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I recently came across a book written by two senior scholars in my field (anthropology), who cite a paper I published with a colleague two years ago. They cite us quite favorably and in most places they cite us correctly. However, there are two passages which they have copied verbatim from our paper but without attributing them to us, nor even citing us anywhere on the respective pages.

What should we do about that? We certainly don't want to ruin our relationship. What are appropriate steps to be taken?

We have never met the authors in person but been exchanging emails with one of them a few times – all very positive exchanges. He is also supposed to participate in a conference panel with us this year. How to bring it up and what should we expect from them to do?

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    How large are the passages? Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 13:49
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    Which field are you in? Which parts of the paper did they copy verbatim? Plagiarism standards vary considerably between different fields.
    – Christian
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 14:43
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    Could this be an honest mistake? Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 17:01

3 Answers 3

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It is difficult to say if this was intentional or only an oversight - though an improper one. But the fact that they cite you generally, seems to imply sloppiness, not malice. Ask for a correction.

I would simply point out the passages to them and provide them a proper citation for them. Since this is a book, it will likely go through several printings and it may be possible for the future printings to be corrected. Published books often come with an errata page, usually online these days.

You don't need to make accusations, just point out the correction.

If you get a poor response from the authors, then try to contact the publisher, starting with just the same information and request.

But if you get a favorable response, then thank them and, if you desire, say positive things about their work and point again to your own. From a bad situation it might turn in to a good one. But that assumes good will.

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    Adding to this: If you can bundle this together with a few other errata to make clear that you are genuinely interested in improving the book rather than more selfish motivations.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 19:57
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    Well, if all academics reacted to errata like this, we wouldn’t need this question.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 20:07
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    The OP's message to the book's authors could begin by thanking them for the favorable citations, and then pointing out that citations were apparently overlooked in a couple of places. Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 0:33
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    @AnonymousPhysicist en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor You just need to imagine being interrupted. You copy something, the doorbell rings, you go open the door, accept the package, go back to the desk and by the time you get back you are already thinking about the next parts of the paper and continue without ever adding the citation. Is it sloppy? Yes, something slipped your mind. Was it intentional? No. Should the culprit be more careful? Definitely. But that doesn't make it intentional or malice.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 8:26
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    @Polygnome also psychologically, some people simply consider text attribution way less important than idea attribution. They might care less about their own texts and they might also not be as careful when attributing text sources. Not saying they shouldn't, just explaining why someone can easily be good and rigorous in some way and a bit sloppy in another without intended malice (e.g. simply because they would not feel affected if someone "did it to them"). Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 9:31
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I have had my own work plagiarized and I know it does not feel good, in fact I was quite upset when it happened. In that case the plagiarism was pretty extensive and clearly done with malicious intent (by a graduate student at another institution), and I acted to inform the relevant people. I also had a mild concern at the time that the timeline of events might lead others to conclude erroneously that it was me who plagiarized from the student rather than the other way around.

In your case, however, it sounds like the incident is really too trivial to risk hurting your good relationship with these researchers over. In a comment you say the book contains many errors and there are obvious signs that this was nothing more than sloppiness on the part of the authors. And it sounds like there is no concern you will be mistaken as the plagiarist. So it’s not clear to me what exactly there is to be gained from correcting the mistake in a practical sense, other than to address your own feeling of injustice (which as I said I completely understand and absolutely do not mean to belittle). I assume that these two passages consist of ordinary, everyday text rather than some masterpiece of human ingenuity that will be remembered for many centuries.

My suggestion is to leave it to readers of the book to draw their own conclusions about the professionalism of these authors. If the sloppiness is that obvious, I doubt anyone will be too surprised or shocked to find two unattributed passages in addition to all the other errors. And it is generally not your responsibility to help sloppy scholars improve their work. So, as much as it may be emotionally difficult to do, the best course of action may be simply to do nothing.

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Since you do not supervise these senior scholars and you did not coauthor the plagiarism, you are under no obligation to do anything.

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