Have You Ever Been Tempted To Plagiarize?


Hey, you. Yes. you, the purported author who just copied and pasted someone else’s work into your own LinkedIn post — without permission from the original author. and without giving any credit to that original author. I have a bulletin for you: You aren’t smart, or sly, or slick. You’re simply just a thief.

And no, your theft is not just an innocent mistake. Did you really think it was okay to take someone else’s work and present it as your own? Come on. You can’t claim you didn’t think the work you took was of any real value to anyone. Pretty obviously, you must have thought the writing you stole was pretty good, for why else would you pretend it was your own? By representing it as your own, you confirmed that you considered the work you stole to have significant value — value that you misappropriated for your own benefit, without in any way paying for what you took, and without even giving the original author any credit for his or her honest best efforts… Plagiarism by any name is still theft. And you, Buster, are a thief. Plain and simple.

Okay, with that off my chest, let’s talk about plagiarism and violation of copyright in general — what they are, what they’re not, how they compare to one another, and how to protect yourself as a writer against them. Please understand, though, that I do not pretend to be a lawyer, nor is this discussion intended to be legal advice. I am expressing my considered opinion and sharing my experience as a long-term professional freelance and staff magazine writer and editor.

With one of the nation’s leading schools of journalism, Northwestern University explicitly defines “plagiarism” in its written policy on Academic Integrity, as,

“…submitting material that in part or whole is not entirely one’s own work without attributing those same portions to their correct source.”

Plagiarism is not the same as violation of copyright. When an original work is published, the copyright to that work automatically accrues to the original creator in virtue of several international copyright treaties, including the Berne Convention, UCC Geneva, UCC Paris, TRIPS, and the WIPO Copyright Treaty. In the U.S. and some other countries, the original creator, or subsequent holder in due course, can “register” the copyright with the appropriate government office. This step shortens any legal action against a copyright violator by removing the “I didn’t know” excuse, because any violator could have, and should have checked the copyright register before using the material at issue. But failure to register the copyright in no way vitiates the copyright itself. If you created the work at issue, you own it and, unless you convey the copyright to another person or entity, you continue to own it. And anyone who uses that material without your permission is potentially subject to civil and, in some cases, criminal penalties.

Don’t forget, in order to achieve creator’s copyright, you have to publish the work in some public way.
Achieving creator’s copyright is straightforward, but there are a few caveats. These include the need to publish the work. Pretty obviously, it would be ludicrous to argue that you created a work, but kept it on your computer or in a drawer. So, you have to show that you were the first person to publish that work. Of course, by publishing the work, you actually increase the potential that someone will steal it. Thus, if you are working on what you believe is a valuable piece, say an investigative expose, it’s important to keep your work secret until it is published. If, that is, you don’t want to lose the creator’s copyright to someone who absconds with your work and publishes it before you.

Do not confuse plagiarism with violation of copyright; they are different and distinct.
Some works are “in the public domain”. For example, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac is in the public domain. That means you can use it in part or in whole in a work of your own without permission and without violating any copyright. You don’t even have to credit old Ben. But if you don’t credit Ben Franklin as the source, you will be committing plagiarism.

Against that, you might use a substantial part, or even all of a copyright work, and properly credit the original author. In such a case, you will not be plagiarizing the material in question. However, if you do use the material without first receiving written permission to do so from that author or a holder in due course of the copyright, you will be violating the copyright.

By the way, in order to eliminate disputes about who said what, the copyright laws recognize only permissions in writing. And in the absence of such, the presumption is that no permission to use the material, nor that an assignment of the copyright was given.

…in order to eliminate disputes about who said what, the copyright laws recognize only permissions in writing.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, incidents of plagiarism and violation of copyright appear to be growing to the point of rampancy on LinkedIn, not to mention the rest of the internet. Some of this activity can, without doubt, be attributed to lack of knowledge and education in these matters. After all, just about anyone can these days self-publish on LI and other digital publishing platforms. Many people who do have absolutely no understanding of these particular issues. This is compounded by the copy-and-paste mentality fostered in this contemporary age of digital composition. Nevertheless, plagiarism and violation of copyright are stealing. Unfortunately, it is most often the case that the pursuit of legal remedies is cost-prohibitive for the damaged author or copyright holder. But that does not mean we should turn a blind eye. And we won’t.


The supporters of #stopplagiarism will be watching.


Have you ever been Tempted to Plagiarize?

It was my junior year of college, and I was preparing to burn the midnight oil to finish a paper that of course I procrastinated on until the night before it was due. At about 7:00pm there was a knock at the door. It was a friend of mine that I was in class with, and had met through the social scene at the university. He came over bearing a six pack of beer. I invited in him under the caveat that he couldn’t stay long as I had to get back to working on my paper. (This was the 90’s and before texting, when people were more likely just to stop over if they were driving by and saw your car in the driveway).

We sat down and had a beer. He invited me to go to one of our favorite college bars, and meet up with more of our friends. I thanked him for stopping by and the beer. Then, I declined his offer, and explained again that I had to finish the paper that was due at 9:00am the next morning. I gave him some props for being on top of it having already finished his so that he could go out and have fun at the bar. Then he said, “you can still go.” I was puzzled. He then motioned me over to my computer, and proceeded to pull up this website where there were 1000’s of papers that one could download for only $9.99.

He said he had been using this website for over a year. He had not been caught and all his papers had been A’s except one that he intentionally put a few errors into. He sat there telling me how easy it was, and that there was no way anybody would know.

So, there I was faced with a choice. Download an “A paper” for $9.99 and then go have fun at the bar with my friends, or stay at home by myself to finish the paper. Did I mention there was going to be girls there? Also, it wouldn’t have been the first time I had given in to a little peer pressure at that age.

Luckily, my inner academic moral code kicked in and I declined his offer. So, he went on his way, partied the night away, and chased chicks, while I stayed up until 3:00am to finish the paper. I knew that there was a chance that nobody would find out. However, I also knew that I would have to live with that on my conscious. Somehow my college degree wouldn’t feel quite like mine.

That split moment decision to resist peer pressure and taking the easy way out, proved to be a very good one. My friend got caught a few weeks later by the university. His professors had discovered the plagiarism. He was suspended for the remainder of the semester and failed all of his courses. He started working at one of the local bars and didn’t re-enroll in college. I’m not sure if he ever did.

The point here is that in life the easy way out is never worth it. Anything, worth having is achieved from hard work. There are smarter and more strategic ways of getting things done, but at the end of the day achievement still involves hard work. Plagiarism is the easy way out. It might be a short term fix for some, but it never works out in the long run.

Stealing someone else’s work off the internet (or anywhere else for that matter) by copying and pasting it, then claiming it as your own, and using it for personal gain is WRONG! It is cheating and stealing!

When supporters of #stopplagiarism find an example of plagiarism or violation of copyright on LinkedIn, we will act to keep it from passing without notice. Those who blunder into such actions unknowingly will be advised of the facts and given an opportunity to correct the unfortunate situation. Those who refuse to make necessary corrections, or who continue cynically to commit plagiarism and violation of copyright, with full knowledge of what they are doing, will be called to account publicly by being noticed on the Stop Plagiarism Wall of Shame. Those of you who, with us, find plagiarism and violation of copyright unacceptable, are invited to join the effort to stop, or at least discourage their continued spread on LinkedIn.

Text Copyright © 2015 by Phil Friedman (So why is Plagiarism such a Big deal?) and John White (Have you ever been tempted to Plagiarize) — All Rights Reserved