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Sunday, 24 October 2010


Mike, I completely agree that no-one should over-react on this, and that this is a major book which deserves to be read as a whole.

Thinking about the plagiarism issue pragmatically, perhaps I could propose a simple criterion of good practice: if borrowing content is acceptable, then it should be allowed in both directions.

If it was acceptable for Thames & Hudson to borrow directly from Michael David Murphy, then would Thames & Hudson accept in turn that Michael David Murphy (or, indeed, another blogger) could publish on his site text from the book, without direct attribution?

I have my doubts if a traditional publisher would be happy to accept this, but I would be interested to know if they would accept this reciprocal re-use as equitable.

Thank you for your excellent, thoughtful remarks, Steve.

I don't understand why people who clearly think there was much more going on than "discourteous behavior" feel the need to dilute their earlier positions and make concessions even when faced with such a belated excuse and weasel words.

Copyright is at the heart of what we do, and there is no excuse for a professional content creator or publisher to not respect it. It is inexcusable for a content creators and publishers to honor the copyright of one type of content, and ignore another - whether there was avarice or ignorance involved is no excuse for professionals.

I have to admit to being a bit puzzled at this quote from Steve Rosenblum: "The text is illuminating and reflects deep thought and a genuine reverence and affection for the subject matter." Given the author's and publisher's disinclination to acknowledge when they're directly quoting someone else's work, how can Mr. Rosenblum make this judgement? Perhaps it's someone else's "deep thought and genuine reverence" that he's mistaking for the author/publisher's.

"There is an extensive list of resources at the back of the book which includes websites and books, exhibition catalogues etc. etc. So I really can't understand or accept the accusations of plagiarism that some are making."

This is exactly the argument* that I hear from undergraduate and graduate students who have used text or figures from published materials without clear citations, but have listed the source in the bibliography. I am amazed to hear it from a publisher. What part of "plagiarism" don't they understand?

Citation in a bibliography alone may be appropriate if only general ideas from the work are used, but any significant amount of text or other material should be identified with quotation marks and specific citations. Otherwise, the reader will assume that the words are the author's, and that is the heart of the issue of plagiarism.

*Almost word-for-word actually. I wonder who deserves the original credit? For some reason, he or she is never cited.

What John Camp said. I, too, will give the book a look, before comfortably settling into complete intransigence.

pax / Ctein

The attempt to apply positive spin to this issue of plagiarism is disgusting to me. The initial responses you were "fed" show the way the participants truly felt when accused of unethical behavior. The type of response you were initially treated to belies the true nature of the book's creators or representatives. The thoughtful comments of Steve are nice platitudes to read, but remind me very much of the types of stories convicted criminals often relay about their crimes...always trying to soften the realities..always trying to pass the buck..always trying to dodge the responsibility that goes with acting willfully irresponsibly. Now that they have been caught and called out, and only now, the book's creators, and one recent buyer of the book, are attempting to make excuses for people who, just a day or two ago, were flippantly attempting to shirk responsibility. I find this behavior disgusting. So the book was a "labor of love"... to that assertion I say, "big fricking deal". Would a footnote or an acknowledgment or two or three (or fifty?) have been such a big effort? No. Again, I am disgusted by those who are falling for this "spin" so easily, fully, and readily.

OK. we've had a little dust up. The issue has been aired and addressed. The parties have reached an understanding, if feeling a little bruised and brittle. The book is said to be good by those who have seen it. Fair 'nuf, say I. Let's move on and if it's an area of photography that interests you, buy it!

I'm in general agreement with the majority thoughts in the original post: sharp and immoral practice by the publishers, the original act made even less defensible by the rather odd response by Johanna Neurath that either there were more important things to worry about, or that they were frightfully busy around publication time (depending on interpretation).

There is however something I find a little ironic about this controversy. I don't particularly care for street photography as a genre, and thinking about why I feel that, it's because I find the basic premise rather discourteous when there are recognisable (if unknown) people as the main subject. If someone took my picture while I was on the street without direct permission, and that picture later becomes published (without any consent of mine) and adds to the renown and lustre of a photographer, I would feel aggrieved. At an extreme, I recall watching (I think on this site?...memory fails me) a 5 minute video of a well-known NYC street photographer who specialised in "in your face" photography of passers-by. Perfectly legal, I'm sure, but also perfectly understandable if the unwilling subject had reacted rather badly (I would have, even if he was using a Leica).

To sum up: in my opinion street photography should be a two way street, as far as consent and attribution is concerned.

I'm sorry, but an "extensive list of resources at the back of the book" is not the same as attributing your sources, particularly if you are quoting text passages and using direct quotes. This is by no means a reflection on the quality of the photos in the book. That is a different story entirely.

So you'd sentence a man to five years in prison for stealing bread to feed his starving sister, then? No quarter for a sense of perspective or proportion here?


Isn't it all comparable to the vast body of contemporary popular music that covers, snatches, samples without due acknowledgment, and, let's say it, plain steals from earlier works? Having said that, that fracas about the Australian band Men At Work's "Down Under" ripping off the "Kookaburra" tune is baffling. There's a snatch (a proper term I learned during a school music lesson)from "La Marseillaise" in the "1812 Overture"; and did Tchaikovsky get into legal/ethical hot water for that?
End of ramble.

I'm conflicted about this as well. While I'm not a big fan of street photography, we need to support the work of photographers these days in any way we can. So it's very difficult to decide to punish the photographers for the ethical lapse of the publisher, and not buy the book. Yet, where do you draw the line? Without the controversy, and if well produced, I would have bought the book without a second thought. Now I'm on my third thought, and still haven't made up my mind.

Borrowing content seems to be reaching epidemic proportions or perhaps I should say "appropriating content". Everything I've been led to believe calls this plagarism. It will get you kicked out of college and it will get you sued. Our internet-based society of today seems to think this is all right. Where do they get these notions? The explanation by Johanna Neurath is lame at best.

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