Intellectual Property and NGO Trainings

With any training program, remote or in person, global south or global north, issues of copyright and plagiarism abound. I have found some interesting resources about distance learning (specifically this one from 2002 and this one from 2007) that really talk about the issues of resources and barriers to access in sub-Saharan Africa and Uganda, respectively. One of those barriers is copyright and licensing costs. Another is lack of time to cite correctly (the way I use hyperlinks in my blog is a good example), lack of experience or knowledge of international citation/copyright policies (we can’t all research intellectual property rights all the time), and lack of motivation to abide by them (eh, if no one else is doing it and no one seems to care…).

I have been asked to do some research into copyright issues regarding training materials at the NGO training institution that I currently work for. I spent yesterday, between lying on the couch sick as a dog, attending the end of training in the morning (also sick as a dog), researching fair use policies in Uganda and internationally. Got it! We can use materials so long as the University we are affiliated to has access to them, we only use a small amount (depending on the size of the original), we ask for permission, and we don’t have time to ask for permission, in the situations where we don’t already have permission. Case closed.

Except, today I find out that it’s not a copyright problem. We’re talking about a plagiarism problem. Apparently, some curriculum developers were not correctly citing their sources when they made the curriculum. Now I have to go through each curriculum document, facilitator guide, and trainee’s manual to make sure they are up to legal standards. In the states, I would request a copy of Turnitin and put all of the documents through their anti-plagiarism search. But Turnitin costs money that we don’t have.

Being a resource constrained individual working at a resource constrained organization in a resource constrained country (resource constrained = broke), I found a website that reviewed online free plagiarism software. That’s useful.

Viper seems to be free, but not useful. I think I crashed Advanced Plagiarism Checker, but at least it gave me options to search by sensitivity. After about an hour search of one document (these are fairly large documents, at least 50 pages), I gave up. Advanced Plagiarism Checker worked, but it found phrases like “a relevant icebreaker” that had been plagiarized. I don’t think that’s what we’re looking for. Dustball found a citation that wasn’t correct, semi-useful. Plagiarism Checker wouldn’t let me enter a 39 page document, lame. Duplichecker did the same thing as Dustball and Advanced Plagiarism Checker and found phrases that were common. And it’s about time to give up.

The problem is that the curriculum that may or may not be plagiarized is not plagiarized from online sources, which is what these online tools look for. I guess this is one time when reading through each document, looking for bad citations or strange quotations, may be necessary. C’est la vie.


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