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Thursday, 5 February 2015

A question of copyright

In 1980, I was given the task of investigating a giant scam that was being played out against the New South Wales Government. I was middle management, and the take would have been $200,000, which was a lot of money back then, ~12.5 times my annual salary.  It was a fraud, as I showed, but I had so much fun tracking it down, that my joy of discovery showed through in my report, which one of my colleagues dubbed The Acid Drops.  In fact, my dissection and skewering was so savage that, even though it was all true, it was placed under seal, never to be released, though six months ago, I released it anyhow, under the 30-year rule.

Well, Black Mac Rides Again!

This blog entry is about how somebody (1) failed to observe due courtesy and legal requirements in using copyright material, without permission (or (2) attribution), and then when I tracked her down, (3) failed to offer an acceptable admission of guilt and an unqualified apology. Those are three errors that I am, by this public exposure, ensuring that she and her museum will think twice about making again.

The offensiveness was compounded by the fact that the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, the organisation in whose name she published my work, had claimed copyright in my work. It was not helped by the museum failing to admit this was totally unacceptable.  Here is the proof:
It did not help when people at the museum suggested that I ought to be satisfied that they took my material down when I objected — even though they only took it down because I warned them of the consequences if they did not. At every stage, the museum's representatives have been one or more of truculent, offensive, impertinent and stupid.

Plagiarism is unethical and immoral.  I work very hard to make taking the credit for my work a bad choice. That is the case, even when the taking is more a matter of incompetence, which is how I regard the way the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum took over my work and craft, without permission — and has since failed to offer a proper apology or offer any compensation.

Their excuse is that they would void their insurance cover by admitting any liability.  I rather suspect that they voided the cover when they admitted they had insurance, but I have told them repeatedly that if they undertake to provide the written apology I require, I will undertake not to sue them. I am busy, I have better things to do than sue people who behave like idiots, but I need to publicise what they have done.

This entry isn't so much about their offence: it is mainly about what it is like to have your work plagiarised, how plagiarists, whether clumsy amateurs or slick thieves, can be caught out, and some robust methods of making them regret their actions.

First, a bit of background on my policy of sharing:

I am a volunteer myself, and I contribute to a newsletter for that organisation, but what I submit for them is original, based on my own work and in my own words. My work is intellectually honest.

I am very kind to museums, as the example on the right will show. It is from the "Making Tracks" installation at the Michigan State University Museum, and two weeks ago, I had acknowledgement of my efforts to find a good copy of this pic for them. Look at the bottom left to see my name.

In the past two months, I have provided Gallipoli images to meet a request from a commemorative committee, images of Hakea fruits opening to help somebody resurrecting an old pamphlet and several magazine articles, all for free. I like to help people and show all courtesy to those who are courteous enough to me.

This week, I took time from a heavy writing schedule and prosecuting this battle, to prepare two quizzes on Valentine's Day to share on school librarians' lists in Australia and the US.  I like to be helpful and to be seen as an ornament to my profession.

Note: I am not a librarian, I am a social climber so I like hanging out with them. My profession these days is writing useful educational stuff. I educate young people, librarians, teachers and museums whose staff do the wrong thing. People only have to ask, and I will help out.

Note inserted in April: I'm such a nice bloke, I'm giving away Many Voices for free. This is a 1.4 million word, 20 meg PDF file of copyright-free original resource material in Australian history. I have claimed a compilation copyright in this, mainly so I can state that the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum is expressly forbidden to use it. Anybody else has open slather. As you can see, I'm generous, but I don't allow others to "generously" help themselves.

While I lay traps for plagiarists, I found the problem file while I was writing a pro bono article for a school librarians' journal on the risks you take as a writer. In passing, I had referred in that article to how Harry the Camel shot his master, John Horrocks, and I wondered if an explanation was needed.  I used my friend Google, and found a well laid-out and clearly well-researched piece.

