In this post, Writers Write looks at plagiarism.
Plagiarism is writing’s Great Evil.
It’s not nice to steal things, yet the internet has made it a common crime.
Here’s how to spot plagiarism, keep your own work original, and fight against intellectual property theft.
What Is Plagiarism?
Oxford Dictionaries defines plagiarism as: ‘The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.’
Plagiarism can be accidental, but mostly isn’t.
The Soul Of The White Ant by Eugene Marais was republished in the United Kingdom, but as another writer’s work. It’s one of the most famous cases of plagiarism.
I was once surprised to find my article The 18 Rules of Journalism attributed to another writer in the Times of India. Google’s Featured Snippet switched back to the right article after a complaint to Google and the editors.
If you are an author, it can happen to you.
How To Fight It
1. Check Your Own Work
Always check your own unpublished work.
Plagiarism can be by accident. Millions of words zip across the internet: what are the chances that someone else used those exact words in the same order?
Helen Keller accidentally reproduced a story that had been read to her during childhood. It was still seen as plagiarism (and she paid the price).
But you, lucky you, live in the internet era.
Software like Copyscape (https://www.copyscape.com/) run text for originality.
If copy is too similar, rewrite.
2. How To Identify Plagiarism
Search any published work too.
If the text has shown up somewhere else, Copyscape shows the percentage of similarity.
Popular articles are more likely to be stolen. High-traffic articles make their way around, and can easily be passed off by a lazy copywriter as their own.
Rarely, someone just tried to share an article (but forgot the attribution or byline). This isn’t plagiarism, but a mistake that’s easy to fix. Always ask if this could be the case for websites or blogs.
3. Proving Originality
If you think that your work has been stolen, collect the evidence.
The original publication date is very important. Can you prove when your article was written or published, without a shadow of doubt?
Note its publication date, any correspondence timestamps, any invoice dates. With the internet, even the upload date can give you more information.
Collect the same info for the stolen article. Compare them, and make very sure before you do anything else.
The hardest part about plagiarism is proving you were first.
4. Going To Editors
The first step for stolen content is to go to the editor or publication. Online theft means go to the webmaster or site editor.
Write a short, informative letter about it. Send it to the editor. Say, ‘I think this has been stolen, and here is proof.’
Be nice, but also be sure. It’s a serious claim to make, and the burden of proof lies on you.
No editor likes plagiarism. In most cases, this is enough to get an article removed or investigated.
5. Going To Authorities
Newspapers, magazines, and some websites are subject to the relevant publication board. Publication boards can act in some instances, and force uncooperative editors to remove stolen content.
When an editor won’t act, report the event to the larger media board. For international theft, report to the one in their relevant country.
Plagiarism is a crime, and can be prosecuted.
6. Going To Google
The web makes plagiarism easier, but also easier to see.
Stolen content can affect search results too. A stolen article takes away hits from the right website, and harms the publication and the writer.
Web-based plagiarism should be reported to search engines.
Google can investigate. Google can also fix search results, like Featured Snippets that ‘feature’ a stolen piece.
Do the same with other engines, like Bing and DuckDuckGo.
7. Contact The Writer
I’ve seen plagiarism more than once by now.
While it’s a strange kind of compliment, it’s also a crime.
Contact the writer too. A message that says, ‘I’ve seen this on your site.’ Is friendly, and tells them you know.
It can be enough to fix a mistake (e.g. forgotten attribution), or enough to force them to take it down and admit they stole it.
8. Serious Steps
There are ways to follow up further.
When no action is taken, a writer can take legal steps. Be warned that legal steps and lawsuits can be costly, lengthy, and difficult.
This is not the first resort, but keep it as the last.
- A Lawyer’s Letter: Legal letters enforce things. A letter gives them a certain time period to correct the instance, or further steps will be taken.
- A Court Order: A protection order/interdict can legally compel someone to do (or not do) something. Apply for one through court, and take all relevant proof upon application.
- A Damages Claim: If there was provable harm to money or reputation, courts can also institute a damages claim.
The Last Word
In this post, Writers Write explored plagiarism and what to do. We hope it helps you to never make this mistake!
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
If you enjoyed this, read other posts by Alex:
- Writing Advice From Twitter
- 9 Tips For The Artful Interview
- 8 Elements Of Great Gothic Fiction
- 7 Bits Of Editing Advice From Famous Writers
- 8 Bits Of Writing Advice From Eudora Welty
- 6 Bits Of Writing Advice From Louis L’Amour
- 7 Bits Of Writing Advice From John Irving
- 6 Writing Lessons From The World’s Top Websites
- How To Write Like A Leader
- 7 Journalism Mistakes (That Got To Print)