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What is plagiarism? Oklahoma Disneyland? Reaching a human being at Wikipedia?

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By Bri, Andreas Kolbe, Red-tailed hawk, and Smallbones

Can you plagiarize Wikipedia?

Shakespeare with addition by Durova

Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman must have been very angry after reading Business Insider's story about his wife, Neri Oxman, "Academic celebrity Neri Oxman plagiarized from Wikipedia, scholars, a textbook, and other sources without any attribution". Ackman then wrote two tweets on X totaling over 5,100 words, challenging Business Insider, defending his wife, saying that he would check the work of MIT and Harvard faculty for plagiarism, and even questioning whether somebody could plagiarize Wikipedia.

Can one use a definition from an online dictionary or encyclopedia without attribution [in an academic work]? I honestly don’t know the answer. I have never seen WikiPedia or cited in any paper. Before Business Insider emailed last night, I never thought about this before. And on this point, what was the standard 15 years ago for citing WikiPedia? Was it different then versus now?
— Bill Ackman on X

Ackman's interest in plagiarism started with his protests against antisemitism at Harvard and other campuses. He called for Harvard President Claudine Gay to resign after she and three other presidents of major universities testified in a congressional investigation on antisemitism on campus. Ackman and many others believed their plans to counter antisemitism were not strong enough. After right-wing sources accused Gay of plagiarism, Ackman also called for Gay's removal based on the plagiarism accusation. These events were widely covered in the national and international press and did not involve Wikipedia. We limit this discussion to the question Can you plagiarize Wikipedia?

Several commentators at the discussion threads on the platform formerly known as Twitter appear to have confused copyright violations with plagiarism. Copyright violations are a matter of law generally decided in civil courts; plagiarism is an ethical matter generally covered by university policies. Most text in Wikipedia is copyrighted, with the exceptions of short "fair use" quotes and a limited amount of text taken from the public domain, for example in articles that state at the end "This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Name of article". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press." Other material is copyrighted by the Wikipedia editor who first added it and is licensed CC-BY-SA, which requires that the text be linked and the author attributed. Attribution can be done by linking to the page history.

Though this reporter is not a lawyer, it appears that plagiarism can be avoided in most, but not all, situations simply by complying with copyright law. Copying Wikipedia text into an academic work has long been viewed as possible plagiarism, even if done by university freshmen, as shown in a 2010 article in The New York Times. The same article suggests that "using words [you] did not write is a serious misdeed" if those words are not attributed. The book Victory at Sea by Yale Professor Paul Kennedy, published by the Yale University Press, is an example of how to attribute. The 544 page book includes references to more than 80 Wikipedia articles.

Academics who wish to check whether copying text from Wikipedia is plagiarism need to check their university policies, but copying text from Wikipedia without attribution generally is a violation of the CC-BY-SA license and copyright law. If you present the words or ideas in Wikipedia as if they are your own, this is generally considered to be plagiarism.

Update: Before The Signpost could publish, I noticed that Molly White (aka User:GorillaWarfare) scooped me on this story with a 9 minute 42 second video published on Youtube. Kudos to Molly!S

An interesting sidelight to the above story is that Bill Ackman in the same set of tweets also wrote "I also wish I knew how to reach a human being at Wikipedia as my Wikipedia biography needs correcting, and could be meaningfully improved if there was someone I could speak to."

There are several ways you can communicate with Wikipedians fairly directly. If you register an account on Wikipedia you can write on the talkpage, Talk:Bill Ackman, pretty much whatever you would like, but I suggest it be in the form "The following text [blah blah blah] is incorrect, it should be replaced by [yadda yadda yadda]. This can be referenced by [link to a story in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times – or a similarly reliable source]".

You can also continue using declared paid editors such as NinaSpezz who says they were editing on your behalf through 2021, and FMatPSCM who says they have been editing for you from May 2022 through at least October 2023. They have been fairly polite compared to other paid editors, but you might ask them to be a bit less aggressive. They have no special editing rights that other editors do not have.

If you'd like something more private, you can contact our Volunteer Response Team (VRT) by email at

Or if you'd like to be interviewed by The Signpost for our next issue I'd be happy to drop off my contact details at your office with my formatting and other requirements. – S

Downgrading Iranian human rights atrocities?

The Times raises many questions in How Wikipedia is being changed to downgrade Iranian human rights atrocities (archive), also available in a slightly abridged version in The Australian. The story claims that an Iranian government cyber army is removing information from Wikipedia about atrocities committed against the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also known as Mojahedin-e-Khalq or MEK, which opposes the government. The article is based on information provided by an unknown Wikipedian identified only as "Marco", which is not their username. Someone claiming to be Marco recently has also contacted The Signpost without offering us any information.

