Sign of the Apocalypse?

3 02 2011

Friend Jim Morgan sent me a note this morning about a new book on Ball’s Bluff. He informed me that the book is actually made up of Wikepedia entries.  Yep – you read that right. According to Alphascript Publishing they make thousands of these print-on-demand books available each year. As far as I can see, they’re all edited by the same three people. In addition to the book on the battle that gave birth to the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, and John McBrewster have edited titles ranging from Cloud Seeding to Franco-Belgian Comics!  They must be the three smartest people in the world.

Here’s a Q & A on their site. I love this one:

We are of the opinion: Of course you can have all these contents free of charge from Wikipedia, but there is a reason for having bought a book on a specific topic. Under certain circumstances you are more up-to-date with an Alphascript-book instead of buying a book of last year the contents of which are possibly not up-to-date any more.

We do live in rapidly passing times.

Here’s how they describe themselves (remember, they publish, in book form, stuff from Wikipedia):

Alphascript publishing publishes academic research worldwide – at no cost to our authors.

Annually, we publish more than 10,000 new titles and are thus one of the leading publishing houses of academic research. We specialize in publishing copyleft projects.

From the large number of texts that are continuously being completed, we identify those which – due to their quality and practical relevance – are suitable for publication. In this way, the latest research is conveyed quickly and tailored to the needs of the respective specialist audience.

What’s a “copyleft project”?  I’m glad you asked (I had to look it up – on Wikipedia, of course):

Copyleft is a play on the word copyright to describe the practice of using copyright law to offer the right to distribute copies and modified versions of a work and requiring that the same rights be preserved in modified versions of the work. In other words, copyleft is a general method for making a program (or other work) free, and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.

Copyleft is a form of licensing and can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works such as computer software, documents, music and art. In general, copyright law is used by an author to prohibit others from reproducing, adapting, or distributing copies of the author’s work. In contrast, an author may give every person who receives a copy of a work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute it and require that any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same licensing agreement.

Copyleft licenses require that information necessary for reproducing and modifying the software to be made available to recipients of the executable. The source code files will usually contain a copy of the license terms and acknowledge the author(s).

Copyleft type licenses are a novel use of existing copyright law to ensure a work remains freely available. The GNU General Public License, originally written by Richard Stallman, was the first copyleft license to see extensive use, and continues to dominate the licensing of copylefted software. Creative Commons, a non-profit organization founded by Lawrence Lessig, provides a similar license called ShareAlike.

Notice this line:

Copyleft type licenses are a novel use of existing copyright law to ensure a work remains freely available. 

So Alphascript sells – SELLS – books consisting of material that copyleft is supposed to ensure remains freely available.  Sells them at a pretty hefty price, too – $68 for the Balls Bluff title.

Here’s my favorite answer from the Q&A on the company’s site, in response to the question of whether or not Alphascript should fully disclose that the books are from Wikipedia:

It is pointed out in every Alphascript book that contents are Wikipedia articles. Do we now have to write in Amazon-books: “Attention! Books contains Wikipedia!”?

Then other publishing houses would have to point out in their books: “Attention! Book contains nonsense!”, or: “Attention! Book has only sex-scenario!”

OK, so inside each print-on-demand book they clearly disclose that the contents come from Wikipedia.  Hunh?  Have these guys ever heard of barn doors and horses? (Wikipedia in its entry on barns has this to say: To “lock the barn door after the horse has bolted” implies that one has solved a problem too late to prevent it.)

And yes, there is a Wikipedia entry for Alphascript.  Check it out – funny stuff.

Here’s an interesting blog post on the operation:

Part of me wonders why I didn’t think of this. And as always, if I’ve mischaracterized what Alphascript is all about, set me straight.

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7 responses

3 02 2011
Brett Schulte

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin…other than to go immediately to Amazon and leave this book one star. It deserves less.

3 02 2011
Harry Smeltzer

I couldn’t do that without at least seeing the book, and in no way am I encouraging anyone who has not at least seen the book to leave a review on Amazon.

3 02 2011
Craig

Actually, this has been around for a long time in the industry. Nothing new here. In the IT field in particular, much of the content is “copyleft”, then repackaged for publication. If I had a dime for every bit I’ve “copylefted” to someone, then I wouldn’t be at work today.

3 02 2011
Brett Schulte

Harry,

Just for the record, I typically do not do that either, ever. With that said, no one knows Ball’s Bluff like Jim Morgan, and it appears he is aware of the book’s contents. Someone has to warn people about this kind of stupidity. Anyone willing to fork over $68? In the interim, I’m going to at least start a forum topic warning people about this.

3 02 2011
Coly Hope

$68 for a book is way too much especially a book were everything is just copied. If there is one good thing that will come from this book it is that more people will be introduced to the battle.

3 02 2011
Ken Noe

VDM, the parent company, has a long history of mass-mailing grad students, looking for theses and dissertations. Here’s a good discussion of what awaits you if you go that route: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2009/09/victoria-strauss-vdm-verlag-dr-mueller.html

4 02 2011
Susan Evelyn McDowell Cole

What a timely topic! I use Wikipedia for fast and dirty research but I almost never trust it as being totally accurate. I spend lots of time in rare book rooms looking for verification. Much of the information floating around on the internet conflicts with other sources and makes for hard research.

I have to give you kudos, Harry. I find your site to be one of the best around.

Susan Evelyn McDowell Cole

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