Originally, I wrote a post about plagiarism when it came to copying and pasting event and meme information. It was a good post. But I am not going to share that post with you. The reason I am not sharing that post with you is that my business website was plagiarized. And while this is not going to be a post that points fingers and reveals whodunit, I do feel that it gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about what plagiarism is, why it can be easy to do unintentionally, and how you can protect yourself.
Plagiarism is more than copying someone’s words. Plagiarism is more than taking someone’s words and changing a few of them. Plagiarism involves the theft of someone else’s ideas and/or words and passing them off as your own.
I see a lot of copying and pasting of event and meme information. (Especially now during the 2013 challenge season.) Kelly and I attempted to cut down on people copying information from the Bout of Books website and pasting it on their blogs without crediting our blog by drafting an official blurb. However, people would take our official blurb, copy it to their site, and not indicate that it was written by someone else. We eventually added “-from the Bout of Books team” to the end of our blurb to ensure we got the credit for our words. I have also seen my Top Off Tuesday blurb on someone else’s site without attributing the words to me.
It is very frustrating to see your words on someone else’s site and not receive credit for them.
As book bloggers, we put a lot of time and effort into creating our blogs, our memes, and our events. Seeing our time and effort being capitalized on by someone else is upsetting. We feel violated. As a business owner, seeing my carefully crafted pitch plagiarized took my outrage and violation even further because the person stood to profit financially from my work and pull potential clients away from me. My pitch was not copied word for word. Rather, words were switched around and sentences were re-written using the same grammatical structures and the same general meaning, but with different words. This is still plagiarism.
To very quickly demonstrate what I’m talking about, I have taken a line from Kelly’s Beautiful Demons review (with her full permission of what I’m about to do) and rephrased it.
Kelly’s sentence: I’ve never been a huge fan of storylines that have the main character putting aside all her convictions to join the popular crowd but I think it worked in this case.
My sentence: Stories that have main characters who drop their morals to be a part of the popular crowd don’t usually work for me, but it worked for this book.
(You get the idea, right? Even by changing a few things, I’m still copying Kelly’s ideas.)
It is also possible to properly paraphrase someone and still plagiarize. How? If you paraphrase, it means you are using someone else’s ideas. Paraphrasing is, in effect, taking someone else’s words and ideas and putting them into your own words. If you do not properly credit these ideas, it is plagiarism. Passing off someone else’s ideas as your own is plagiarism, too.
However, in an atmosphere like the book blogging community, where there are so many people, it is possible to independently think of the same meme. Or event. That is different. It is important, then, to do research if you think of a meme/event/idea. Has someone already started something similar? If it’s similar, how is yours different? Is it different enough to stand on its own? (Example: There are a couple series catch up challenges out there.)
You might be surprised to learn that we can be very easily influenced. The human brain is an amazing thing. We may read a review, write our own, and without trying, copy phrases from the review. Or, we talk to our friends about a book and internalize something they said and reproduce it in our review. Spending time with other people can lead to picking up words or phrases they use. My boyfriend is responsible for my use of the word “awesome.” Kelly is responsible for “Oh my glob!” (I’m not implying using these words is plagiarism–it’s just how the brain functions, and in some cases mimicking words or phrases is how we establish social or emotional connections with people. Phrases like “TBR” are unique to the book community, and using this acronym is a way to establish your membership within the community and create solidarity with other members.)
So how can you protect yourself? The truth of the matter is that plagiarists will plagiarize your content regardless of copyright. (In the US, most copyright is implied already; that is, our blogs are protected under copyright whether we seek out additional copyright protection or not.) My business website was copyrighted and it was still plagiarized. There are sites out there to catch people who copy/paste your information, but this is not enough. It was by pure chance that I happened upon my plagiarized content. It’s entirely possible that had I not been on Twitter, seen the link, and felt like clicking through, I still wouldn’t know. Who knows how much plagiarism actually exists without us being aware of it?
I really recommend having something like StatCounter on your site. Built in stats like WP’s or Blogger’s only show how much activity you’re receiving, not necessarily who is doing what on your site. Although I avoided using StatCounter (or similar trackers) for a long time–I hate when my own activity is tracked–I now see the value in it. It allows me to see when my site in being used in a “weird” way and that gives me the ability to be more aware and vigilant about my content.
But, honestly? Plagiarists are gonna plagiarize. That’s what they do. If you copy and paste something, attribute it to the source ALWAYS, no matter what it is. If you want to use someone’s idea, ask permission first (I’ve done this with the Goodreads Stats section of CR and the Who Am I Stalking? feature). Make sure you know that copyright won’t stop people who intentionally plagiarize. Know how to respond to the situation in case you are plagiarized. For me, I took screenshots (of both the offending site and my own for reference), emailed the person, pointed out the plagiarism, and laid out what I would do if the plagiarized content wasn’t removed within the specified amount of time (i.e., report to the website host, go public). Deal with it quickly, quietly, and professionally first. Save the big guns (i.e., going public) for a last resort. Here’s the thing: going public needs to serve a greater purpose than mere revenge. Revenge is nice (and don’t think I am happy staying silent–I’m not) but sometimes we have to rise above our instinct that says, “You must be RUINED for what you have done to me”. Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.
In the end, we need to be vigilant and conscious of how we use other people’s words and ideas. Plagiarism is a sticky sort of issue, where there are a lot of gray areas or places where there is no clear-cut answer. The intent (or lack thereof) to plagiarize does not change the end result. Being plagiarized has made me hyperaware of how I use words and ideas. It’s important to be aware of how our ideas develop and how they may appear to others. In this case, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and attribute.
For more information about plagiarism, consider visiting a site like Plagiarism.org.
ETA: For the record, I don’t think using event/meme information from the host is bad. I think using the event/meme information from the host and not crediting the host is bad.