Reassured that the matter was adequately covered, I was about to move on, when something about the style caught my eye. I looked again and it dawned on me that it was familiar — in fact, those were my words!
 And on the home page, I saw this: 

My text, copyright to them?  Not on my watch! Mind you, it was a bit changed from what I had published in 2007. Maybe the lady just thought she was a better writer, but I know enough about frauds (see here and here) and hoaxes to have my doubts.

I am sure that if she had known my past history of rogue-catching, she would have acted differently, because I hunt them down.

I am fairly sure she wandered into the minefield, completely, blissfully unaware, ignorant of the law of copyright, but as Latin speakers say, Ignorantia juris non excusat, while others say the same thing when they observe that "ignorance of the law is no excuse". Friends have urged me to sue them, but that would probably break them, and I only want them to sit up and pay attention.

(This is why it was very silly of them to tell me they were insured.  As you will see, it's an open-and-shut case, and I believe their insurance company would move to settle, ASAP, to avoid ballooning costs.   I would prefer to get the museum's Trust in the witless box and see them cross-examined, but it will never happen.  I'm a nice person, but I have my off days.)

Time, then, for a bit of background on my policy of NOT sharing:

I have three main problems with people who misappropriate my work:

Type 1. The people who send me an airy email like this one that I will précis:
"I am writing a book about Australian humour, and I found one of your Crooked Mick stories on the internet. I won't be able to pay you, but as you put it on the web for free, I'm sure you won't mind if I use it."

There was no please, no offer of credit, and it got a robust negative from me.  I told the writer that I am a professional writer, my fee was $300 plus GST, paid up-front, and if I caught him using it without paying, I would seek to have the edition pulped, and I cc'ed it to his publishers (who have in the past been my publishers). He was just an idiot.

 * * * * *

Type 2. The people who take one of my carefully crafted and meticulously planned web pages, and put it on their site as their own work. These people are out-and-out thieves.  And idiots.

I have a number of school-oriented web pages that have drawn more than half a million hits, several that are over the million mark and one that is somewhere past 4 million.  All are freely available as educational tools.  I share stuff.

The last of these gets stolen, every so often, by high school teachers in the US. People are granted explicit permission to store the page locally for their own use, and I even offer a PDF version that they can print off to give the text to their students in compact form. I do not allow people to post copies on the web, because they can point to my page instead.

Still, some of them do grab my page, cut out the paragraphs that mention me, and when they do they get burned. So how do they get caught?  Simple: there are watermarks on my work and I will explain those later.

I don't waste time asking them to take it down, I take them down instead.  I find their school, then I get the email addresses of eight or ten senior staff in the school, plus a couple of senior people somewhere further up in their school  system, and I send them all the URLs for the offending page and my page, asking that they order the thief to take the page down and go in for re-training.  I make it clear that I have the skills and the will to make a lot of fuss, but will settle for a touch of honesty.

 * * * * *

Type 3. The present case. My prose was used without my permission by a no doubt well-meaning but foolish amateur. She was foolish because:

* She thought she could get away with it;

* She picked the wrong target (me); and

* When caught, she tried to babble her way out of it, rather than just admitting her guilt.

She claims now (through her trust president) that she found my text online and thought it was acceptable to use it.  I had assumed she had copied it from my book, Australia's Pioneers, Heroes & Fools, but I accept that it is quite possible she found it in an email I sent on January 28, 2006, to the Oz Teachers email list.  That email drew on the manuscript of the book in question, which I was then writing, and I was sharing ideas for new curricular content that was a bit more interesting than the same-old, same-old. I encouraged my professional colleagues to use stuff like that, but I gave nobody permission to seize my words and claim copyright on them.

She was remarkably slow to come up with the alternative source, and while I was waiting, I created the graphic below.

The image shows two sets of text, with the common material high-lighted. There are 196 words in my text. All but 12 of those words appear in the second block. That's about 94%, which cannot be a coincidence — and the pattern continues throughout the 1500-odd words of "their" article.

