Saturday, 23 April 2011

Plagarise and be Damned!

There are some very naive people out there when it comes to the power of the internet. In Germany this extends all the way up to former German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Rising star in the CDU (Angela Merkel's controling rule party), and once tipped to be the next Chancellor of Germany, he resigned last month after revelations that a large part of his 2006 PhD thesis had been plagiarised, and the University of Bayreuth stripped him of his doctorate as a result.

See Guardian article 'German defence minister resigns in PhD plagiarism row'

Minister for cut-and-paste Zu Googleberg, full name Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester, Baron von und zu Guttenberg (and married to the great-great-granddaughter of Germany’s former chancellor Otto von Bismarck - who says Germany is a classless society?), used the wonderful resources of the Internet to do his research for his thesis 'Verfassung und Verfassungsvertrag. Konstitutionelle Entwicklungsstufen in den USA und der EU' (Constitution and Constitutional Treaties – Constitutional Steps of Development in the USA and the EU.)"
And fittingly it was the power of the Internet that brought about his downfall, specifically the thousands of people who spent the time to sift through this most exciting of thesis and find instances of plagiarism which they then published to the GutenPlag Wiki.

As far as I (or Wikipedia) knows, zu Guttenberg isn't a descendent of Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, inventor of a system of moveable type and thereby instigator of a revolution in information technology. But what irony if he were to be! An invention that brought information to the masses rather than through the medium of the Priest, abused by a later zu Guttenberg, who is himself hoisted by his own petard!

It seems strange that people seem to think that they alone are able to google research. It is probably very appealing to first-time students with an essay deadline who think Wikipedia is a primary source. Hopefully they are soon made aware that universities have software that can take a random selection of essays and subject them to a comparison against information found on the net. You would think that zu Guttenberg might be wise enough to have grasped this fact. Or, being the Defence Minister for a large European democracy, to have the morality not to try to cheat in the first place. But it seems not.

Plagiarism on the net is not just confined to lazy students; photographic and design imagery is somehow considered fair game for copyright breaches just because it is in the public domain. If you think your images have been illegally filched, then one tool I can recommend is the TinEye reverse image search browser plugin.

Even bloggers are subject to plagiarism. You might think my rambling essays are not worth copying and passing on as your own, and I would agree with you. But I have other friends who blog whose opinions are much more worthwhile, and therefore open to theft. I have just been made aware of an example of this; my photographer friend and fellow Berliner ex-pat Craig Robinson writes an excellent blog called Prague Photographer. Back in August 2009 he wrote this witty article about not letting your Uncle Bob take your wedding photographs. Lo and behold, plagiarists and copyright thieves George Troup Photography published an almost exact copy of the article on 29th July 2010 on their plagiarising Dallas Photography Wedding Blog. Like zu Guttenberg, they perhaps thought that nobody would notice. How naive can you be?

p.s. this article is 100% the work of the author, me, except for the 80% of it I got from googled news items, Facebook, and Wikipedia.


  1. Thanks for the mention! My Berlin posse's got my back! Word.

    --Craig Robinson, photogra-blogger zu Prenzlauer Berg

  2. Many plagiarists could go ahead and use the words and ideas of someone else if they just took the time to credit their sources. Perfectly legal to do so. It's all about giving credit to your references.


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