May 23, 2016

Romanian businessman prosecuted for plagiarism after publishing his way out of jail


"How To Publish Your Way Out Of Prison" by George Copos (pictured).

“How To Publish Your Way Out Of Prison” by Gheorghe Copos (image via Youtube)

It seemed like a great idea at the time. But a 2013 provision in Romanian criminal sentencing law allowing prisoners to shorten their sentences by writing “books of scientific value” was quickly exploited to an absurd degree. Politicians and businesspeople hired numerous ghostwriters to create the books, which (to their relative credit) the prisoners then copied out by hand and had published via vanity presses.

The Romanian government quickly moved to close the loophole, attempting to save face. And now, to nobody’s surprise, one of the prisoners who took advantage of the provision is being prosecuted for plagiarism. Stephen McGrath at Forbes reports:

Until February this year when the loophole was overturned prisoners were able to exploit the Romanian law to cut their jail sentences by 30 days for every book of scientific value they published.

Romanian businessman Gheorghe Copos, who wrote five such ‘prison books’ is being prosecuted for allegedly plagiarizing academic papers in a book he wrote while serving jail time, which skimmed 30 days off his initial four year sentence.

[…] Copos, who was sentenced in 2014 to four years in prison shaved a total of 150 days off his sentence from his five published books, and was released in April 2015 after serving only a third of his sentence.   

Ouch! Copos, a former government minister who was serving time for fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering committed during his time in the private sector, allegedly stole the material for his book about “the matrimonial alliances of medieval Romanian rulers” from a graduate dissertation whose author, Catalin Parfene, has pointed out that while in prison Copos could not have had access to some of sources his book cites.

Parfene is joined in his accusation by Marian Popescu, president of Bucharest University’s Ethics Committee, who said, “It is not a classic copy-paste issue, we are talking about a professional author who made a lot of unacceptable paraphrazing from Catalin Parfene’s dissertation thesis.”

If Copos’s prosecution is successful, we may see similar busts down the line, and a number of wealthy Romanians may be heading back to jail. My heart goes out to those in Romania’s Ministry of Justice who’ll be tasked with investigating these books for red flags of plagiarism and the like. Sounds like working on the world’s worst slush pile!

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.