One reason I suspect now that she used the email is that I revise quite a lot, and I can see several places where  her text is closer to the email. I can't be bothered looking in detail: the simple fact remains that it was my text, my work, her museum that claimed the copyright, and there is a lack of regret.

The people at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, however, seem to think that if they can prove the words were filched from my email, they are safe.  They aren't.  My words, wherever they appear, with or without that c in a circle thing or any claim to copyright, are still mine.

This is my way of fixing that lack of regret.  I gave the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum plenty of time to get their house in order, but they failed to do so. So be it upon their own heads.

So was it plagiarism?  I challenge readers: would you believe that what the museum published could have been independently written by anybody else?  Not a chance!  Those were my words in almost all of the second passage. Same words, same order.  As a friend at the Australian Society of Authors commented when I posted the comparison on Facebook, "game, set and match!".

As I have said, I am very generous about sharing ideas and material, provided people ask my permission and give me an appropriate acknowledgement.  These people at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum had never contacted me, even though I have a large public profile and an unusual name which makes me easy to track down — and if they are to be believed, the source was an email I sent, so they would have had my email address.

I came across the unauthorised use of my work by chance, and was rather annoyed to find that the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum site had no contact email on their web site.  Then I found an email address for their shop and emailed them to ask for a contact email to deal with the problem.  I noted further that, while containing my copyright material, the home page had a blanket copyright claim: in short, they were claiming copyright in my work!

The response came from their secretary, Margaret Phillips, who replied:
Remember this? They weren't unaware, just brain-dead.

Notice that I redacted her name when I prepared this image. Up until just before I posted this, I had hoped to name nobody at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, and not even to name the museum itself.  That, however, was conditional upon them showing due contrition, across the museum, but I'll get to that later.  Suffice it to say that Margaret Phillips was responsible for my copyright text being disseminated, without permission, without credit, and under the blanket copyright claim of the museum.

I gave her details of the piece, and suggested that as they clearly had a rogue in their midst, they should check the other items under the resources tab, very carefully. I thought a couple of others looked suspicious, and one could have been mine.  I made it clear that I required prompt action, and that any failure to deal honestly with me would lead to the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum being held up to the public gaze.

I got this grudging admission:
Note that (1) she could not even spell my name; (2) I would never call a rank amateur like this an historian (I win prizes for writing history, but I would never claim that title); and (3) impugn means to attack or assail. Accusing somebody of launching an attack when all they are doing is defending their intellectual property is a bit like the old style copper, who said "the defendant head-butted my boots, yer Honour".

She also missed the point that the greatest offence was not to ask for permission. In their responses, the museum people have consistently dodged that issue.

Now look at the last paragraph above, where she says she has often told the story of Horrocks. If that is so, then why did she need to follow my text, almost verbatim?  And where did she get the idea that this was about references? And where did she find the hide to say that she "wrote" it ("I sometimes write a historical article...") ? I will come back to what students will find of interest later.

She then offered an apology of sorts, surrounded by lame excuses.

God help any prominent individuals who  are lumbered by one of "her" speeches, but back to her plea.

In other words, she had buried the evidence, and hoped I would go away. As I said, she picked the wrong target. As an educator, I felt the need to educate both her, but more importantly, the rest of the museum staff and volunteers. I want them to be more careful next time!

So I told her my two requirements, though I (and only I) knew that only the first was non-negotiable:

1. That she arrange for a letter admitting guilt, and apologising for the misappropriation of my work, to be signed by the entire museum trust, to be sent to me; and

2. That she compensate me for the time I had wasted, tracking her down and making her comply. At that point, I said, the bill was $500 and rising.

My intention, after giving her a financial scare, was to let her off the payment, but the apology was, and is, an absolute requirement. There was to be no hiding.

