The Rise of the Virtual-Plagiarist

In October 2011, I wrote There's a Sucker Born Every Minute – and Charlatan’s to Make Sure They Pay for It here on Infosec Island.  It detailed how free Wikipedia content is often repackaged and sold.  Since then, not only has not much changed; it has gotten worse.

When it comes to plagiarism, Jericho is the gold standard in exposing Security Industry Plagiarism.  His deep analysis has caught blatant plagiarizers from Gregory Evans of LIGATT Security, to Ankit Fadia and others.

He quotes dictionary.com that plagiarism is defined as “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.”  According to the U.S. Copyright Office, "there is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”

With that, I have found a new genre of copying that I would like to call virtual-plagiarism.  Virtual-plagiarism is where a book is sold with the appearance that it is for the most part original content; yet the buyer often doesn’t know or realize they are buying free content.

Wikipedia and other open source providers have made the world a better place with their free content.  But with all that beneficence, there are those who have found a way to misappropriate it.

No one seems to do that better than Gaby Alez and Dakota Stevens.  I doubt there are real people named Gaby Alez and Dakota Stevens, any more than there was a real Kevin Roebuck.

With that, an Amazon search in August 2012 shows that Alez is the author of 2,311 books, up from 1,397 in June.  Yet a simple view of the covers of the titles state that the book is “edited by Gaby Alez from high quality Wikipedia articles”.  In this case, edit means is the wholesale cut and paste of Wikipedia content.  Alez takes Wikipedia content, puts in into bound hard copy, and sells it.  For $20.00, you can accomplish the same thing and even quicker at your local FedEx Office.

Alez is not the first to do this. Starting about 13 years ago, Pete Loshin wrote over 20 books that were simply copies of Internet RFC’s.  All of the RFC’s are freely available here.

Alez’s books are published by Webster's Digital Services, which Lawrence Peperson wrote is one of many firms that automatically packages up free digital content (like Wikipedia articles) and slaps them together as a Print on Demand book with a deceptive title available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Wikipedia content is meant to be shared as it is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. According to its terms of use “all users contributing to Wikimedia projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, as long as the use is attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute applies to any derivative works”.

In other words, as long as someone using the Wikipedia content acknowledges the source, they have complete license to reuse the content.  That is precisely what Alez does. Alez is compliant with Wikipedia guidelines, but makes no effort to let the buyer know they are paying for free content. 

While Alez may be compliant from the spirit of the law, what Alez is doing is clearly deceptive. He lists himself as author of these titles, when it is unlikely his authorship is more than a cut and paste. There seems to be zero added content or insights.

It comes down to this, should a reader be expected to use the Amazon click to look inside feature in advance of their sale to ensure what they are buying is legit?  Has fraud become so pervasive that one can’t even buy a book without worry?

Amazon is a prime feeding ground for the virtual-plagiarist given that Amazon makes a profit off everything sold.  Amazon seems to have no incentive to stop such practices, as it would affect their profitability.  Amazon takes a kid-gloves approach to plagiarism, and makes it extraordinarily difficult to get them to remove a plagiarized book.  That is true for the plagiarized text, and all the more so for virtual-plagiarized text.

Amazon takes a similar approach to book reviews.  The infamous Harriet Klausner is someone who written over 27,500 book reviews, which she seemingly does cut and paste reviews of. But that is minor stuff compared to the world of the virtual-plagiarist.

Next time you find a book on Amazon, check out how many books the person has authored.  Short of Jacob Neusner, any author with over 50 non-fiction titles to their name is likely to be suspect.  Be it Ivanka Menken, Gerard Blokdijk, Kevin Roebuck or other virtual-plagiarists, there was and will always be a sucker born every minute, often selling their wares on Amazon.

This article originally appeared at http://infosecisland.com/blogview/22172-The-Rise-of-the-Virtual-Plagiarist.html

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