Not so Open University

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The Independent Online
THE OPEN University has been accused of plagiarism by an author who says that sections of his book were used in its course notes and in one of its guides. An independent referee has ruled that an OU team copied sections of Dr Paul Booth's Introduction to Human- Computer Interaction, published in 1989. All he wants, he says, is a full apology, but none has been forthcoming.

Similarities between one academic's work and another can occur accidentally and are usually settled quickly and privately, Dr Booth says, but after four years of negotiation his complaint remains unresolved.

A pre-publication copy of his book was sent to the OU in 1988. In 1990 the OU produced notes for its course on human- computer interaction as well as a 'guide to usability' for the Department of Trade and Industry. Dr Booth found striking similiarities between his work and that of the OU team.

For example, his book said: 'The idea of speaking to a computer and the computer system speaking back seems particularly appealing. Indeed, many science-fiction films and television series include speaking computers . . . Speech is a skill that is practised every day.'

The OU course notes said: 'The idea of speaking to a computer has held appeal for some time and has been the focus of science-fiction stories and films for many years now. Speech is natural and it is a skill that is practised every day.'

When Dr Booth's publisher wrote to the OU, its officials replied that the similarities were a coincidence and some came from a third source. However, they agreed to allow an independent referee, Professor James Alty of the University of Loughborough, to judge the issue. He concluded that there was some plagiarism and that, although it was not extensive, the complaint was justified.

Dr Booth, who now works at Salford University, is still waiting for an apology and a promise that his book will be credited in future editions. Salford's registrar, Dr Malcolm Winton, is negotiating with the OU on his behalf. He said: 'It is a shame that this has happened. It is also a shame that they haven't taken it more seriously.'

A spokesman for the OU said that it accepted Professor Alty's report and the only remaining bone of contention was the wording of the apology. He said: 'We take very seriously the issue of copyright and we don't condone plagiarism by our staff . . . the OU relies on collaboration with other academics. The last thing we want is to create bad feeling.'

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