A Twist to Online Plagiarism
Seven years ago next month I started a part-time gig writing for About.com as its Home Buying & Selling Guide. Now, 7 years might not seem like a long time to some people, but say that to an 18-year-old graduating from high school, who would have been in grade school 7 years ago, and it’s a long time. It’s not long enough, though, for some people to forget when they have plagiarized.
Oh, some are bold enough to simply copy content from the web onto any other page they so feel free to choose — word for word — and they don’t realize they are plagiarizing or they simply don’t care. They often don’t care because they think nobody will do anything to them, but people do track them down. They are traceable. They have domain names and IP addresses. Everybody has a face on the Internet, if they participate. Stealing content online is a crime just the same as grabbing an old lady’s purse and running off with it. It’s maybe even more severe because it’s done on a grander scale.
There are some who think as long as they give the author credit for the work, it’s OK. But they are dead wrong. Unless the author has given permission, it is not OK. It is still theft.
Others, take words and reuse them, and they swipe thoughts and rework them, which is OK as long as it’s not identical. When it appears identical and there are direct phrases and bullet points used, a plagiarizer is treading on thin water. The correct way to use another person’s content online is to quote a few lines and then link directly to that article. That’s permissible.
I have sold some of my About.com articles. Or, maybe I should say the New York Times, which owned About.com until recently, sold them for me. Because words have a dollar value and articles are proprietary.
You can see how I might have been a bit shocked yesterday when a person out of the clear blue wrote an email accusing me of plagiarism. I was in shock because her accusations were impossible. I looked at the article she referenced, which was a piece I wrote when I started at About.com, in May of 2006. I then examined the article on her website, which she thought was plagiarized. It was very similar to my article. I could see the concern. The only problem was she or her website had stolen my content, not the other way around. She was the plagiarizer.
Sometimes, these things come down to your word against their word. Even if you are innocent, you have to prove you are innocent. I noted the copyright date at the bottom of her website, which was 2008. That was 2 years after I had written my article. I also sent her screen shot of the date the article was archived.
Now the story is she might have rewritten the content for a writer who had stolen my article. But the thing is people who swipe other people’s material and belongings are thieves. Thieves are so used to lying that they begin to believe their own lies in order to survive. As such, this plagiarizer most likely has no recollection of stealing my content. She did apologize for her brashness, so I give her that, but still. No excuse. Her stolen content was removed.
Of all the odd things that could happen, this incident really took the cake.