I told her that if she failed to do these two things, I would post this blog, and as you can see by this appearing, she and her museum failed to deliver on the one key requirement.  She and they had the chance to act professionally, but they did not.  Instead, I got her bland personal semi-apology, hedged around by vague denials and "can't recalls".

I believe I only got the admission that she had "written" it because I had made it clear that metadata in the PDF file indicated that somebody with her first name had created it.  Once you are caught, it's time to be honest.

... what students may find of interest ...
I think I can tell her what students will think, because these days, young people are taught to respect intellectual property.  As I warned her, I have now shared this widely, recommending that it be used in school units on plagiarism, where the low tricks pulled at the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum will be considered.

In spite of having the comparison image (I mean the image above), she won't admit the truth. Nor has the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum's Trust commented in any way, shape or form, even though the Trust president, was cc'ed on my later emails.

Their only response was to take the whole of the resources section down briefly and remove my piece. That is, of course, something I advised them to do, because there were several other dodgy pieces there, and I think it confirms that they knew what would happen if they didn't.  Yet while they found time to vet the rest and put the other pieces back up, they could not find the time to answer me.

I would happily have granted the museum permission to use my text, had they asked, but she took it without permission, and having been caught red-handed, the "author" tried to fob me off with disingenuous flim-flam.

The position now

After repeated questioning, I finally extracted from Arthur Jeeves, the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum trust president, an admission of the source (but no admission of guilt). It was, he said, something she had found in the archives of the old Oz Teachers list.  As soon as I had that admission, I went to my personal email archive, and found the text she had used, posted by me for my fellow professionals to read. Now if she truly found the text there, she would have had my email address, so why did she fail to ask permission?

I told her, and the president of the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum's trust that I would settle for a written apology, signed by all members of the Trust, admitting and regretting the plagiarism.  My terms were quite clear: satisfy my requirements, or be exposed.  It seems that they have chosen public exposure.

My last warning 
Some 40 hours before the deadline I had set, 3 pm on February 5, I realised they had not asked for my mailing address, and were unlikely to deliver the written and signed apology in time.  I noted that Jeeves had cc'ed his response to an Adelaide solicitor, without mentioning his status or involvement.

So in case they were planning some sort of clever-clogs legal trickery, I pointed out that any harm would be on their heads, because they had failed to meet my simple, low-cost and entirely reasonable requirement. I repeatedly reminded them that I would happily remove this, if, and only if, they met my requirements for an admission of guilt and a signed apology.

This is what I said:

Here is the position:

* There is no rule of "finders keepers" on the internet.

* If the source was a teachers' email list as you claim (and it could be so), Ms Phillips had my email address.

* She failed to ask for permission to use my text.

* Worse than that, she wrote this to me in an email:
"The article was something I put together for our small number of members as an interesting historically tale. I didn't think to reference it at the time, because our newsletters are just, that a newsletter. I sometimes write a historical article, as an interest piece."

She did NOT "put together" the article, she misappropriated it, lock, stock and barrel.  She did not WRITE anything, she lifted it. Also, she, and you, seem to have assumed this was about "referencing", presumably meaning attribution, but that was secondary.   The first step is always to ask permission.

There is a saying to the effect that "it's easier to apologise afterwards than to ask permission".  In this case, asking was easy, but she didn't, and nobody has offered anything I would call an apology.  Waffle set about with self-justification simply doesn't cut the mustard as an apology.

Your position is, to put it bluntly, unwinnable.  You either admit to the breach of my copyright and moral rights, without reservation, without qualification, with due contrition, in appropriate language — and undertake to educate your staff better — or I educate you. When I am done, you will need to be more careful to do the right thing, both in asking permission, and also in apologising promptly and well when you are caught.  I can say this with some confidence, because any Google search will reveal that you have been caught before, and warned about the rights authors have, so the next writer you poach from will be able to wheel you straight into court. Apologising appropriately is much easier for you.

