In the fair use story that just won’t die, my internet romp over the use of a figure from the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture was mentioned in this story on Newsweek now. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this article in The Scientist describes that incident factually. The Newsweek story’s main focus, however, is a small dust up where a book published by Wiley appeared to have two pages plagarized from Wikipedia. The offending passage was noticed by the wiki’s author, Ydorb, who noted the identical text on a Wikipedia forum. From there it was submitted to Slashdot who publicly wondered who’s fault it was, and if it was even illegal to copy something from a free public forum, even for profit.
Ydorb wrote, “I wrote much of the copied text … Complicating any charge of copyright violation is the fact that I have released most of my contributions into the public domain. Even if this is legally not a copyright violation, it is an ethical problem for an established reporter.”
The author and Wiley acknowledged the error, which they said was unintentional, and that future copies would not contain the passage. In my opinion this is more of an oversight of the author than of Wiley, but I also don’t know all the ins and outs here.
The incident brings up an interesting possibility: would it be illegal to compile an entire book from Wikipedia articles, sell it, and keep the money, without attribution? Of course, ethically, I would hope that reporters and authors would see a problem with it. But legally, I doubt there’s much recourse.