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Accusation of Plagiarism against Mark Horton
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Introduction

I didn’t originally want to write this article. I contacted Bridge Winners’ Eugene Hung with many examples of plagiarism by Mark Horton and he passed them on to the IBPA, which is the professional body for bridge journalists. But they had no interest. Eugene then contacted the EBL, ACBL, and the WBF with many of the examples, since Horton has either edited or provided material for their bulletins for years. At time of writing there have been no official responses. Moreover, Mr. Horton published a public statement misrepresenting the facts and attacking me and Bridge Winners.

I feel that Horton’s readers, sponsors, and advertisers deserve to know what kind of a writer he is so I hope you’ll read through the following examples and decide for yourself.

I feel obliged to note that, while I happen to work for the English Bridge Union, this has nothing to do with them. This should go without saying, but since Mr. Horton felt the need to name my employer in his magazine, I had to mention it.

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Mark Horton is a professional bridge writer and journalist based in the UK. He writes books, publishes his own bridge magazine, and has been editing or co-editing EBL and WBF bulletins for over twenty years. He has written a lot of original and well-regarded material. Unfortunately, he also frequently takes the content of other writers and passes it off as his own work, with no respect for copyright or journalistic ethics. This is plagiarism. In this article, I’m going to demonstrate this with a lot of examples and address some of the points that Horton recently made in the July issue of his A New Bridge Magazine.

So let’s start with an article in Bulletin 4 of the recent European Championships. Titled Grand Slam, it’s on page 23 if you want to follow along. I urge you to read at least as far as the hand diagram.

The article starts off with a paragraph about the famous 1931 Lenz-Culbertson match, and how its popularity spawned a movie called "Grand Slam". Horton gives us a short synopsis and review of the film, before talking about the bridge hand he’s interested in — a grand slam, of course. But it’s not the bridge analysis I’m interested in today; I’m instead going to look at the filler.

You see, Horton did not write that opening paragraph. It was actually written by a blogger called “Eric” who likes old movies and writes about them for his website, forreel.net. He wrote a review of the film "Grand Slam" in 2015, and if you compare the two pieces side by side it’s clear to see where Horton got his content.

 

I’ve coloured the identical parts in yellow so you can see just how much was borrowed. Horton removed a few sentences and changed a couple of words, but this is clearly plagiarism. There’s no citation, or any indication that it’s a quotation, and readers will assume that these are Horton’s original thoughts on the film. The website Turnitin, which helps teachers detect plagiarism by their students, has a “Plagiarism Spectrum“ and this falls into the second-worst of the ten categories. A failing grade for a school-child, so certainly not appropriate for a paid journalist.

I don’t know to what extent Eric writes professionally and was unable to contact him to find out (although he does monetise his website with adverts). With the next example, though, the professionalism of the damaged writer is in no doubt: it is none other than the great film critic Roger Ebert.

This one is from the 2015 World Championships, bulletin 12. The article is on page 10, called The Man Who Would Be King. You could read the first three paragraphs in that bulletin, or alternatively you could read them on rogerebert.com — there isn’t a single original word in Horton’s version. Horton did not get permission from Ebert’s estate to use his material, and by publishing this he may have been exposing the WBF to a possible lawsuit. I won’t quote the entire article but here are the first and last paragraphs, with the copied passages again highlighted in yellow.

 

These aren’t dry facts being artlessly copied, these are the insights of a world-renowned critic being shamelessly stolen to pad out a bridge article.

In addition to these two, I’ve discovered examples taken from the BBC, Mental Floss, a football website and another film review site — see the next page for full details. Horton’s favourite site to plagiarise, however, is Wikipedia, and he has done this a lot. Here is an example from the January issue of his own publication, A New Bridge Magazine. You would think that a bridge writer with Horton’s experience would know how to describe a bridge system in his own words, but he didn't here:

More Evidence of Plagiarism

I have found many cases of Wikipedia content being used in Horton's articles, without citation and with every appearance that he was the original creator. They are shown below, in dual-column layout to show the plagiarised articles alongside Horton's original. If you have trouble reading images, you can find a more accessible version on this hosted page. Before taking a look, please take note:

  1. Websites change, Wikipedia especially. All of the quotes are correct at time of writing, but if you’re reading this at some point in the future you may find discrepancies. Wikipedia is good for this, though, because it stores every previous version of every page, so you can always look back to see what it was like when Horton wrote his version.
  2. Horton’s versions may, of course, change too. Especially the ones in his own magazine.
  3. This list is by no means exhaustive. I went back through a few years of bulletins, and then randomly looked at some older ones. It is very easy to find these examples, and I have no doubt at all that there are many more.

 

Bulletin 12, Worlds 2015, Page 10

www.rogerebert.com

 

Bulletin 5, Euros 2018, Page 12

Wikipedia (opening paragraph)

 

Bulletin 5, ACBL Houston NABC Bulletin 2009, Page 8

BBC Leicester (2nd and 3rd paragraphs)

 

A New Bridge Magazine, January 2018, Page 9

Mental Floss (entire article)

This is a very long article so I'm not going to quote the entire thing. Follow the links to see for yourself: you will find that almost every word in Horton's version appears on the Mental Floss original. The first paragraph is reproduced above.

 

Bulletin 6, Euros 2016, Page 11

footballsite.co.uk (6th paragraph)

The sentence highlighted in green was taken from Wikipedia (section Breaking The Sabbath).

