The Rights to What You Write

The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire.  Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God.  Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction.  Regard it as vile and utterly detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.

  • Deuteronomy 7:25-26

Okay, the book in the photo is only a detestable thing, not an idol, but only a detestable thing due to feeling that I have that I was robbed.

I may have written about this long ago.  When I was working on my master’s degree, I wrote most of an article for Chemical Engineering magazine.  One of my professors offered me the opportunity of writing an article.  I was listed as a contributor.  The professor had a contract to write 18 articles for the magazine, but with new graduate students coming in, he begged the publisher for three additional articles, and they relented mostly due to the article that I wrote, which the known data was mostly from German and Russian texts, very obscure stuff.  My article was the first of those three: Ethylene, Propylene, and Butylene Oxides, the physical properties thereof.  What is meant by physical properties is the constants like boiling point and melting point, but also those things that change with temperature, like heat of vaporization, vapor pressure, vapor heat capacity, liquid density, etc.  Twelve charts in all.

I did not finish the article on my own as I was going to school full time and working full time and I got married along the way (considering the publishing deadline, he enlisted help to draw the graphs), but I did all the research, especially since the company that I worked for made tons of ethylene and propylene oxides, and when I started creating the graphs, I did something that the professor did not expect.  I did a data regression to take the mathematical relationship between temperature and each physical property to determine the perfect curve, even showing how each individual data point varied from the curve, giving standard deviations.

When the professor saw what I had done, his jaw dropped.  He asked how I did it and, me being a stupid and trusting farm boy from the backwoods of Mississippi, showed him my computer code.  He really did not need the code itself after I explained the logic of how I developed the code. I also suggested that I could take all the data from the 21 articles and produce the formula constants with statistics of the formula accuracy and that could make more articles for the magazine.

I explained that chemical engineering before my age group read the graphs and got a number close to what they would expect, but the new age of engineers was using the computer to make those engineering calculations that they get paid the big bucks to do.  To have the computer do that, you had to have this knowledge of the formula constants that did not appear in any of the engineering textbooks or engineering manuals of that day. And the results would be more accurate than eyeballing a chart.

The professor got huffy.  He said that the project was over, and I was barking up the wrong tree if I thought I could make additional money for more articles.  I think he paid me a little over $100 of the money he received for my one article.  “Thank you for not graduating undergrad sooner so that we could pitch the idea to the magazine.”  I was angrily dismissed.

I got my master’s degree and went off to Germany a few months later as an Army officer, but before I left, I became a member of the book club for the publisher who also published the magazine.  For a while, I was not getting the magazines when I got to Germany and the book club would send the books because it took too long with the mail system for me to deny the books.  Book clubs are required to receive a notice that you want the book these days, but then if you did not reply in a week or two, they sent the book and you had to buy it.

One of the books that I received in such a fashion was a copy of the book shown in the photo.  I was irate on so many levels.

First, I had to pay for a book that I was a contributor.  Second, there would have never been a book if the professor had not stolen my computer code, stolen my idea for the new chapters, and stolen my pitch to the publishing company on why engineers needed the data that was not available anywhere else at the time.  Third, I had not been given credit for the computer code or the idea of its need.  Fourth, the professor got paid handsomely for the computer work, turning it into three additional articles in the magazine (during that period when I was not getting the magazine) and he angrily threw me out of his office he I suggested it.  I could probably go on.

Six months later, I got a signed copy of the book with my name printed on the front (pictured above), but in the hand-written inscription inside the cover, he did not acknowledge thanks for giving him everything he needed for it to become a book.  Just “thanks for your research.”

So, my question is:  When is what part of this process mine?  Was I robbed or did I get hoodwinked by a sly devil? If nothing done illegal, it violated the code of engineering ethics.

At the time, I wrote it off to one bad apple doing something dishonorable.  One time of being cheated by a person of authority could not define someone’s career, but my career after I left the Army was one bad apple for a boss followed by the next one.  Their motto was to take the efforts of those who work for you as being your work and then forget about them after you get promoted.  I think I will be able to relate to Joseph in the prison while the cupbearer forgot about him once I reach Heaven.

And yet today, I am a contributing author of a very useful published work – a work that would not have existed without my help.  I am a member of that exclusive club that is known as “et al.”  Just for that book, since the students did all the hard work and the professor gathered it together, there were a lot of “et al” when it was done, twenty of us, and mine is among the eighteen photographed contributors.  Why should I hold ill will toward someone I have not seen in over 45 years?  Life is too important and too short to worry about that.

I only thought of it when my uncle called last night.  He, in his mid-90s, has written a small book, God’s Physical Record of Creation.  It will be available through Amazon on 3 November 2021, but he is sending me an advanced signed copy.  That caused me to remember the only book that I have with an inscription from the stated author – at least an author that I have met.

God gives us his Law.  These laws are very important.  We are not to covet what others have, nor are we to take such things from them.  But God also grants us mercy, and he promises us that He will forgive our sins if we forgive others their sins.

The professor has gone on from this book to add nearly thirty other publications of the same type.  I am glad that he had success and that I am an “et al” on his first.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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