This dispute has a long history with a stop made at ArbCom in the 2021 Iranian politics case, which resulted in Iranian politics being named a contentious topic. The only information we can add is that over the past year several editors of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran article have been given harsh bans or blocks of varying severity. All of them appear to have supported the MEK side of the issue. Alex-h and ParadaJulio were globally banned by Wikimedia Foundation office actions. Stefka Bulgaria, Fad Ariff, and Iraniangal777, have received indefinite blocks from a checkuser, which usually indicates an egregious case of sockpuppetry. MA Javadi received a basic indefinite block for sockpuppetry. – S

In brief

Reaching for the Moon: Peregrine ahead of launch. Unfortunately, Wikipedia didn't make it to the Moon this time round.

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A while back I spotted an article on a Facebook history interest page that was a direct unattributed copy of a Wikipedia article that I had contributed to. I contacted the page admin (who was not the author of the piece) and it was removed. I suspect that (unattributed copying) happens a lot. Donald Albury 16:29, 12 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]

It happens. I remember one time I asked another editor to translate a quote from Turkish so I could put it in an article. They did and I did. Later, I found the exact same words in Dawn. If I remember correctly, @Jenhawk777 found some of her WP-work in some sort of academic journal.
I liked Molly's little video-note on "Oxman is not currenlty on Plagiarism from Wikipedia - Correction, she wasn't when I recorded this, but..." Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 16:49, 12 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]
It's true! The copyvio tester found almost the entire article on Biblical criticism, that I had written, copied word for word with my references, in an academic journal published in Africa! No credit was given - as if they had done the months of research themselves! (It was easy to prove it wasn't me doing the copying because of the dates.) I guess they didn't realize Wiki is global! I contacted the publisher and ratted them out. Jenhawk777 (talk) 21:49, 12 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]
A few years ago I was reading a planning application about the proposed demolition of a disused chapel building which I hadn't yet photographed. I was bemused to find that, as an attempt to justify the point that it was no longer required, the applicant (a housebuilding firm which wanted to buy the site) had copied and pasted the whole of one of my "List of places of worship in..." lists, with all the Wiki markup, images, references and everything else (in excess of 120KB!), into the Planning Statement. It was clearly an attempt to demonstrate that other places of worship existed locally; but in the largely rural area in question, the fact that it is irrelevant that churches of an entirely different denomination happen to exist anything up to 20 villages and 40 miles away was apparently lost on them. Needless to say, no acknowledgement of the copying was given. I never did get to photograph the chapel, incidentally ... it was demolished before I could visit the village in question! Hassocks5489 (Floreat Hova!) 21:23, 26 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]

I first came to Wikipedia because some of my work had been copied onto Wikipedia, and I was asked to make some corrections to the Wikipedia version. I resolved this by re-licensing my work under Creative Commons, so there was no copyright violation any more. Some people might be curious about plagiarism can be avoided in most, but not all, situations simply by complying with copyright law. The classic exception is self-plagiarism, where the same article is submitted a second time. There is no copyright violation, but it is still plagiarism because it is not an original work. Hawkeye7 (discuss) 18:26, 13 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Yes, I have gotten in serious trouble a couple of times for copying myself - which I thought was allowed - and it is, but not without noting it in the edit summary. Big fire on head! Jenhawk777 (talk) 21:10, 13 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]

Off-topic, but wanted to share Pantera - Wikipedia Fact or Fiction (Best of Compilation). -At the age of 15 you started a fire in your home to scare your sister, but you accidentally burned the house down. -I was 14 and I only burnt a great portion of the house down. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 19:19, 14 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]

OMG! Jenhawk777 (talk) 21:09, 14 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]
@Gråbergs Gråa Sång: - I just love the format on that show and think I've put links in about 20 Wikiarticles to the videos. Ice-T is my favorite, it shows him and his schtick much better than any words could, and essentially confirms the facts as stated in Wikipedia. Sure there are almost always minor grumbles and fine tuning interpretations, but for the series as a whole, the 14 vs. 15 and "only a great portion of the house" are about as extreme as the "mistakes of fact" get. I only quit putting these videos into articles because I don't really like heavy metal music. The genre goes back - as far as I can tell - to about 2005 on WBEZ radio. It appeared to me like some middle talent rocker showed up unexpectedly at the studio, and they wanted to do an interview but had done no prep. So just read the Wikipedia article and ask if it's true. Somehow I'd love to do a whole on-Wiki series like this, but I have no video production experience. Anybody want to volunteer? Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:37, 15 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]
Not 20, but I did do Dee Snider. There was another thing called WikiWhat? And something called Actually me [1] that looked at WP at least sometimes. Gråbergs Gråa Sång (talk) 18:59, 15 January 2024 (UTC)[reply]


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