As I was scrolling through my news feed recently, a post caught my eye. Someone in a writing group posed the question, “To which level is plagiarism wrong?”
The responses ranged from “It’s always wrong” to “You can rephrase the information in your own words.”
I thought it was time to set the record straight.
When we hear the word plagiarism, most of us think of “copying” another person’s work (or words) or “borrowing” their ideas. These words often mask the gravity of the situation.
According to the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means to:
- steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own;
- use (another’s production) without crediting the source;
- commit literary theft; and/or
- present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
Translation? Plagiarism is fraud. Pure and simple. It involves stealing another’s work and lying about it.
Really? Words and ideas can be “stolen?”
According to United States law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they’re recorded in some way (e.g., a book or a computer file).
Here are some common examples of plagiarism.
- Handing in someone else’s work—word for word—and claiming it as your own;
- Copying someone else’s words or ideas without acknowledging them;
- Not using quotation marks with a quote;
- Providing wrong information about a quotation’s source;
- Switching words but keeping the sentence structure and not acknowledging the source;
- Using enough words or ideas to make up most of your work, regardless of whether you give credit;
- Citing non-existent or inaccurate source information;
- Copying content from multiple sources without properly citing them;
- Properly citing the source(s) but the content is too close to the original wording or there’s almost no original content;
- Combining properly cited sources with copied passages—without citing—in the same copy;
- Paraphrasing from multiple sources and making the content fit together seamlessly; and
- Changing keywords and phrases while retaining the essential content.
So how can you protect your work from being plagiarized?
According to Copyscape:
- In defending your rights online against plagiarists, it’s important to be both vigilant and proactive. These four easy steps should help protect your content from being stolen:
- Place a plagiarism warning banner on each of your pages in order to deter plagiarists from stealing your work.
- Include copyright notices on your pages to assert ownership over your content. To create a © symbol in HTML code, use: ©
- Use the automatic Copysentry service to detect illegal copies of your content as they appear.
- If your content has been copied without permission, take immediate steps to have it removed.
Click here to perform a free Copyscape search on your content.
To learn more about copyright law, check out “How Much Do You Know about Copyright Law?”
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