Books, Plagiarism and Theft

I'm starting a new book tomorrow, but won't be blogging anything to do with it.

Years ago, a professor very 'kindly' offered to read my thesis for me. By accident, I discovered that he was speaking at a conference about a topic. I made a few (deliberate) mistakes in the draft I gave him - whoops - and, yes, he did include them in the paper he gave at the conference.

My research on Caryatids, was built on Plommer's - he re-interpreted the text to put the Vitruvian figures into a Doric context; I found the evidence to back him up. Someone recently published an article on Caryatids, which cited my article in passing in a few of the footnotes, in a way that might not have made clear how much of the information was lifted from my own article, but with numerous mistakes. Within a week of its publication several academics had emailed me a copy of it, with a "what the %&*£?" comment.

Over the years I've seen articles and papers I've given barely re-written, with the same arguments, published in others' names. I've also seen others' work, re-written and published under a new name - this often happens with research originally in Italian (for example, a long article on Libya turned into a book in English on tombs), for some reason, but I've also noted a Polish became ...

I know, I've just thrown a bit of a hissy fit about people pinching stuff. A colleague showed me some papers which clearly proved that someone I thought of as a friend (wrongly - whoops), was planning to "borrow" my research. I don't think that one should copyright ideas or history, just as I don't think curators should 'sit' on material. The fact that it was a friend bothered me most, but ... shit happens, and it will happen again.

The image illustrating this post makes the point about how I feel about my book. It comes from 14th century Syrian edition in the Ambrosiana of Al-Jahiz's Book of Animals. What makes the book interesting is that it seems to be an early accusation of plagiarism - although an incorrect one.

A few Classical writers borrowing others' works can be found here. And here. I don't want to 'lift' the research, so you'll have to follow the links yourself ...


  1. That's a bit disgusting. Scholars have to eat, and their current research is what they pay the bills with. To steal it is to take their livelihood.

    There are scum everywhere in life. I've had the experience of some stranger emailing me, being effusively friendly, asking loads of questions about something I was doing until he'd got some bit of information -- commercially valuable -- and then dropping me like a hot rock and setting up his own rival. Twice now it's happened; and I hope I'm warier.

    Illegitimis non carborundum. One has to be aware of these things, but not allow them to destroy you.

  2. Theft,looting,and damaging ancient monuments and artifacts, a great and very British tradition.So, why complain about "Caryatis documents" thefts? If Caryatis and the exhibits of the British Museum were returned to their legal owners, the only remaining thing would be the empty building and the security that guards the stolen treasures...

  3. Something's not clear to me: are you objecting to people lifting things from your published works, or only from unpublished material? Is it a question of proper attribution, or of quoting material that you had not published and/or given permission to quote?

  4. I object to published work being pinched, and unpublished. Fair use I have no problem with, but when people 'lift' everything - someone copied every blog post onto their blog, for example ... - without credit ... so I guess my issue is with credit.


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