I know who you copied last summer

So you’re on your 200th blog post of the year. You need to update your blog every other day because that’s the expectations you’ve set with your readers, but you’re running out of ideas. Or maybe while researching for your latest idea, you came across this interesting article. So you ‘borrow’ a few ideas, reword them, add your own spin and use them in your blog post. After all, it’s all about the storytelling and a different point of view, right?

Wrong. Plagiarism is stealing. Writers reveal themselves to the world through their writings, so plagiarism isn’t like parading around in stolen shoes… it’s like pretending to be someone else. It’s an intellectual identity theft.

In my short blogging experience, I have seen bloggers brazenly lift off entire sections from popular blogs like The grammar girl, use key ideas from a reasonably well-known book and steal original word-coinage without giving credit. Why is plagiarism more prevalent in blogging than other forms of publishing like books and white papers?

  • Bloggers have a smaller and more niche base than mainstream authors.  The internet is a huge smoke-screen; they think the original author will never find their blog. Heck, you can’t even find your own blog!
  • Bloggers self-proof and self-publish, which means that they miss out on the due diligence an author goes through with editors, agents and publishing houses before publishing, who guide them on when to cite and when to redo entire sections of their work.
  • Bloggers have a more volatile reader base, which means that they are under pressure to write more often or be forgotten. So bloggers write more, both in volume and frequency. It’s hard to stay original when you’re blogging three times a week, with or without a niche focus.

What constitutes plagiarism? I’m no expert, so please do your due diligence here. Don’t let the legalities scare you—just like stealing that extra cookie, writing something that’s not yours will give you a guilty conscience. Listen to it, it might just save you from a lawsuit and/or embarrassment many years from now, when an ancient, almost-original work can end your writing days. And if you think lawsuits only happen to bestselling authors and mainstream bloggers, think again. What if you become a popular blogger five years from now? What will happen to your credibility?

So how do you stay current, stay trendy and still stay original? I’m still fairly new to the blogging world, but I also write privately apart from blogging and only post the best ones onto my blog. I stay fresh by following the plan I laid out when I started blogging, addressed to the future myself, for the time when I finally do reach my 200th blog. Here’s the plan, hope it helps someone, and please feel free to share your thoughts on it, as experience always beats the best educated guess!

  • