A New Bridge Scandal

A couple of weeks ago, the Italian Federation cancelled the suspension of the Italian/Monegasque pair Fantoni and Nunes. This was a logical next step after the CAS acquited them of any wrongdoing earlier this year due to a lack of evidence. While unsatisfactory to all involved, that is the formal end for one of the biggest scandals in the bridge world over the last years. Time for a new scandal?

We didn’t have to wait long. 

Mark Horton 

(picture found online in various locations)

On Monday June 23, the bridgewinners.com site published an article about Mark Horton, the editor and owner of New Bridge Magazine, an online British publication on the game. Mr. Horton is a professional bridge player and author.  Besides publishing his magazine, Horton has also served as the editor of the daily bulletin EBL, WBF and other organizations for the past decades.

In this blog an overview of what happened between June 23 and 27 when this blog was written. I’ve tried to stick in as many references as I could find, opinions and conclusions are, of course, entirely my own.

The article on bridgewinners can be summarized quickly: large parts, in particular in the introductions, in the articles by Mr. Horton are in fact copied verbatim from other sources, without mentioning the source or having obtained permission to reuse the text from the original author. That is plagiarism, and that is not allowed. 

The article gives a number of examples, from Wikipedia but also from sites operated by newspapers and magazines, and other publications. In the wikipedia case, that is a clear violation of the policy of the site, which does allow people to use the material but requires that the source is mentioned. For the other sources, the policy copying varies from one to another, but they do have one thing in common: it is not allowed to copy stuff verbatim without permission and a proper reference. Note that, at least under Dutch (and EU) law, one does not even have to explicitly state this, as soon as you create something, it is protected under copyright law. (OK, there are some restrictions here, but this is not a law blog).

And Mr. Horton’s cut-and-paste adventure doesn’t end there. For example, it in the May issue of the New Bridge Magazine, I read on page 6, in the report of the Slava Cup (a tournament in Moscow):

A Gentleman in Moscow

This finely composed novel by Amor Towles stretches out with old-World elegance. A Gentleman in Moscow offers a chance to sink back into a lost attitude of aristocracy – equal parts urbane and humane.

Which looks like an intellegent remark from somebody who has actually read the book. However, when I put this piece of text in one of the online plagiarism checkers out there, it immediately returned a reference to an article in the Washington Post by Ron Charles, Sept 19, 2016. His article in the literature section of that paper, opens with:

A Gentleman in Moscow.

[…] this finely composed new novel by Amor Towles stretches out with old-World elegance. “A Gentleman in Moscow” offers a chance to sink back into a lost attitude of aristocracy — equal parts urbane and humane —

Right, cut-and-paste’d verbatim. And that isn’t all, just read the second paragraph in both New Bridge Mag and the Washington Post.  More copy-paste!

All this isn’t recent behavior, in January 2015, Mr. Horton wrote in the now defunct Bridge Magazine (available here):

High Anxiety

High Anxiety is a 1977 comedy film produced and directed by Mel Brooks, who also plays the lead. It was Brooks’ first film as a producer and first speaking lead role (his first lead role was in Silent Movie). The film is a parody of suspense films, most obviously the films directed by Alfred Hitch- cock, Spellbound, Vertigo and The Birds in particular. The movie was dedicated to Hitchcock, who worked with Brooks on the screenplay, and later sent Brooks a case containing six magnums of 1961 Château Haut-Brion, to show his appreciation.

Guess what Wikipedia (click here) and the movie review site Ranker (click here) write about it. Note that Ranker does the right thing: they quote Wikipedia but with a reference and link, as Wikipedia requires. 

And then a reader of this blog pointed me to this pair:

Read the first paragraph of the articles “Sunshine state” and “Welcome to paradise!” respectively.  Cut and paste again. 4 years later, Mr. Horton must have thought he’d get away with anything, as the readership of the ACBL bulletin and the Bridge Magazine no doubt overlaps.

Is this bad? Of course it is. Plagiarism is not allowed by law. A professional writer and editor, who also holds a law degree, should have known this. Instead, Mr. Horton chose to ignore the rules (and the law!), simply copy text, then take his paycheck as the bulletin editor/author for his briljant contributions to literature.

