alerts us to a fascinating situation happening in France. Apparently, a successful French author, Michel Houellebecq, recently came out with a novel, La Carte et Le Territoire
. However, it turns out that Houellebecq copied decent chunks of three separate Wikipedia articles in the novel
, without any credit or indication that he was quoting another source. This is what is normally referred to as plagiarism -- or, in some views, sampling. This isn't all that surprising, and we hear stories of plagiarism in books all the time. In fact, we tend to think that people get way too upset
over such things in books. After being called on it, Houellebecq appears to have admitted to copying those sections.
However, what makes this case more interesting, is what came next. Some folks realized that Wikipedia articles are licensed via a CC-BY-SA license
, which in real terms says that you are free to share and remix the work, so long as it's with attribution and
"If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one."
If you're paying attention, you'll realize that it appears Houellebecq's La Carte et Le Territoire
appears to "build upon" the Wikipedia works, which would then mean that his work, as well, must also be available under such a license. Thus, they've created a PDF version of the book -- with the proper Wikipedia references added back in -- and put it up for download under the very same CC-BY-SA license.
The question now is whether or not the author or his publisher will take legal action -- and whether or not the reading of the Wikipedia CC-BY-SA license is accurate. It certainly seems like a pretty strong argument can be made in favor of those now sharing the work. The terms of the Wikipedia content are clear, and thus, in using that content, it does appear that Houellebecq and his publisher may be required to abide by the terms of the license. Of course, there are other questions raised by this as well: such as the enforceability of a license that the person might not have read or understood. Before people automatically assume those posting the PDF are in the right here, remember all those stories we've discussed in the past about questionable end user license agreements that people agree to on websites without ever having actually seen them. In those cases, many of us feel that such licenses should not be enforceable. Is the same thing true for a Creative Commons license?
: As noted in the comments, the publisher has said it will take legal action
against those who posted the work, though it's unclear if such proceedings have started yet.