I got a bit of a shock yesterday, and it wasn’t a nice one. I was searching for my master’s thesis on the internet, because Steve had told me that his Chief Engineer on his ship had found his own thesis for sale. Sure enough, so was mine. There’s a company out there that collects papers put out by the Pentagon and then sells them, and since I wrote my thesis while a Naval officer at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, it qualified. I wouldn’t have thought that would be legal, but it appears to be a well-established company, so I guess it is. Too bad the company won’t release sales information on individual documents because it’s proprietary–I’d be interested to know how many people thought it was worthwhile to fork over $20.95 for a master’s thesis about NATO crisis management written by a junior Lieutenant.
That wasn’t the shock, though. The shock was when I found someone else’s name on my thesis.
The summary under the link on the Google search page included both my title (which is what I was searching for) and my full name, so I figured it was another copy of my thesis hosted on another site. But when I clicked to it, I found the same title and someone else’s name on the cover page. There was also a seal for an institute I’d never heard of (and couldn’t read–it was in a language I didn’t recognize). My first thought was, “Cool–someone in another country read my paper and built on my original research.”
Well, only if you consider adding a couple lines of definitions to the beginning of one of the chapters “building on.” I call it plagiarism. I realized it as soon as I started reading the summary at the beginning of the paper; it may have been six years since I’d written them, but I knew them as mine immediately. I still have the .pdf of my thesis, so I pulled it up to compare. This Romanian major–I went to the main website, and although I couldn’t read it either, I could make out where the institute was located–copied my thesis word for word, and then tacked on a few trivial (and unattributed) definitions here and there. And then, she actually had the balls to list my thesis as a “reference.” Reference, my butt.
What triggered the original conversation that led my search, however, was definitely worse. A Ravelry user wrote an indignant post claiming her designs had been stolen. Someone was offering a free pattern she had created for sale on eBay. How could she know for sure it was her pattern without buying a copy? Because the seller had actually taken the picture of the shawl created with the pattern from the designer’s own website. I checked this out myself on the designer’s website, and sure enough the picture matched the one in the eBay listing. I can’t link you to the eBay listing to compare though, because when the designer contacted eBay to report the copyright violation, eBay removed the listing. Of course, the seller then had the chutzpah to relist it with the claim that it was her very own creation but eBay kept taking the listing down because of some stupid copyright thing…but if you wanted the pattern, feel free to contact her via email.
That listing is gone too…and I think that seller might find her account in jeopardy. I know how some people feel about complaints like this on Ravelry, because of how the threads have the potential to explode into a pot of oozing nastiness. Personally, I think it’s a good thing. Even in the nastiest of threads, some good occurs. People are warned to be cautious about dealing with certain businesses, business owners realize that they need to straighten up, and zombie yarn dyers return to their grave. In this case, quite a bit of good was done. The listing has not reappeared on eBay–probably because not only did multiple people report it, several people also contacted the seller at the email address that was posted to point out the illegality of selling someone else’s design. Even if the seller has not come to admit the error of her ways, she knows she’s got a lot of eyeballs tracking her from here on out. Other Ravelers did some research and have discovered that several of the seller’s transactions appear to be with buyers who share her email address…and several accounts linked to one email address often indicates “fake” auctions to boost feedback, which is a violation of eBay rules. The best thing to come from this whole mess, I think, is that the original designer was asked for the link to her website, since it wasn’t in her profile, and as a result many of us were exposed to a beautiful–and free–shawl pattern, as well as to some equally gorgeous for-sale patterns. The designer is now being set up as a designer on Ravelry, which she didn’t know how to do before, and once she’s able to see past the sting of having her own work stolen, I’m hoping she’ll see she’s come out ahead in the long run.
For both designer and seller, that’s karma in action.
I often hear karma used in a negative connotation, and I frequently use it that way myself. Someone nearly runs me off the road because they just have to be in front of me (although there’s not one car behind me), and I tell myself that eventually, karma will get them. Sometimes it’s the only way to avoid having my son see me give someone the one-fingered salute (we discovered the other day that he’s already learned that charming gesture–not from us!–and we’re trying to avoid reinforcing it). But karma can be positive as well. Sometimes, a nice person who does good things for others gets what’s coming to him or her. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you want to read a great story about this happening, check out the story of Genuine’s gift.