 

Bulletin 4, Euros 2018, Page 23

forreel.net film review, by "Eric"

Note: the word "sissy" is considered a homophobic slur, so not really appropriate content for a bridge article.

 

Bulletin 6, Euros 2014, Page 10

Author's Blog (first paragraph)

That opening sentence is likely from Wikipedia too.

 

A New Bridge Magazine, January 2018, Page 11

Wikipedia (first two paragraphs)

 

Bulletin 3, Worlds 2017, Page 11

Wikipedia (opening paragraph)

I'm not sure why an Egypt vs France bridge match reminded him of this film.

 

Bulletin 3, ACBL Fall Nationals, Page 17

Wikipedia (opening paragraph, and examples)

This portion also appears in Bulletin 12, Worlds 2017, Page 7.

 

Bulletin 3, Euros 2016, Page 21

Wikipedia, (Nov 2016 version) (opening paragraph, and Games)

It's amusing to note that Horton here plagiarises text which itself cites its sources correctly. A citation-by-proxy, perhaps.

 

Bulletin 8, Euros 2016, Page 7

Wikipedia (opening paragraph)

 

Bulletin 10, Worlds 2011, Page 20

Wikipedia (2011 version) (opening paragraph)

 

A New Bridge Magazine, January 2018, Page 21

Wikipedia (opening paragraph)

 

Bulletin 9, ACBL Spring Nationals, Page 4

Wikipedia (2009 version) (1st and 3rd paragraphs)

 

A New Bridge Magazine, April 2018, Page 5

Wikipedia (first paragraph)

This excerpt is part of one enormous article covering the Winter Games. It is broken into 26 parts, each containing some tidbit about a play, musical or opera. The vast majority appear to be taken from Wikipedia, but I won't reproduce them all. Here are the first five.

 

A New Bridge Magazine, April 2018, Page 7

Wikipedia (opening paragraph and plot section)

 

A New Bridge Magazine, April 2018, Page 9

Wikipedia (opening paragraph and plot section)

 

 

A New Bridge Magazine, April 2018, Page 12

Wikipedia (opening paragraph)

 

A New Bridge Magazine, April 2018, Page 15

Wikipedia (opening paragraph)

Rebuttal to Horton's statement

Upon learning that the authorities were alerted to his plagiarism, Horton preemptively published a statement in the July 2018 edition of his magazine. I believe these statements warrant a response to clarify the facts. Horton writes:

"Then came something even more extraordinary; a claim by Mr. Hung & Mr. Clark that the articles by Larry Cohen and Kit Woolsey that appear in A New Bridge Magazine were being reproduced without their permission.

I was able to disprove that allegation by providing copies of the relevant emails and the magazine’s Solicitors are currently considering if we should bring an action for defamation against Bridge Winners, Mr. Hung and Mr. Clark."

This is entirely untrue. For a start I wasn’t involved in any claim about Larry Cohen or Kit Woolsey, so I have no idea why Mr. Horton is publicly threatening to sue me. But more importantly, Eugene never made an accusation. I quote from the email sent by Eugene:

"In addition, each issue of your magazine contains bridge material from Larry Cohen and Kit Woolsey.  While their material is attributed, it looks like the authors have contributed new work for the magazine, when in actuality these articles are from material that have been available for consumption on the Internet for years (Woolsey's article was published in 2014 and Cohen's source articles were published from 2002-2015).  Furthermore, we contacted both authors and neither can recall your asking for their permission to use their work. (Some proof that you asked, and were granted permission to use their material, would be greatly appreciated.)"

So Eugene noticed something of concern and was asking Horton to clarify the position internally. The matter was quickly cleared up and the only person to suggest in public that Horton has done anything wrong with respect to Kit or Larry is Horton himself.

Wikipedia

I would also like to respond to Horton's comments about Wikipedia. It's easy to think that using content from Wikipedia is acceptable as it is an open and community-driven resource, but that’s not the case. The content is free to use, but it’s covered by a license which requires that you attribute it appropriately. Horton admits he knows this, but he grossly understates the seriousness of his plagiarism. To quote:

“I immediately contacted Wiki, who confirmed that (as I already knew): In principle, all text in Wikipedia is subject to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC-BY-SA) and may be used free of charge for any purpose. However, what I had not noticed was that under the terms of the Licence, Wiki like you to include a link. When I suggested to Wiki that it would be possible to add a link retrospectively they said it would be a nice idea and arrangements are in hand for links to be added.”

I don’t know who Horton contacted at Wikipedia, but their own documentation takes a far stronger stance on citation than “it would be a nice idea.” Their article on how to properly cite Wikipedia, for example, says the following:

"If you decide to quote or paraphrase Wikipedia text, then you must cite Wikipedia appropriately; otherwise you plagiarise, which is against academic norms and may subject you to censure. Such failure also violates Wikipedia's CC-BY-SA copyright license, which is a violation of copyright law." (Citing Wikipedia, intro section, the word "must" emphasized in original)

Horton’s statement also misses the point. He seems to think that his only transgression was in not following the license requirements, and that if the text had been in the public domain (perhaps via CC0) he would have been perfectly okay. But that would still be plagiarism. He would still be taking someone else’s work and representing it as his own, and he would still be getting paid for original content which is anything but original. Hamlet is in the public domain, but that doesn’t mean that I can copy large sections of it and tell people that I wrote it. It may not be copyright infringement, but it’s intellectually dishonest.

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