Judge Throws Out Plagiarism Case

Feb 05, 2003

The ruling of Justice Herbert Ntabgoba in the High Court of Uganda at Kampala of Gregory Basisana Begumisa, Plainstiff, versus Benson Barigye and two others, defendant. <b>Chibita wa Duallo</b> gives us excerpts

TO the plaintiff, plagiarism refers to insignificant subheadings that do not add value to the defendant’s work
Mr. Gregory Begumisa brought this suit against Mr. Benson barigye, Dr. John Ddumba Ssentamu and Makerere University Council. He alleges that the three infringed his copyright in his work entitled Price Elasticity of Demand and Taxation of Lager Beer in Uganda. The work was a research proposal that was also published in the UMA Journal, The Manufacturer.
Even though it was pleaded that the three defendants are individually or collectively liable for the infringement, the liability of Makerere University Council does not feature in the issues framed. The plaintiff commenced his dissertation in 1995 and completed it in December the same year. Dr. John Ddumba supervised the plaintiff’s dissertation for only one or two months.
The point is that the plaintiff never discovered the alleged plagiarisation after the first defendant had already got the award of Masters degree, which is alleged to have been based on the plagiarised work. When the plaintiff complained, the relevant University authorities took up the matter, investigated it and found that there had been no plagiarism.
The University cannot be blamed for its findings, whether correct or incorrect. After all, the University is not an expert on copyright laws. At any rate, it cannot be blamed for being party to the plagiarisation. Although it is trite law that an innocent infringer of copyright cannot be thereby absolved from liability, such principle cannot apply to Makerere, which neither plagiarised nor condoned or authorised the plagiarisation.
In light of the foregoing, I am unable to find fault against Makerere University Council regarding the alleged infringement
I now turn to the most crucial issue to this suit. Did the first defendant, Benson Barigye, infringe the plaintiff’s works? I read in depth Barigye’s dissertation, as well as the plaintiff’s works, which were alleged to have been copied. In the course of my reading I discovered that Barigye made extensive research into his topic, Principal of Demand for Lager Beer and Tax Revenue in Uganda: 1989-1994.
His research thus goes back before the period covered by the plaintiff. As for the title, I took into consideration the evidence of the first defendant that before he embarked on the dissertation, he consulted many lecturers, including the plaintiff and that it was Dr. Barihuta and the plaintiff who advised him to write about the topic of his dissertation.
The plaintiff thus recommended the title after which the first defendant proceeded to do justice to it by clothing it with an in depth scholarly presentation. The first defendant decided on the mode of referring to authors in acknowledgment of having read their works by writing down what they said in their works and placing their names and titles in brackets against their works, the plaintiff inclusive. The plaintiff was also included in the glossary along with other authors.
I must say I know not only one method of acknowledgment of other people’s works. The best way is by expressing in so many words one’s indebtedness or gratitude to the one whose work has been copied. The other is by placing the quoted works in Italics and indicating that they have been quoted. Another method is by placing the author’s words in inverted commas and stating the author. Words of another author can also be put in parenthesis, followed by mention of the author.
The other method is spelling out the copied works and indicating their author in brackets to follow, the way the first defendant did. It is desirable but not compulsory to laud an author with heaps of praises, as the plaintiff seems to demand in the instant case.
By his own admission, the plaintiff derived his works or based them on works of other authors like UMA and Onyach-Olaa. He did not acknowledge them and says he was not obliged to. Those works also fell into the hands of the first defendant. It would not be possible to know which of their expressions were copied by the plaintiff and re-copied by the defendant.
The plaintiff therefore would have no moral ground to demand the other people’s works to offer him acknowledgements. Most important, however, is that most of what he alleges to be plagiarisation are insignificant subheadings, which neither detract from his works nor add value to the work of the defendant.
Therefore, to determine whether or not the plaintiff’s work has been plagiarised, each case will have to be looked at individually, not using a mathematical formula. In view of the foregoing, I find that the first defendant did not infringe the plaintiff’s work.
Whether the plaintiff has suffered loss or damage, I cannot say, but it is not connected to any copying or plagiarisation of his works. I will not say whether he suffered no loss or damage, since he says that his services as lecturer were terminated.
Such termination should have been subject of a suit for wrongful dismissal. It is certainly too remote as a result of the plagiarisation of his works. My view is that the plaintiff had scores with the third defendant and bad blood with the second defendant, which he unfairly drafted the first defendant in thereby making the latter a scapegoat. I dismiss his suit against all the defendants with costs. Ends

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