A Lesson in Plagiarism
I had a crazy thing happen to me that I want to share because it is an important lesson to anyone who works hard to create great content for their blog or website.
Someone who reads my blog posts on FreelanceSwitch contacted me today about something she thought was fishy. She had seen a blog post about making the switch from full-time work to freelance that looked suspiciously familiar to one I had written for FreelanceSwitch a couple of weeks ago.
When I saw the blog post I was appalled. It wasn’t similar—it was EXACTLY the same! The only difference between in the content are the links inserted into the copy. Even the same stock photo that was purchased for the post appeared in this new blog.
There was no mention that I was the author and no mention that the post was originally published on FreelanceSwitch. In fact, the ONLY thing that was given any credit was that stock photo. At the end of the article was an “About the Author” section, including a byline and a bio—but it wasn’t mine. It was attributed to someone else – Kevin.
At first, I thought this was a one-time only thing. But then I noticed another one of my FreelanceSwitch blog posts was on there. And another. It seemed this guy was plagiarizing me.
According to Dictionary.com, plagiarism is defined as follows:
An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.
I spend a lot of time crafting my blog posts for FreelanceSwitch. The fact that there was no link to the original post or even a mention that I was the author made me mad. This man, attributed as the author, owns a web design and development company—and, in my humble opinion, should know something about copyright law.
The general (and incorrect) notion is that anything that is on the Internet is public domain and may be taken without permission from the creator/owner. Some people actually think (incorrectly) that just because bits of web pages may be stored in one’s cache, or because certain browsers allow one to do “file save as” moves or anything similar one may use such material as one wishes. This is false. —WhatIsCopyright.org
When students plagiarize, they get suspended or even expelled. When professionals do it, many lose their jobs.
Here’s a list compiled by Poynter of some famous cases in which journalists plagiarized and what the result was from their mistake:
Mike Barnicle from The Boston Globe
Barnicle plagiarized by lifting jokes from comedian George Carlin’s book “Brain Droppings” for his columns. He was suspended in 1998, then asked to resign.
Jayson Blair from The New York Times
I had to read a book in graduate school about Jayson Blair and his downward spiral. He stole material from other news organizations and published it as his own, he used phony datelines, and fabricated quotes. He resigned in 2003, but his actions shook the Gray Lady to its core.
Sari Horowitz from The Washington Post
Horowitz, who had been at The Post for 28 years and had won a Pulitzer-Prize, was found to have plagiarized parts of a story about the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. Luckily, Horowitz wasn’t canned. The Post ran an apology to readers. It was the first (and hopefully the only time) this writer had lifted someone else’s work.
Will Selva from ESPN
Selva, a broadcast journalist for 15 years, lifted parts of a newspaper column for his script. He was suspended. He says he “simply forgot” and apologized for his sloppiness.
I got a lot of comments on my Facebook page about this situation from other writers and photographers that I know. Some of them even said they had sent Kevin a message.
Three hours after I shared this situation in my status update, and now all of my posts (as well as other posts that weren’t mine) have been taken off of this man’s site. He has even written a blog post apologizing…sort of. His post titled Apologies to anyone I “ripped off” (yes, ripped off was in quotes) confesses that he was using a WordPress plugin to bring content to his site.
He says his intention was “not to steal content but to acknowledge it and provide my visitors with content (news/ tutorials) from websites that I thought provided some very interesting and detailed information.” Unfortunately, he must have never looked at his blog or he would have realized that the plug in was not, in fact, acknowledging the fact that his blog template made it appear that he was creating the content himself. Actually, even if he had attributed the blog post to me, republishing it on his site is still an illegal act and considered theft.
I’ve done some research as to whether or not I was ‘stealing’ content or not. I have not found a definitive answer. I chose to remove the plugin until I can determine for sure whether using the plugin is considered stealing content or not. If anyone has some information regarding this matter, please let me know. —Kevin
Right now it looks as though the only blog posts on his site are ones that he created himself.
I got lucky—someone who knew me found my plagiarized posts online and alerted me. But how can you find out if someone is stealing your work? There are several sites online that do just that, and Copyscape is the one that has been suggested to me most frequently. A simple Google search will show you more. Some of the services are free, and are as simple as putting your website address into their search box. They crawl the web for you.
Has someone ever used your copy of photos without permission? How did you handle it? There are several things you can do—from a simple email to a lawsuit. I’ll be discussing some of these in an upcoming blog post so stay tuned…