on Wikipedia, copyright, and the consequences of breaking community guidelines

Today a Wikipedia article was deleted, and another looks like it is going to be. Here is the story of what happened.

Scholarly Kitchen is a blog hosted by the Society for Scholarly Publishing which discusses scholarly communication. The Wikipedia articles Scholarly Kitchen[1] and Society for Scholarly Publishing have both been flagged up as violating Wikipedia policies. As a result, the Scholarly Kitchen article was deleted, and the Society for Scholarly Publishing article is likely to be deleted too. I believe that this course of action is appropriate, for the following reasons.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to. In order to maintain consistency, a range of policies and guidelines have been created which contributors are asked to adhere to. There is some flexibility in these guidelines – after all, there is an ‘edit’ option on them – but by this stage of Wikipedia’s existence many of them are stable and the Wikipedia community as a whole has a broad consensus on most of the key points.

One of these points is that contributors must not violate copyright. Wikipedia’s guide to copyright violations states:

“copying material without the permission of the copyright holder from sources that are not public domain or compatibly licensed (unless it’s a brief quotation used in accordance with Wikipedia’s non-free content policy and guideline) is likely to be a copyright violation. Even inserting text copied with some changes can be a copyright violation if there’s substantial linguistic similarity in creative language or structure (this can also raise problems of plagiarism). Such a situation should be treated seriously, as copyright violations not only harm Wikipedia’s redistributability, but also create legal issues.”

So for reasons of integrity, plagiarism, and legality, any text that violates copyright should be deleted. This was the reason that action was taken against both the Scholarly Kitchen and Society for Scholarly Publishing articles: they violated copyright, and thus violated Wikipedia policy. Here are the details.

Scholarly Kitchen article

The following text is a quotation taken from the Scholarly Kitchen Wikipedia article, as extant on 24 April 2013 and viewable here via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine[2]:

The Scholarly Kitchen[1] is a moderated and independent blog aimed to help fulfill the Society for Scholarly Publishing‘s[2] mission in bringing together differing opinions, commentary, and ideas from across the publishing spectrum and presenting these openly.

Established in February 2008 the Scholarly Kitchen blog exists to:

1. Keep SSP members and interested parties aware of new developments in publishing
2. Point to research reports and projects
3. Interpret the significance of relevant research in a balanced way (or occasionally in a provocative way)
4. Suggest areas that need more input by identifying gaps in knowledge
5. Translate findings from related endeavors (publishing outside STM, online business, user trends)
6. Attract the community of STM publishing information experts interested in these things and give them a place to contribute”

 And here is a quotation from the Scholarly Kitchen’s About page:

The Scholarly Kitchen is a moderated and independent blog aimed to help fulfill this mission by bringing together differing opinions, commentary, and ideas, and presenting them openly.

[…]

Why We Exist – The Society for Scholarly Publishing established the Scholarly Kitchen blog in February 2008 to:

  1. Keep SSP members and interested parties aware of new developments in publishing
  2. Point to research reports and projects
  3. Interpret the significance of relevant research in a balanced way (or occasionally in a provocative way)
  4. Suggest areas that need more input by identifying gaps in knowledge
  5. Translate findings from related endeavors (publishing outside STM, online business, user trends)
  6. Attract the community of STM information experts interested in these things and give them a place to contribute”

Notice the similarity? Most of the rest of the Wikipedia article is also lifted either verbatim, or near verbatim, with no attribution, directly from the Scholarly Kitchen website. This is an unequivocal copyright violation and so the Wikipedia Admin who deleted the article was right to delete it.

Society for Scholarly Publishing article

The Society for Scholarly Publishing article has been flagged as potentially violating copyright, and will probably be deleted, for the same reason. Here is an example of some text from the Wikipedia article[3]:

“The Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP), founded in 1978, is a nonprofit organization formed to promote and advance communication among all sectors of the scholarly publication community through networking, information dissemination, and facilitation of new developments in the field.[1]

SSP members represent all aspects of scholarly publishing—including publishers, librariansprinters, e-products developers, technical service providers, and editors. SSP members come from a wide range of large and small commercial and nonprofit organizations. They meet at SSP’s annual meetings, educational seminars, and librarian focus groups to hear the latest trends from colleagues and to discuss goals and viewpoints.”

And here is a quotation from the SSP’s website:

“The Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP), founded in 1978, is a nonprofit organization formed to promote and advance communication among all sectors of the scholarly publication community through networking, information dissemination, and facilitation of new developments in the field.

SSP members represent all aspects of scholarly publishing — including publishers, printers, e-products developers, technical service providers, librarians, and editors. SSP members come from a wide range of large and small commercial and nonprofit organizations. They meet at SSP’s annual meetings, IN Conferences, educational seminars, and Librarian Focus Groups to hear the latest trends from respected colleagues and to discuss common and mutual (and sometimes divergent) goals and viewpoints.”

Pretty similar! The first paragraph, admittedly, is referenced in the Wikipedia article, but not in a way that is consistent with Wikipedia guidelines about citing sources. And so if the Admin does decide to delete this article too, they will be well within their rights. Even if Scholarly Kitchen/SSP licensing their works under a Wikipedia-compatible license, e.g. CC-BY or CC-BY-SA, the text would still need to be re-written in an appropriate encyclopedic style.

