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Monday, 15 February 2016

Patricia Covarrubia

Academic Misconduct, plagiarism, copyright infringement or just an electoral fight

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This month Peru’s newspapers have been busy reporting about an alleged plagiarism done by Mr César Acuña Peralta who is running for the Peruvian Presidency (here and here)

Image result for plagiarismMr Acuña has been accused of copying his doctoral thesis submitted at the Universidad Complutense, Madrid in 2009. Added to this accusation, now it emerges that he also copied his master’s thesis submitted at the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. In the latter, news referred to the fact that some paragraph were well attributed to the author and using quotations marks but others were not. The alleged paragraphs were taken from the book authored by Cruz Cardona.

Accusations are so strong that the Peruvian National Institute for the Defence of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property (Indecopi) has decided to investigate the accusation (in line with its Organization and Functions Act and Decree Legislative 822 that gives to it powers to investigate acts affecting copyright and related rights within the country). Moreover, the Universidad Complutense has announced that “it will initiate an investigation to determine whether Acuña committed academic fraud.”

Image result for plagiarismThe Spaniard newspaper El Pais noted that Universidad Pontificia Catolica del Peru passed the thesis through Turnitin, a software which is widely used in academia that matches the document against a database, and so detecting originality or similarity to other sources. The said academic “found in the first 165 pages an average of 80 % similarity to other Internet sources not necessarily cited in the investigation.” Declarations in this newspaper refers to pages after pages of textual copying without been either attributed or using quotation marks. In many educational institutions, plagiarism is treated as strict liability (as copyright primary infringement) while others require intention. In any case, plagiarism is a disciplinary offence.

A more recent accusation was brought by the newspaper El Comercio noting that it has transpired that in 2002 Mr Acuña authored and published a book which is an identical copy of the book authored by Peruvian Professor Otoniel Oyarce Alvarado.

Wow! Wow! Wow! These are really strong accusations. A master, a PhD and a book?! I am indeed amazed how these could have happen…I presume the University in Madrid did not have or use any software to check the originality of the work, -- possibly. However, we are talking pages after pages. How the supervisors and the examiners did not notice this matter? As an academic sometimes we read students work and we stop to think, uh? I have read something like this somewhere. But we are humans, and mistakes could have happen…but in a PhD there is so many people involved, and no one noticed it? The other issue that comes into my attention is the book that he allegedly copied. If it is claimed that is a copy of another one...how did anyone not notice this before? Both books are published in Peru and written by academics in Peru – surely a student or a person in the same fora could have noticed something.

Will Mr Acuña resign from his Presidency postulation? Or will he wait for the University in Madrid and the Indecopi to give a verdict?

Patricia Covarrubia

Patricia Covarrubia