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[Editorial] Deplorable scholarship

Copyright theft should be severely punished


We are struck dumb by the report that 179 professors from 110 universities across the nation have been indicted for a crime that goes way beyond plagiarism -- republishing other authors’ copyrighted books under their own names after only changing the book covers.

As we have never heard of such an outrageous wholesale copyright breach case before, we wonder how the accused professors could commit such an alleged illegal and brazenly immoral act.

Investigators of the Uijeongbu District Prosecutors’ Office said such an unscrupulous practice has in fact been going on since the 1980s. They said they have only brought it to the surface recently.

The illegal practice, they explain, has been rampant, especially among science and engineering professors, as the interests of the three parties involved -- professors who stamp their names on the books written by their peers, original authors and publishing companies -- coincided.

The main motivation for professors who commit the unpardonable crime of republishing others’ copyrighted books in their own names is to exaggerate their research performance before an assessment for reappointment.

Publishers are motivated by their desire to make money by disposing of their stocks of unsold textbooks. They know that science and engineering students usually purchase the textbooks written by their professors. Publishers can sell off their inventory simply by redesigning the covers of the books and changing the names of the authors.

Original authors also benefit from this illicit practice as sales of their books increase, although not under their own names. They can also improve the relationship with their publishers, which is said to be important for science and engineering professors, as publishing companies are generally reluctant to publish slow-selling science and engineering textbooks.

Believe it or not, for these reasons, the deplorable collusion between professors and publishing companies has been maintained. The practice deserves condemnation as it is much worse than plagiarism.

While authors who plagiarize steal a few sentences or paragraphs from other books, the professors charged with this “cover-swapping” scam stole entire books.

Under the law on copyright protection, those who infringe upon copyrights face up to five years in prison and up to 50 million won in fines. Maximum penalties should be meted out to the accused professors if they are found guilty.

Prosecutors said they would present the names of the accused professors to their universities. If convicted, they should be excluded from evaluation for reappointment. 

The cover-swapping scam illustrates the level of scholarship in Korea. We cannot make Korea an advanced country without elevating the standard of scholarship. Prosecutors need to expand their investigations to crack down on other forms of research misconduct.
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