It’s with a heavy heart that I have to share something with you: I’ve been a victim of plagiarism. Last year, a blog was cutting and pasting my reviews (about 30 of them) and changing a few key words to make it undetectable. Luckily, I found out about it and after consulting an attorney and finding that the law was on my side, I was able to have the content removed. Sadly, I have also recently found that a guest post on my site by another blogger contained content lifted from another blog. To make matters worse, it was only one in a pervasive misuse of other people’s content and countless people have been affected. In addition to feeling betrayed, it also resulted in a lot of time spent on scrubbing my blog of any association with the person who plagiarized and contacting those involved – time I’d much rather have spent writing my graduate thesis or spending with my husband.
So let’s talk about what happens when someone plagiarizes. More than impacting just the person who stole the content, it affects anyone associated with them. Bloggers who promoted or vouched for them have their integrity thrown under the bus, authors who worked with them have a tarnished reputation, and people feel betrayed. So what to do? Well, as John Green demonstrated, you acknowledge what happened and apologize. It’s a simple yet extremely effective way to handle the situation.
So what is plagiarism? According to Plagiarism.org, “plagiarism is the use of another’s original words or ideas as though they were your own,” and is illegal (copyright laws and all that). It doesn’t matter how much or how little you copy – it’s all the same (not to mention it can also get you kicked out of college or fired from your job). Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that plagiarism is a big deal. Some think it’s an acceptable action when you’re busy and some think that as long as you change it up a little, it’s okay. Regardless, the law is pretty clear.
What does this mean for book bloggers? As book bloggers, we are all avid readers, which means that sometimes we may pick up on some great sentences and not realize they came from elsewhere. Let’s be honest – how many times have we seen or used the phrases “haunting tale” or “a complex family dynamic”? It happens. The difference between this and deliberate plagiarism is that there are some that choose to cut and paste entire paragraphs or ideas, which ups the ante. In other words, pass someone else’s content off as their own.
What can we do about it? There are a lot of things we can do to prevent plagiarism and hold those who deliberately do so accountable, and even more reasons why we should. In addition to being illegal, it tarnishes the reputation of the book blogging community and creates distrust amongst us, both of which do a disservice to ourselves, readers, and authors. We can contact affected publishers and authors to let them know about the situation using links and screenshots, not to mention inform those who were plagiarized. It doesn’t matter whether the plagiarized content comes from a major news source (NPR, Entertainment Weekly) or a small blogger, it’s equally detestable.
What do you do if someone you know plagiarizes? Look, we’re all human and we make mistakes – I certainly have. What determines the integrity of a person is how they handle that mistake after the fact. Do you hide? Do you apologize? Do you let your friends publicly fight your battle for you? These are personal choices that only you can make for yourself, but what if your friend plagiarizes? Well, this is a tough one because it involves personal entanglements and emotions. Unfortunately, the action is still illegal, putting everyone in a difficult spot. That said, there’s nothing wrong with standing by a friend. After all, that’s what friends are for and the true measure of friendship is how you weather a storm. I’ve been fortunate enough to both stand by and be stood by during some difficult times during my life. When making these decisions, however, it’s important to remember what it looks like from the outside. Standing by someone personally is very different from standing by someone publicly. When someone uses their professional reputation to defend the illegal actions of a person, it’s perceived as promoting the illegal activities themselves. In other words, there’s a difference between supporting a person and supporting someone’s actions, and the difference is key.
So to sum it up, don’t plagiarize. If you do and get caught, apologize and move on. If you know someone is plagiarizing, do something about it. It can be scary but the people who wrote the original content deserve the credit for their hard work (who knows? This might be their way of making a living). Not only that, but you as a book blogger don’t deserve to have your integrity compromised by the actions of another.
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