Between the lines

May 18, 2007

Your discussion of the similarities between the publications of Ben Wilson and Vic Gatrell ("Author sorry for uncredited debt", May 11) implies that Wilson has breached Gatrell's "intellectual property". This is misleading and dangerous. Copyright protects the form of expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. Wilson may be guilty of bad manners in not citing Gatrell, but nothing more. As your quotations make clear, Wilson used his own words to express similar points to Gatrell - hardly surprising when two scholars are writing about the same subject. The lawyer Isabel Napper confuses the issue further when she comments that the ownership of copyright materials created "under hire" are the property ofJan employer (a rather different point) but there being a "general exception" in the academic realm. This has never been tested legally. Finally, Gatrell claims that Wilson should have been protected by his editor at Faber from his faux pas. An editor's job is to work with an author to produce the best possible text and to ensure the most effective pricing, presentation and timing. It is not an editor's job to ensure that an author observe academic etiquette.

Iain Stevenson
University College London

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