Blog plagiarism is a problem you don’t want to deal with it – either as perpetrator or victim.
Want to hear about my worst three moments as a fifth-grader at Our Lady of Sorrows parish school? Thought so! All three involve the same classmate. We’ll call him Jerry for the purposes of this post. Man, was he a jerk. OK, check that, we’ll call him Jerry the Jerk.
Turd’s Eye View
The first is just vintage Jerry the Jerk, a classic – albeit creepy – kid prank, but I’ll never use a public toilet stall without thinking of it. Permanently scarred. I was going numero dos in the gym’s restroom during a basketball tournament. The Black & Gold: the event of the year for O.L.S., sort of like a March Madness in January, without the “One Shining Moment” or much in the way of actual athletic skill.
Jerry somehow clambered the side of the stall I was in. He was stealthy, but at one point I heard a rustling and looked up, only to see this little weirdo staring down at me while I did my business.
Speaking of Permanent Scarring
The second is Jerry the Jerk at the height of his evil class clown powers, but I probably deserved it. Someone in my family – I won’t say whom … OK, my stepmom – convinced me to get a perm so I’d look like Growing Pains-era Kirk Cameron (as opposed to the current insane-Rapture-freak-era Kirk Cameron). Well, I didn’t. I looked like … a chubby kid with an ill-advised perm.
I covered it with my hoodie until the teacher told me I had to take it off. Nearly instantaneously, as if he were Paul Shaffer organizing a charity concert, Jerry broke into the “Curly Shuffle,” complete with recruiting three popular girls as backup singers and dancers.
Even the teacher laughed at that one.
As you can see, this kid really had it out for me. But the worst act of all – and the one with the realest consequences – was what I’m about to share. A little context: I was a model student at this point, right? This gold star would soon fade to more of a moldy rust-colored star, but back then, few if any fifth-graders could match my all-around game.
Our “class notebooks” were for a teacher I will simply refer to as Dragon Lady – they were basically the equivalent of a semester-long project, with our outlines, quizzes, essays, etc. Social studies, maybe? History? When it came time to submit them for grading, I couldn’t find mine and panicked. I knew I hadn’t lost it.
On top of it, I had busted my butt to make it the best it could be. The pressure was … well, it was tough for me as a little fella. I foresaw a life on the street, my parents abandoning me to my fate. Dragon Lady was steaming, thinking I just blew off the assignment and was planning to coast through to sixth grade on reputation alone. Threatened me with an incomplete or an F.
In tears, I told her I did the work, was proud of it, and was poised to turn it in that very morning when she collected them. Finally, she let me sift through the pile of notebooks on her desk in a last-ditch attempt to track it down. One stuck out, because it looked like the cover was damaged and retaped. Whose name was on this cover?
Why, none other than Jerry the Jerk’s! More importantly, whose work was inside of this cover? Mine, of course!
Jerry the Jerk had stolen my work and called it his own.
Blog Plagiarism: Clear With Occasional Clouds
Blog plagiarism is ultimately no different than plagiarism of any kind, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.” Students do it. Musicians do it. Journalists, both trained and untrained, do it. Authors do it. Filmmakers do it. Bloggers do it.
These offending parties have suffered a range of repercussions: from drop-in-the-bucket financial settlements to devastating litigation, loss of work and/or educational opportunity, potentially insurmountable damage to their reputations, and more. Some have obliterated any sense of trust with their audience and within their peer group, which means the outlooks for their careers, art, and academic pursuits have narrowed drastically.
But as clear cut as blog plagiarism might seem, there are also some nuances.
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For instance, we’ve recently been passing one of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings posts around the office (we’re all big fans of her mission, writing, and curation), this one a piece on originality inspired by a letter from Mark Twain to Helen Keller in 1903.
“Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that ‘plagiarism’ farce!” Twain wrote to Keller, who had been accused of plagiarizing Margaret Canby’s “Frost Fairies” in one of her short stories.
“As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.”
Twain manages to make points both about the collective unconscious and creativity itself, one that would echo a century later in the sentiments of artists like Bob Dylan, who himself has been accused of plagiarizing but in response espouses the folk tradition. Keller, for her part, was acquitted by a tribunal, while Dylan’s defense has largely been taken to heart in the court of public opinion.
There’s so much material out there, so many stories, songs, and college essays reverberating back and forth, that it’s occasionally difficult to pinpoint the line between plagiary and coincidence. I mean, maybe I’ve plagiarized without trying to. Maybe you have.
The problem grows in the age of the web, because there’s so much interaction and so many exchanges online – such a wealth of reference. For every cheater who shamelessly copies Wikipedia, there’s an earnest blogger who’s read thousands of articles on a given subject and trips up while in a rush.
The question of blog plagiarism really comes down to intent. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough of a defense if you get sued because of something you co-opted for your content marketing. Let’s take a look at how to make your business blog plagiarism-proof.
How to Avoid Blog Plagiarism, Courtesy of Jerry the Jerk
1. Think of the Victims – and Don’t Be Victimized
Remember my story about Jerry looking down at me while I was pooping in a stall? That’s how it feels to be plagiarized. Do you ever want to feel that way? Do you want to make someone else feel that way?
In addition to being rigorous, diligent, and conscientious, there are tools out there to help you in your cause: Grammarly makes a great plagiarism checker. Also, here’s a list of free ones from eLearningIndustry.com. Above all, give credit where credit is due, and slow down. In the rush to churn out content, a lot of big corporate blogs and marketing firms cut corners to hit their deadlines and numbers – but audiences want thoughtful and well-considered original work they can’t find anywhere else.
2. You’re Never Gonna Be Growing Pains-Era Kirk Cameron
Producing work people can’t find anywhere else is another way of saying be yourself. It’s cliché, sure, but it will also keep you from making mistakes while protecting your content from plagiary.
Think of your style as your invisible watermark – if people steal your stuff, it’ll be fairly easy to hunt them down like the animals they are.
Blog plagiarism is worse than getting a perm from your stepmom’s hairdresser, but not by much.
3. Turn in Your Own Notebook, but Find a Study Partner
You know, if Jerry had just asked me for some help, it would have made for a magical John Hughes movie ending. An unlikely friendship leading to a tale of triumph over adversity. Instead, the dude took my notebook off of my desk, tore the cover off, and taped on one with his name on it. And then turned it in.
Gotta admit: That takes balls. But if you try it on a business blog, you can kiss thousands of dollars goodbye – if not your entire company.
Form relationships with other bloggers to share information, trade links, and engage in a little syyynnnnnerrrggy! We do it all of the time!
Anyway, don’t lie! Don’t steal! Don’t cheat! If you have any questions or confusion, call us or email us at our blog plagiarism hotline!