14.0212 secret dictionary project

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Fri Sep 08 2000 - 06:08:18 CUT

  • Next message: by way of Willard McCarty: "14.0216 sexist naming"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 212.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Fri, 08 Sep 2000 06:56:15 +0100
             From: Paul Brians <brians@mail.wsu.edu>
             Subject: Microsoft's secret dictionary project

    I was recently approached by an editor from Bloomsbury/Encarta to work on a
    college edition of their Encarta Dictionary, but told that before I could
    be informed of the exact nature of the project or the terms of my
    employment I would have to sign a confidentiality agreement containing the
    following alarming language:

    Here's the body of that agreement, with my response:

    I'm sorry, but this is ludicrous:


    "I am setting out in writing the terms and conditions upon which Bloomsbury
    Publishing ("Bloomsbury") may ask you to contribute to the BLOOMSBURY
    PROJECT ("the Project").

    "In consideration of being given access to the Project you agree as follows:

    "1. You acknowledge that the Project is highly confidential and you will
    not (without the prior written consent of Bloomsbury) divulge the existence
    of the Project, the fact that you are involved in the Project, the subject
    or essence of the Project, or any information contained in or relating to
    it to any person or organization.

    "2. Should you be identified as having divulged to any person or
    organization any information whatsoever relating to the Project, Bloomsbury
    would consider that an infringement of copyright and a breach of confidence
    had taken place and would take legal action accordingly and seek
    compensation for the damage inflicted on the commercial potential of the

    "3. On countersignature of this letter of agreement, Bloomsbury will give
    you details of the Project.

    "4. The provisions of this Undertaking will survive your involvement in the

       What are you doing, building the dictionary equivalent of the atomic bomb?

    As a public employee, I'm not sure it would be ethical for me to sign a
    contract agreeing not to divulge the very existence of the project I'd be
    working on; and as a scholar committed to the open and free exchange of
    information, I wouldn't do so.

    But thanks for the laugh. This is the most entertaining mail I've received
    since con-men wrote me to get my help smuggling Sani Abacha's ill-gotten
    wealth out of Nigeria.

    Or maybe this is a prank, satirizing the predatory nature of Microsoft?

    Paul Brians

    Does anybody else find this as bizarre as I do? The editor defended it as
    empty legalize but didn't offer to waive any of the clauses. He claimed
    that "many leading U.S.,
    Canadian, U.K., and Australian academics" have signed on, which I said I
    was sorry to hear.

    Obviously, I didn't sign it; and am among the ignorant of the inner essence
    of this hermetic endeavor, but free to comment. Those of you who have not
    taken Microsoft's blood oath, what is your reaction?

    Paul Brians, Department of English
    Washington State University
    Pullman, WA 99164-5020

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Sep 08 2000 - 06:28:23 CUT