Plagiarist may lose job to set example

December 14, 2001

A Korean professor who admitted intentionally reproducing work from a Canadian academic paper may lose his job as part of a drive by his government to demonstrate that it intends to get tough on theft of intellectual property.

Jong-Wook Baek, who printed an apology in the influential magazine that unknowingly published the stolen material, is likely to resign. He flew to British Columbia from his home city of Busan to apologise for plagiarising a paper by Canadian engineer Shahadat Khan.

Dr Khan discovered the plagiarism last May when he was catching up on news in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Communications Magazine , a journal for professionals in the telecommunications field.

The former University of Victoria doctoral student thought some of the work in one of the articles looked familiar. He soon discovered whole passages, formulas and diagrams from his four-year-old thesis and subsequent conference papers and journal articles.

Dr Khan went to his former thesis adviser, Victoria professor Eric Manning, who took the allegations to the IEEE. The institute, which represents thousands of engineers and publishes several journals, launched an investigation.

Dr Manning later received a telephone call from Dr Baek. He said Dr Baek sounded terrified that his former supervisor, author Jong-Tae Park, who was unaware that the paper had been plagiarised, would have his career ruined.

The IEEE investigation concluded that the work was a fraud and helped to mediate an apology between the parties. Dr Manning agreed to say that said Dr Park and co-author James Wong-Ki Hong, who helped to edit and translate the paper, were unaware of the plagiarism.

The Korean education ministry and three universities involved also announced investigations. Dr Baek, quoted in the Korean Herald , said: "It is only proper for me to resign regardless of what the university's punishment is, by following my conscience and taking responsibility."

Dr Manning's opinion of Korea's copyright enforcement was not high before the incident. But he thinks the country may now be trying to change its image and, considering the ministry investigation and some harsh editorials, making an example of the researchers.

Robert Howell, a professor of law at Victoria University who specialises in intellectual property rights, said: "As a country becomes more developed, it is then in its best interest to protect intellectual property because it is producing more things other countries could be infringing upon."

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