Christian Rathgeb writes plagiarism in the newspaper

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“Very unpleasant”: Switzerland’s highest canton politician writes plagiarism in the newspaper

The president of the cantonal governments, Christian Rathgeb, publishes an article in the NZZ that contains several copied passages. The story is strange.

The name Christian Rathgeb will not mean much to many. The man has all sorts of important things to do, as the “Tagesanzeiger” reports: The 52-year-old is the finance director of the canton of Graubünden and president of the cantonal governments (KdK), which makes him the top cantonal politician in Switzerland. In addition, there are various functions in intercantonal committees and the usual lobbying issues.

The Graubünden government council is “very uncomfortable”.

Marcel Bieri / Keystone

In addition to this heap of tasks, Rathgeb also likes to write. The “Bündner Tagblatt” repeatedly publishes a guest article under the name of the FDP politician. In addition, contributions by Dr. iur. in national media such as the «NZZ».

What happened?

Rathgeb’s most recent guest commentary in the “NZZ am Sonntag”, “Leave federalism alone, it can’t help it,” now contains several passages that have been copied 1:1. From another NZZ guest comment. You can’t imagine something like that.

“The fact that the member states can participate with an appropriate weight in nationally binding decisions is just as essential for federalism as their autonomy to determine their internal organization, to levy their own taxes or to implement federal laws in a way that is adapted to local conditions. Only where the subordinate entities are given powerful participatory institutions to help shape federal policy does the federal balance of power remain in balance.”
Guest article by Rahel Freiburghaus, NZZ, 08/23/2021

The Bernese political scientist and federalism expert Rahel Freiburghaus wrote this text about a year ago in the NZZ. Rathgeb was obviously inspired by this: a few words were replaced; however, some passages are actually copied:

“The fact that the member states can participate with an appropriate weight in nationally binding decisions is just as essential for federalism as their autonomy to determine their internal organization, to levy their own taxes or to implement federal laws in a way that is adapted to local conditions. Only where the subordinate entities are given powerful participatory institutions to help shape federal policy does the federal balance of power remain in balance.”
Guest article by Christian Rathgeb, NZZ on Sunday, November 6th, 2022

There are also two more plagiarized excerpts from the German website “Verfassungsblog.de”. The article in question was written by another federalism expert, Prof. Sabine Kropp.

What is the legal situation?

Both authors have the right to sue Rathgeb because he violated copyright law. The specialized Zurich lawyer Martin Steiger refers to a judgment by the Zurich Commercial Court in January 2022 in relation to the “Tagesanzeiger”: A Blick author had to delete her article on the website because she had copied passages from another text.

The court argued that, in the case of existing text, the partial copying, as well as the addition, rewriting and supplementation, also amounted to copyright infringement. Important: copyright is only violated if the original source is not given. This was the case with the aforementioned Blick judgment and with Rathgeb.

What does Rathgeb say about this?

On Thursday, the Grisons will be confronted with the allegation of plagiarism. Unexpectedly, a “Deus Ex Machina” appears just minutes later: an employee of the KdK calls and takes the blame, as the Tagesanzeiger writes. Yes, it sounds strange.

The mishap happened in a back and forth between her and Rathgeb. He sent her a rough draft of the guest commentary for further processing during his summer vacation. The text was then adjusted again and again using the ping-pong method and sent back. Finally, in a final cut, the reference to the original text by Freiburghaus “was lost on the tablet.” The employee apologizes to Rathgeb for getting him into such a dilemma.

The situation is obviously embarrassing for him: “The lack of source information makes me very uncomfortable and I apologize for it in all forms.” However, he emphasizes that he takes full responsibility for the error, his name is under the article. (cpf/watson)