Neutral point of view?

That was the explanation of why the articles are being removed, but to end this post I’ll mention a couple more points about Wikipedia’s community guidelines. One of the core content policies of Wikipedia is that articles must be written from a Neutral point of view. Of course it is always debatable whether this is truly possible, but contributors must strive to the best of their ability to be neutral. The Scholarly Kitchen and SSP articles violated this policy; they were written in a promotional tone including some verbatim promotional copy.

Oh, and another thing: the Scholarly Kitchen user account has been banned from Wikipedia because it has not been able to show sufficient neutrality in its editing.

 

Postscript: The Wikipedia article Scholarly Kitchen has now been started again from scratch. I see this as a positive development, and expect the same will happen with the SSP article.

 

Notes

1. If you follow this link you will be taken to a new article which replaces the one that was deleted. A copy of the original article in question from 24 April 2013 is held by the Internet Archive and viewable here: http://web.archive.org/web/20130424133959/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholarly_Kitchen

2. This link is necessary because the original article, including it’s version history, is no longer viewable on Wikipedia except to Admins (the reason for this is explained in this Wikipedia guideline).

3. From a version of the article that was live until the page was taken down: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Society_for_Scholarly_Publishing&oldid=588436114

5 thoughts on “on Wikipedia, copyright, and the consequences of breaking community guidelines

  1. These technicalities obscure the fact that the motivation to do this was inappropriate — a disagreement with a blog post and certain wording that the Wikipedia editor took issue with. So, let’s not loose the forest for the trees. This was an inappropriate action in the sense that it was motivated by dissatisfaction with an unrelated editorial opinion. So, this Wikipedia editor used his position at Wikipedia to punish the SSP and the Scholarly Kitchen, justifying those actions with technicalities.

    Don’t like how someone dresses or the way they look? Write them a ticket for speeding and having a taillight out, and if they argue, for resisting arrest. Technically, hard to contest. But still nothing any of us would condone.

    1. Technicalities? No, I completely disagree with that – the reasons for deletion were correctly following policies that are integral to maintaining quality on Wikipedia. I do not believe that the editor abused their position at all. The actions were 100% justified.

  2. You’re purposely missing the point. He’s even apologized for his actions, in a manner, acknowledging that he should have handled it better and without the dramatic take-down, which apparently has backfired on him. We’re a reasonable bunch, despite how we’re portrayed in some quarters. We’re happy to learn and adapt.

    As for your aspersion that the Scholarly Kitchen account was banned from Wikipedia, this was another case of amateurish application of rules and absolutist editing getting in the way of legitimate information being added to Wikipedia (and well-documented, citable, and verifiable information, as well). The main issue was that I was adding information I knew about, which I guess is verboten because, well, that’s harder to explain, but I guess Wikipedia hasn’t found a smart way to deal with that, so they have to put an absolute rule in. Then, when I complained, a more senior editor got involved, saw my point, agreed, but wouldn’t overrule his counterpart, who’d already banned the account. You make it sound like that user was banned legitimately, but it was clearly a “rookie mistake” on both sides, but nobody had the guts to correct it or provide a better solution, so everyone walked away from it.

    Go on and keep casting aspersions and backing up the redneck sheriffs on Wikipedia’s editing staff. That’s exactly what Haugen behaved like — you long-hairs coming along with your opinions about our boy Andraka? We’ll show you who’s boss by confiscating your car and making you ice in a cell for a while.

    Since when did questioning authority become something you condemned?!

    The world has reversed polarity. Glad to see you’re on the side of the authoritarians. Nice job.

    1. One reason why the User:Scholarly kitchen account was blocked (not banned, technically) was because the name represents a group, not an individual. It’s not my favorite Wikipedia policy, but usernames must belong to individuals. More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:ORGNAME#Usernames_implying_shared_use

      New users don’t know this rule, of course, so many people create accounts with names representing their organizations. Then they get blocked. If they ask for a username change to satisfy that policy, this is usually only granted if the editor agrees to essentially stop writing about the organization in question; in some sense it seems to me that at this point the editor is from now on kept on a tighter leash with respect to conflicts of interest than another editor would be. That’s an unfortunate side effect of the way these policies end up playing out, and I think it is what happened here.

  3. Kent – as somebody with long experience in publishing you ought to know the importance of keeping an arms length between “author” and “editor”. Wikipedia article writers are called “editors” for a reason, they should be as far as possible neutral toward the subjects they write on. Sources for information about a person or organization or event should be, as far as possible, independent of those things. It is a very basic rule of distinction between “advertising/promotion” and reporting of what’s true in the world. If there are not sufficient third-party sources of information about a subject proposed for wikipedia, then most likely that subject is not notable enough to be included in a world-wide encyclopedia. It looks to me from the history that SSP and Scholarly Kitchen repeatedly violated those standard norms for wikipedia in editing articles about themselves. You could certainly have fixed the copyright issue by allowing wikipedia permission one way or another (there’s the copyright sign on your About page for instance) but the more fundamental problem of non-neutrality was there all along and did need to be fixed.

    I can’t say I agree with Eric Haugen’s hastiness here, but the pages were clearly not up to wikipedia standards and both will be better off for having to be recreated from scratch.

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