A few minutes ago I almost published a reader-submitted article about, ironically, global copyright infringement. (It focused on the assembly-line art factories in China which sell copied oil paintings for cheap here in the US.)
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Here’s the irony of it: I’d say that 90% of the article was ripped from various major newspapers—The New York Times, the Chicago Sun Tribune, etc. No sources were quoted and no indication was given that the content wasn’t original.
This left me with few choices. I could:
Publish it anyway and claim ignorance later? Not a chance. Too many legitimate writers worked on that article for them to go uncredited.
Cut out everything that was plagiarized? I might have considered it, but there wasn’t enough left over to make a decent article.
Add quote marks and cite the sources? What’s the point? You can read the original articles here and here. They’re much better than the plagiarized version.
No, instead I decided to post a few rules about copyright and plagiarism that everyone should know and understand. Honestly, I’ve used these rules so long I don’t even know where I got them. . . elementary school perhaps?
1. Changing a few words isn’t obeying copyright laws.
If someone else wrote a paragraph and you substitute your own words every once in a while, guess what—that’s still not your paragraph. That’s plagiarism.
2. Copy/pasting from multiple sources is just as bad.
You can’t find three sources on the same topic and take a few paragraphs from each of them. Not only will your article “read” funny, you’re potentially committing copyright infringement against several places all at once. Not smart.
3. Using quotes around text isn’t always legal, either.
Throwing quotes around a whole article and citing the source isn’t automatically OK. You’ve got to get permission first, especially if you’re making money (directly or indirectly) from re-publishing the article.
4. Bloggers have to obey copyright rules, too.
Sure, this should be obvious, but maybe it’s not. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a journalist, a blogger, or anybody else—plagiarizing is wrong (and inconsiderate) and breaking copyright laws are, well, stupid.
5. No one gets away with copyright infringement.
Not for long anyway, trust me. I mean, the point is to have people read the plagiarized article, right? So eventually someone’s going to find out who actually wrote it first.
Just search for a few key phrases from any article in Google (use quotes around the phrase if you’d like) and you’ll see how easy it is to find an original document.
OK, I know, I know. . . I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but just letting it all out has made me feel much better.
And I hope it helps someone else, too. Happy writing.