Friday, 5 June 2015

Media24 V Oxford University Press - copyright and competing dictionaries

A fascinating copyright case involving the art of dictionary making has come before an African court for the first time and will form the next discussion in Lita's #SandtonDiscussion broadcast on Twitter on Monday between 9am and 10am (GMT+1) and covered by this blog.

"The question of plagiarism or infringement of copyright poses particular problems in dictionary publishing, distinct from those faced by the general publisher. Personnel at all levels of the dictionary-making process from the company’s lawyers to project managers and even low-level freelance compilers- may from time have to make decisions as to what constitutes, and what does not constitute, an unacceptable degree of copying from previously published dictionaries. Prima facie cases of plagiarism may manifest themselves in many different aspects of the dictionary text: conventions of presentation, the headword list, definition style, not to mention the actual content of particular definitions, examples, translations, and illustrations.

The core of the problem resides in the fact that all lexicographers working in a given language (or between two given languages) are covering essentially the same body of knowledge. Given that this body of knowledge is itself linguistic in nature, and that it is usually incumbent upon the lexicographer to produce a text which documents often by way of example typical meanings and usages, it is probably inevitable that dictionaries of broadly similar scope and aims will contain comparable stretches of text that show a degree of similarity unacceptable in other areas of publishing. Off course, some leeway is provided by the fact that dictionaries come in different shapes and sizes with different markets in mind, and each will carve out its own particular section of langue appropriate to its own purposes. However, the problem becomes particularly acute when a publisher sets out to produce a direct competitor to an already existing dictionary in terms of size, number of headwords, and general focus of coverage.

Given that most working lexicographers continually consult other dictionaries as a matter of routine it is important that all personnel involved in the dictionary-making process should be in a position to decide, on some kind of systematic and uniform basis, what kinds of copying, if any, are acceptable, and which are not. This is desirable not only in terms of the strict legal requirements of copyright, but also on professional and ethical grounds.” @para 75 of the judgment

Nic Rosslee
Nicholas Rosslee will be leading the discussion on Media24's attempt to halt Oxford University Press's competing bilingual Afrikaans/English dictionary, and the usual culprits ( ) will be supplying commentary. But of course, that could include you - please feel free to chime in before, during or after the Monday using the #SandtonDiscussion.

Some action from this week's discussion:

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