I thought, Mr Jeeves, that once you entered into the matter, along with your solicitor friend, there might be some common sense.  While it will be tight, it's not too late for you to save matters, but you will need to use a courier, and you will need to confirm your intentions by requesting my full and correct street address: what appears on the internet is intended to mislead.

I will be doing some consultancy work tomorrow morning.  It's another pro bono job (as I mentioned, I am generous with my time and skills to those who ask), but I will be back at my desk and online, just after noon, Sydney time.

I am a genuine admirer of museums in general and Charles Sturt in particular, and it will irk me to  have to treat your museum harshly, but I really cannot let you get away with a grudging, sulky, muttered sorry.  If you can't do better than that, I owe it to other writers to make sure that you are really sorry.

There was no answer, and there was no apology. Now I out them, not out of revenge, but to make an example of them — as my mate at the Australian Society of Authors said on the phone, pour encourager les autres.  My purpose in asking for the letter and the payment was to make them consider their actions (though as I said, I had no plan to collect the cash).  I knew it would give them a fright, but they needed a harsh lesson.

I also made it clear that the publication of this blog was the only other civilised alternative open to me, because I had no wish to bankrupt a bunch of amateurs who have settled like cockroaches on a good cause.  People in the game who have looked at this have said "Go on, sue them, you'll make a mint, and they'll have to pick up your costs!"

I like museums, I don't want to send one bust.  I really believed that they would toe the line.  They didn't, so they are now publicly shamed, but now I want to offer some guidance to other victims of other poachers, on the fine art of catching scavengers.

1. Watermark your pages.

This is what I do with my heavy-traffic web pages: I have a nonsense phrase that appears nowhere else on the web, and that is tucked away on the high traffic pages, either in small print and the same colour as the background, or in the metadata or both. Numpties who pinch stuff aren't very bright, and so they miss the watermark, and get caught.

By the way, there is a watermark at the very end of this blog entry: see if you can find it.

That trick didn't work here, because the text was copied from a book (or maybe an email), and I just chanced on it. Well, that happens, when writers revisit old areas of interest.

2. Use the available computing/ net tools.
There are quite a few, so I will just describe what I used this time.

Here is a really good one that I knew but hadn't thought to use until Murray Storm, a former student reminded me of it: looking at the metadata in a PDF. When you are hunting down people like this, you need to keep copies, so you can run checks when they try to bury the evidence. I just opened my copy of the pirated file, clicked on View — Properties, and got this image, seen on the right.  Thanks, Murray!

So we know that the creator was "Margaret", and when the PDF was created.

Another way to get this is to open the PDF file in Notepad, when you get a long jumble that includes this: I have highlighted the salient bits.

8 0 obj
<</Length 3700/Subtype/XML/Type/Metadata>>stream
<?xpacket begin="" id="W5M0MpCehiHzreSzNTczkc9d"?>
<x:xmpmeta xmlns:x="adobe:ns:meta/" x:xmptk="Adobe XMP Core 5.2-c001 63.139439, 2010/09/27-13:37:26        ">
   <rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="">
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
               <rdf:li>Margaret</rdf:li>            </rdf:Seq>
               <rdf:li xml:lang="x-default">Microsoft Word - John Horrocks.doc</rdf:li>            </rdf:Alt>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
         <xmp:CreateDate>2012-07-26T12:03:09</xmp:CreateDate>         <xmp:CreatorTool>Microsoft Word - John Horrocks.doc</xmp:CreatorTool>         <xmp:ModifyDate>2012-07-26T21:33:45+09:30</xmp:ModifyDate>         <xmp:MetadataDate>2012-07-26T21:33:45+09:30</xmp:MetadataDate>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
         <pdf:Producer>novaPDF Lite Desktop Ver 5.4 Build 253 (Windows XP  x32)</pdf:Producer>      </rdf:Description>
      <rdf:Description rdf:about=""
I think using View — Properties is easier!

