Joe Pranevich: On Attribution, Translations, and Plagiarism

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

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

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.


Joe Pranevich

Linux Writing Person

(Please feel free to reproduce or translate this work as

[ 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” –

(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

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

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