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  • Writer's pictureMarie-Avril Roux Steinkühler

🇬🇧 - Literature professor at the Sorbonne sentenced on appeal for copyright infringement

Certainly, there is nothing reprehensible in the fact that two researchers work on the same subject, study the same books from the 18th century, where they comment on the same passages, use similar or identical terms deemed to be “banal” or “common” in the field of human sciences, draw the same comparisons or even use the same ideas.

Cour d'appel de Paris
Cour d’appel de Paris © Marie-Avril Roux

However, as found by the Court of Appeal of Paris and prior to that, the Tribunal, in nine passages of a professor’s book, the terms, sentence structure and even the punctuation turned out to be “very similar” or indeed “unnecessarily” “identical” to another prior work and therefore were an act of plagiarism. Moreover, the “borrowed” phrases did not give reference to the sources they originated from. Beatrice Durand’s post-doctoral habilitation thesis had been written in 2003 at Martin-Luther-Universität in Halle, Germany but this prior work had remained undisclosed until 2017.

The appellants tried arguing in vain that the content of the work had been communicated to the scientific community in several ways: by viva voce defence of the academic work, conferences or communication of the thesis to university committees (it is clear that when Beatrice Durand submitted her thesis to the CNU, the Council of National Universities as part of her application for a professorship, the professor managed to peruse it). Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal confirmed that Mme Durand’s thesis had not been disclosed to the public, since the author had chosen not to publish the initial version of the work as had been presented to some select French and German universities. Witness statements produced by both parties showed that the members of the university committee were all sworn to secrecy.

According to L.122-4 of the French Intellectual Property Code, which provides that “Any partial or whole representation or reproduction of a work without the author’s consent is prohibited”, the Court of Appeal stated that “solely the author has the right to choose the opportunity, the moment and the method of publication of their work” and held that the professor and his publisher had infringed on this right.

Despite the professor trying to claim that under the European Convention of Human Rights, he was being limited in his freedom of expression and scientific research, the court decided that no scientific interest could justify the use of someone else’s work without attributing it to them.

Various pecuniary sentences were passed, as well as the obligation to add a notice to the already published versions (and also future versions), telling the reader that the nine passages in the professor’s book were originally taken from Mme Durand’s memoir entitled “L’origine au laboratoire de la fiction, histoire et foncion d’isolement enfantin dans l’élaboration des concepts de nature et de culture “, presented in 2003 at the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg.

Research may be a parallel universe but is subject to the author’s copyright.

Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5 – chambre 1, arrêt du 27 mars 20148, RG n°16/14338


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