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Joe Pranevich: On Attribution, Translations, and Plagiarism

May 30, 2000, 04:07 (31 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Joe Pranevich)

Recently, I was alerted by BarraPunto (BarraPunto.com), a Spanish web-site with a look-and-feel similar to Slashdot, that they believed that one of my articles, "The Wonderful World of Linux 2.4", was translated and reprinted in the Spanish-language Linux Actual magazine without giving me any credit. Additionally, they sent emails to the author of the piece, a writer by the name of Ne'stor Lucas, and the editors of Linux Actual magazine requesting a response to the accusations. To my knowledge, neither Mr. Lucas nor the magazine have responded to the allegations. Over the past several weeks, I have been giving the matter some thought as to how I would issue my response to the world at large. During this period, I have received much advice from my most trusted friends and advisors including Jason Scott (textfiles.com), Eric Raymond (ubergeek), and others. By and large, I have decided to ignore their advice and follow up on this in my own way. Sorry guys.

Before I begin to throw things around, I should state that I do not know for sure whether any plagiarism occurred. The article written by Mr. Lucas was written in Spanish, a language that I do not have the privilege of understanding. In fact, I owe all of my knowledge of these events to BarraPunto and their new section devoted to dealing with these types of multilingual situations. I apologize in advance if these accusations are misplaced, but I believe that I owe it to BarraPunto's readers to respond in some way. By not responding, I fear that it would appear as if I didn't care about the situation.

Let's state the obvious: reprinting of another's work without permission or attribution is flatly wrong. To take it to the next step, to misplace attribution rather than just deny it, is probably the worst possible crime that can be committed against a writer. To look at it from another perspective, Napster and similar tools allow free distribution of a work (generally music) without permission. Many people see this as a "bad thing", a type of intellectual theft. (More commonly referred to as "piracy".) However, even when the work is distributed without permission, attribution is always still given. I believe (as many geeks do) in the Information War currently being waged for the rights of individual ownership and the free exchange of ideas, but I do not and can not accept attribution theft. Attribution is the most fundamental and sacred of an artists' rights. Period. If Mr. Lucas translated my article into Spanish without permission and did not list me as the original author, he violated that scared right of attribution.

In the case of the "Wonderful World" series, I have freely granted distribution rights to anyone who would ask and I will continue to do so. I am occasionally more protective of my other works, but it never hurts to ask. If Mr. Lucas had asked, I would have given him permission and blessing. (He would get a nice translator attribute and maybe some dinero out of it.) I'm not going to entirely fault Mr. Lucas here, he did contribute to the movement by "spreading the word" about Linux 2.4 to an audience that would not otherwise necessarily have been able to hear it, but it did it in such as way as to cause me to wonder whether he really had the good of the movement in mind when he did it. I hope that he did, but I have my doubts.

Now, what would I like to see come out of this. Discussion. Understanding. Forgiveness. Especially discussion. How do you, as readers of this piece, feel about this situation? Are my demands of attribution just one more example of the egocentric or money-hungry nature of the artist class? We all know that the rights related to reproducing works are currently in debate (I refer to this process as the Information War), is attribution still a sacred right or is it also over-valued. I would like to urge you to voice your thoughts on this matter on this site's "feedback" section. Would you pass stricter sentence? What are the various legal ways to look at this?

At the same time, I would like to reach some closure on the question at hand by addressing the question. Mr. Lucas, I would like to ask that if the article you wrote was a copy of mine that you please come forward (even in private email, your privacy will be respected) and let me know. I won't sue. If there was an exchange of money in the transaction, I would ask that it be donated to a good cause, for example the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (It seems appropriate here.) I would be willing to match your donation, effectively doubling it. Let's get this unfortunate question behind us now and work again towards a goal which I believe that we both can agree on: spreading the word of Linux.

And finally, I would like to thank BarraPunto for bringing this all to my attention and inspiring me to think on the nature of writing today. The importance of these issues cannot be understated. An artist's work should never be taken without permission. When it is, it is often up to groups like your own to bring attention to these issues and help to right the wrongs that have been done. I would also like to apologize to BarraPunto for not responding more promptly and for responding somewhat "sideways", not issuing a response directly to the question but rather being a little bit more public about it. I believe that the most good can be done by opening this up to the public.

Thanks,

Joe Pranevich

Linux Writing Person

(Please feel free to reproduce or translate this work as appropriate.)

[ Table of Links ]

BarraPunto - http://www.barrapunto.com

BarraPunto's "Miradero" Section - http://www.barrapunto.com/miradero/index.shtml

BarraPunto Article "Asombrosos parecidos" ("Astonishing Resemblances") - http://www.barrapunto.com/miradero/100/05/10/2034205.shtml

"Wonderful World of Linux 2.4" - http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2000-05-13-003-04-NW-LF-KN

(I recommend the translation engine at espanol.lycos.com/traduccion as these pages are too large for Babelfish. Yes, this is probably a plug.)

[ Text of BarraPunto's Email to Me Starting All This Mess ]

Dear Mr Joseph Pranevich,

Concerning your article "Wonderful World of Linux 2.4", BarraPunto (a Spanish Slashdot-like), has found another article in a Spanish magazine which seems to be a literal translation of it.

On issue 10 (Year 2), Spanish magazine Linux Actual published an article signed by Ne'stor Lucas in which neither you nor your "Wonderful World of Linux 2.4" were mentioned, even though we have found so many similarities with it we'd say it is a word by word translation of your work.

Unfortunately, this kind of practices are being repeated quite often recently. We think they are bad for Free Software, technical writers, technical magazines and, specially, technical readers, so we want to disclose them to our readers.

To do so, we have published a thorough comparison between "Wonderful World of Linux 2.4" and "Las novedades de Linux 2.4" in the following URL: http://www.barrapunto.com/miradero/100/05/10/2034205.shtml

Simultaneously, we have sent mails to Ne'stor Lucas, Linux Actual and yourself, in order to give everyone the opportunity to speak. If you want to, you can post your comments in the above URL or, if you prefer, you can reply to this mail. However, please keep in mind BarraPunto might decide to publish your mails in whole or in part.

Yours sincerely,

    BarraPunto:                        Seccio'n Miradero:
    http://www.barrapunto.com         http://www.barrapunto.com/miradero