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 <email@example.com>
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.wsu.edu/~brians
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