Thanks to the Internet no matter where we are, we can all be connected within seconds. That instant “connectability” can become a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful to instantly see, read and hear what is happening half a world away, but at the same time, it opens the door to millions of people seeing, reading and stealing your materials.
From my own experience, I’ve read my articles and posts word-for-word on websites and blogs in the U.K., Australia and even in the Netherlands. At first I was shocked – really, why would someone steal my words so blatantly? The answer to that question is simple, they are lazy and it is a very easy thing to do.
Here’s the raw truth: It’s difficult to constantly police the Internet. You cannot read every website in the world to see if they are using your materials. And on top of that, there are different degrees of plagiarism. So, what do we do to protect our written materials?
In the United States as soon as you author original material, you own the copyright. Under U.S. copyright law the creator of an original expression of work is its author. The author is also the owner of the copyright unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.
What is plagiarism? Dictionary.com defines plagiarism as: 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. In other words, someone is using your materials as their own – they are not giving you credit as the author nor have they asked your permission.
Based on the severity, there are different levels of plagiarism:
1. Complete – Someone using your materials without changing any of it and claiming it as their own. They’ve taken you materials word-for-word.
2. Substantial – Changing some of the wording and maybe adding a few details or thoughts but it is basically still your original work.
3. Minimal – This one is a tricky one. You may see a few synonyms substituted and some editing here and there of the original text but it is still your original work. I always think of it as sounding and “feeling” so similar to my original that I just know it is mine. The article has the same concept, same thoughts and same “feel” of my original piece.
Plagiarism Checkers – You’ll find some free and paid online programs and software to help determine if someone has taken your copyrighted materials for their own use. I use these checkers myself:
* PlagiarismChecker.com – http://www.plagiarismchecker.com/
* SearchEngineReports.net – http://searchenginereports.net/articlecheck.aspx
* Copyscape.com – http://copyscape.com
* Google Alerts – http://www.google.com/alerts
What can you do if you discover someone has plagiarized your original materials?
Before you take any action, be sure you can document that you are the copyright owner.
1. Contact the offender, generally by email, and ask them to delete your materials.
2. If they don’t comply, you can send a Cease and Desist letter to the site owner and even the hosting company.
3. If they don’t comply, you can pursue legal action per the U.S. Copyright Laws.
If you decide to take action, be sure the action you take is worth your time, money and energy.
This article is a quick overview of plagiarism and copyrights. You can find more detailed information at the United States Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/
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