* * * * *

Next up, always take screen shots. In Windows systems, the Ctrl-PrtScn key combination places a screen image on the clipboard: open any graphics program, start a new screen-sized image and paste in the image with Ctrl-V. Then save the whole view before you trim it as necessary.

This is your only defence against people who may try to say "We didn't say that," and change what is visible.

Save the PDFs, save the web pages, save anything that might be evidence.

3. Use any available email address to get in.

In the past, I have often broken through the secrecy barriers that hide the email addresses of Big Cheeses.  Once, I was being lied to by Virgin Airlines after they cancelled a flight I had booked and paid for. Later, they claimed they had refunded the money when they hadn't, and I could not get past Virgin's call centre.  I got the name of the CEO, found some email addresses for PR people, deduced their method of creating email addresses, and sent him a rather corrosive email, which I cc'ed to the PR people, so he knew his underlings knew he was being put on the spot.

Basically, I explained that they were about to find themselves  in a nasty PR mess, and I wanted the money NOW.

The Boss Monkey replied "You didn't have to be so bloody rude, and the money is on its way".

I replied "Yes, I bloody did. You weren't coughing up — until I turned up the heat."

I have recently used a version of that to penetrate a large bank's hierarchy.  I got my money there as well.

The museum website provided no email link, except on their shop page, so I sent an email there and got a reply from the secretary, Margaret Phillips, who pretended to know nothing until I told her I had the metadata evidence.  Then she played innocent, but it was too late.

At about this time, a friend got to Whois before I did, and found me the name of the site owner and his email address, so I included him in the next email I sent to the secretary as a CC, and he VERY promptly fired back, saying he was merely a contractor and was NOT responsible.  He seems to have removed his email address from the domain registration now.  Can't think why!

He also cc'ed the Trust President, Arthur Jeeves, so I could now include  him as a CC in the subsequent emails.  I think Jeeves is a decent man, but out of his depth on this matter: he certainly has an honorable track record.  Given that he involved a solicitor, he should have been better advised.

A few cunning checks have failed to reveal the names or contact details for any other Trust members, but those two have been sent my emails and the first graphic in this entry. That should have been enough.


The annoying thing with this whole issue is that as I have said, I am very generous with my intellectual property, in the name of informing the wider public, and that appears to be their aim as well. The museum in question claims to be an amateur one, and if they had asked me for permission, I would have said "go for it, but give me a credit if you can, please", and that would have been that.

Instead, some clown decided to take my work without permission, taking the credit for my research

Charles Sturt was a Good Bloke, in my eyes, an honest man, a decent man, and a museum celebrating him is one I would treat as a worthy cause. Now it has become necessary to seize the whole gang of them by the scruff of the neck, and rub their noses in the mess they made. Not out of malice, you understand, but to make sure they try just a little bit harder next time.

Somebody got kudos for writing such a carefully researched piece.  Now that person is exposed as what they are: I will leave you to name it.  Well, that was somebody else's choice, not mine.

Post script
I have spent far longer on this analysis and discussion than I did on chasing the people who took my work.  That's OK: as I said several times, I do a lot of pro bono work, and delivering ethics training to the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum is time well spent. They definitely needed it.

Next admiral, please, M. Voltaire!

Incidentally, if people don't know the story of Harry the camel, I suggest they jump to this link to get the context.

The background, the story of Horrocks and Harry, is here.


I have had somebody try to post a silly comment, accusing me of bullying the clowns at the museum.  Standing up for your rights is often called bullying by the bullies who are trying to take those rights away.  I assume the poster is a puppet for the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, because "Mark Mc" joined blogger this month, has no profile and no posts. (He says abusively that he isn't, which makes me even more certain that he is.)  

The basic rule here is that anonymous commentators with no track record have no privileges, and somebody using a pseudonym is effectively anonymous. Such a person does not get to scribble all over my work.

Why don't the museum people just admit that they took my work without permission, and failed to admit their offence?
Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, I'll bet you don't steal this one!

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