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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security was revealed on Saturday to have violated the copyright of a number of contributors to online encyclopedia Wikipedia in a document on racial profiling by quoting Wikipedia articles without any attribution.

The PDF file, which was created as a guide for students in grades 9–12 “[t]o research positions related to the topic of racial profiling post September 11, 2001 with a primary focus on citizens of Middle Eastern descent, and to give an informative speech”, quotes from seven Wikipedia articles without mentioning Wikipedia at any point. These are: Racial Profiling, USA PATRIOT Act, Bigotry, Internment, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, and The War on Terrorism, all in the “Vocabulary” section. This is against Wikipedia’s Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) License, which requires that the original author(s) be attributed.

page[s] 3/4 are copied from [W]ikipedia, yet there is no attribution to Wikipedia or even a mention of it

The offending document was posted on the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s website on October 30, 2009, and came to the attention of the Wikipedia community on Saturday, after a user editing under the pseudonym of Smallman12q mentioned it on the website’s community noticeboard, the Village Pump. His post began, “I came across this pdf produced by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security for racial profiling and found that in it […] the vocabulary section on page[s] 3/4 [is] copied from [W]ikipedia, yet there is no attribution to Wikipedia or even a mention of it…” The document also contains typographical and grammatical errors, “[citation needed]” tags, and meaningless in-line references, due to the content being a direct copy-and-paste of Wikipedia content.

In a statement to Wikinews, Smallman12q explained that he “came across the pdf after doing a google search for ad hominem with the ‘site’ parameter set to .gov.” He also commented on “the irony” of finding this when his whole reason for searching government sources was so that he “would[n]’t have to worry about copyright infringement” due to government works being in the public domain (he was mistaken on this point, as this only applies to works of the US federal government, while this document was created by the government of the state of Indiana). He used the document as a reference in the Internment article on Wikipedia, before realizing that “the content of the article and the pdf virtually matched”. He noticed the “[1]” tag in the document, which was undefined in the PDF and corresponded to a Wikipedia in-line reference. “Looking at the other vocabulary terms within the pdf and their Wikipedia counterparts, they too were identical,” he says, “I then realized that they must have been copied from Wikipedia…”

The CC-BY-SA licence states that “You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor”, while the Wikimedia Foundation’s terms of use specify either “a) a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to the page or pages you are re-using, b) a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to an alternative, stable online copy which is freely accessible, which conforms with the license, and which provides credit to the authors in a manner equivalent to the credit given on this website, or c) a list of all authors”, none of which were given in the IDHS’s document, despite it having a bibliography section.

Wikipedia is widely famous for being something that you can freely copy, and we love it when people do it

Wikinews contacted Jimmy Wales, the founder and chair emeritus of the foundation, for a statement regarding the issue. He expressed no concern about the issue, saying that “Wikipedia is widely famous for being something that you can freely copy, and we love it when people do it. Yes, there are rules about how to do it, but not everyone understands those rules at first. I’m sure it won’t happen again, and I certainly am not particularly agitated about it.”

The offending document has since been removed from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s website, Wikinews found on February 2.