Disgraceful. And, alas, not that uncommon.
[Read more: huffingtonpost]
I was proud of only one paper I wrote in law school. It was for a teacher I admired, the most accessible, compassionate and dynamic teacher in the place. I took every class he taught. Regardless of the subject. If he had taught a class called “Law and Actuarial Tables,” I would have been riveted (my apologies to actuaries). I didn’t mind taking his exams, reading his assignments or writing papers for him. It was fun.
In fact, I went a little nuts on this one paper, not just making trips to my law school library but to other law school libraries and to non-law libraries. He gave me an A on the paper and thought it would make a good article.
A good article. How cool. An academic article. Me? Of course I would work on it. I went home for the summer and I actually worked on “my article.” I would be published. It was all very exciting. I made more trips to more libraries and, when speaking to others, threw in phrases like “the article I’m working on” any chance I could.
In the fall when I returned to school, I dropped by his office with a draft of the article. He wasn’t my teacher, I thought. He was my colleague. I was sure he would have a million corrections. Lots of red pen. Lots of admonitions, but I was ready for it. I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks. There was no e-mail then. Yes I’m that old. And I would never ever have called a law school professor on the phone. I wasn’t taking a class with him. So, my only option was to knock on the door of his office.
I was nervous. He probably thought the article was stupid and didn’t want to tell me. “I was kidding about an article ,"he would say. "You just do what you’re doing and graduate and go off to your little law job. Academics are for others.” Or he would say he was so busy. He was writing a book, teaching two classes, and a seminar. But this was my chance. I, by the way, am a timid person about this stuff, so it was hard, but I went to his office. He wasn’t there. Oh well. As I was leaving the building, I ran into him in the parking lot. “Hey, I was just coming to see you.” For me, that was bold. “Great,” he said. “About my article.” “What article?” “The one I sent you.” He was vague but he reached into his briefcase. “Yes. Here. Here it is. I have an outline for you.” An outline? And he handed me back my draft but it was octuple spaced with parenthetical notes of things that “need research.” I looked at the front page. There it was: my title and underneath his name with a little copyright sign.
Ok, I’m a loser. I didn’t say anything. I was stunned. I’m conflict averse (which is probably why I left the law) and this scenario had never occurred to me. Ever. I ran home, crying. My article would never get published. Maybe it would, but it would have his name. My tears turned to anger within minutes. He copyrighted my ideas and my language. He was a law school professor. Not an ethics one clearly.