subject. The publisher said Orwel had assured the company this was unintentional; asked about it personally by the New York Times, Orwel adopted the publisher's statement as speaking for him as well.

The matter was first noticed by Gabi S., who said she had been reading Orwel's book and incidentally found the copying. Two weeks ago, Gabi S. alerted Ydorb, whom she identified as the primary author of the passage. On his user page, Ydorb includes a statement releasing all his contributions into the public domain, so an argument exists that the situation does not involve actual copyright infringement by Orwel. The more serious issue therefore is one of research and scholarship, where longstanding principles require attribution of material from other sources.

As Ydorb pointed out, "Even if this is legally not a copyright violation, it is an ethical problem for an established reporter." Wiley effectively acknowledged this in its statement, saying it took the situation "very seriously." Acknowledging that mistakes could happen, the publisher continued, "When they happen, we appreciate being alerted and do what is necessary to rectify any problems." Wiley said it would make corrections in future reprints of the book, and also change the currently available e-book version.

To document the copying, Ydorb has put together a comparison of the book excerpt with the Wikipedia article. The bulk of the copied text was added by Ydorb in a single edit on 30 June 2004. The closest to what actually appears in the book is a revision from 31 December 2005. A subsequent review of the Wikipedia article by Kaldari concluded that Ydorb had written six paragraphs of the copied text, while a handful of other contributors had added a sentence or two. A careful comparison will reveal some editorial changes in the text, but for the copying to take place in early 2006 seems consistent with the book's publication schedule.

Several previous cases of plagiarism from Wikipedia have been reported, appearing in several different press sources. In some of these, especially where investigations identified several instances of plagiarism tracing to multiple origins, the individuals involved were forced out of their jobs. However, this may be the first case of unattributed Wikipedia content appearing in a book from a major publisher.

Since it makes little sense to fire the author of a book, the prospect of corrections in future editions may be all that results from this incident. Orwel was previously a reporter as well for the Dow Jones Newswires agency. His publisher lists him as currently being a writer and analyst for two oil industry trade publications. Ydorb did raise the issue of whether anybody has checked the book for other possible instances of plagiarism, but so far nobody has addressed that question.

Also this week:
  • Anthere interview
  • Khobar plagiarism
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
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  • WikiProject report
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  • Technology report
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    In a similar vein, I was slightly bemused that the Wikipedia article on Andrew Mynarski VC that I largely authored and/or edited appeared in a Remembrance Day display on Andrew Mynarski at our local aviation museum. As opposed to the earlier Khobar Towers plagaiarism, the museum staff did properly attribute the source of the material. FWIW Bzuk (talk) 13:46, 21 November 2007 (UTC).[reply]


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