image Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail and a forthcoming book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price, allegedly ripped off passages from Wikipedia.

“We have discovered almost a dozen passages that are reproduced nearly verbatim from uncredited sources,” reports the Virginia Quarterly Review blog after working from an advance copy. 

Unfair guilt by association ahead?

image Fairly or unfairly, If the charges are true, will this set back the "long tail” philosophy as well as the “free” one?

And what about the fact that, as some have noted, Wikipedia was involved? Was Anderson—editor in chief of Wired—less respectful of Wikipedia than of more traditional sources? And will this affair reflect on him as a researcher, as some believe? Yet another issue, noted in the blog, is Wikipedia’s license under Creative Common’s Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 option.

Chris Anderson’s rather mainstream publisher, Hyperion, is a branch of Walt Disney. The parent company packaged and branded old fairy tales and is a major foe of fair use. Anderson initially intended to provide citations, but they were dropped later on. Even so, should the wording in so many places have been so so similar?

Anderson photo by James Duncan DavidsonThe good news, from an E view point, is that the Web made it much easier to spot the similarities. Someday will e-book publishers routine submit their wares to a plagiarism-detection engine similar to those used at many campuses?

Anderson’s response: ‘My screwups’

“Anderson,” says the Review’s Waldo Jaquith, “responded personally to a request for comments about how this unattributed text came to appear in his book, providing the following remarks by e-mail:

All those are my screwups after we decided not to run notes as planned, due to my inability to find a good citation format for web sources…

This all came about once we collapsed the notes into the copy. I had the original sources footnoted, but once we lost the footnotes at the 11th hour, I went through the document and redid all the attributions, in three groups:

  • Long passages of direct quotes (indent, with source)
  • Intellectual debts, phrases and other credit due (author credited inline, as with Michael Pollan)
  • In the case of source material without an individual author to credit (as in the case of Wikipedia), do a write-through.

Obviously in my rush at the end I missed a few of that last category, which is bad. As you’ll note, these are mostly on the margins of the book’s focus, mostly on historical asides, but that’s no excuse. I should have had a better process to make sure the write-through covered all the text that was not directly sourced.

I think what we’ll do is publish those notes after all, online as they should have been to begin with. That way the links are live and we don’t have to wrestle with how to freeze them in time, which is what threw me in the first place.