Going back to the article on bridgewinners. The fact that Mr.Horton has been copying material has apparently been noticed some time ago, without this going public. I noticed this, but admit that it didn’t trigger me at the time. Up to the May issue of the New Bridge Magazine, there are lots of little pieces of trivia about movies, books, whatever, such as the paragraph from “A gentleman in Moscow” above. From June onwards, these are suddenly gone. That suggests that one way or another, Mr. Horton must have been made aware that people had started to notice what was going on. 

And then there a section in the editorial of the July issue (page 2 and 3) of New Bridge Magazine on this matter. Without any background, it is hard to understand but with the publication on Bridge Winners, it looks a preemptive effort to push this matter under the tabel.

The section is also a bit strange. First, it says that Wiki asked for links to their material to be added retrospectively. Now, Wiki is a piece of software that is behind (amongst others) Wikipedia site, while Wikipedia is an organization that maintains the online encyclopaedia. That can be a typo. But, if they asked for a reference, why hasn’t it been added? Wikipedia is known to be strict on their policies (and they should be, in order to maintain the integrity of their site) and a “please add this at your convenience”  doesn’t sound like them.

Then, it says “I contacted the parties [of other plagarised material] and received very cordial messages”, again asking for references. That sounds strange to me. Magazines, publishers and papers generally have departments whose only task it is to protect their materials, and sue the hell out of anybody who violates their copyrights. I cannot imagine that they respond cordially when somebody says that he has violated their policies. 

Finally, there is a sentence about the use of articles by Woolsey and Cohen. It appears that there was a question if material that was published on Bridgewinners before, it could be used in New Bridge Magazine or something similar. The matter was resolved, but how can you sue somebody for defamation in a private enquiry that was clarified anyway?

In short, at the moment my only conclusion can be Mr. Horton is aware that he has plagiarized material for his own gain, but he is not aware about the seriousness of what he has done and tries to push the matter under the table. 

The IBPA (the International Bridge Press Association, the organization of bridge journalists) was informed about this, but they did not want to pursue the matter. That is not a surprise. This is a club sharing material and journalists helping each other. They do not have any process or power to deal with a plagiarism case, in particular when it involves material produced by non-members.  And, in fact, their copyright policy, is a set of guidelines only, which will subject to the local laws. This has been admitted to me by a board member of the IBPA in a private mail exchange, I’m not quite sure if I can mention his name here, so I won’t. 

Interestingly enough, Mr. Sandsmark, former president of the IBPA, seems to take a different view on bridgewinners.com. His view seems to be that the IBPA can deal with this, though, when asked, he couldn’t point to the process involved. Also, even if Mr. Horton is expelled from the IBPA, what good does it do? “IBPA accredited Bridge Journalist” is not a title recognized by any official body, contrary to, for example, the title of “Medical Doctor”. 

But there are things that we, as members of the bridgeplaying community can and should do:

  1. Wait for Mr. Horton to respond  in public to this thread. That can be on the bridgewinners side, in the August issue of his magazine or anywhere else. We should give him a chance to tell his side of the story as well as a chance to apologize. 
  2. Report this to the copyright holders of the non-Wikipedia material that was used. It is unlikely that they are aware of this matter even though they have the rights to the material and deserve their royalties and credits. 
  3. Notify the sponsors and advertizers of NewBridgeMag and suggest they review their contracts. There are at least 2 publishing houses in this group, if I were one of them, I'd rather not be connected to a known plagiarist. 

Why do I even care about this? Two reasons. First of all, I’ve written stuff in my life, software, articles on a number of topics, and even this blog. That took time and effort, and I want to be credited where credit is due (and, of course, get paid for my work when appropriate). The second one is that I have read a number of books by Mr. Horton over the years and liked them. Now I don’t know who wrote what.  Contrary to the books, I wasn’t too enthousiastic about his New Bridge Magazine, and I’m now certainly not going to read it until this matter has been resolved.

It definitely not my intention to have Mr. Horton thrown into the deepest dungeon one can find in the UK and keep him there for the rest of his live. I do, however, want to have him admit that he did something wrong, have him correct what can be corrected, and make him aware that he should not do this again.

Finally, I have tried to give references to all the sources that I’ve used. If you feel that one is missing though, let me know and I’ll add it. Any opinion in this article is entirely my own. And if you want to quote me, feel free to do so but please include a link to this site.

No doubt to be continued...

© Henk Uijterwaal 2019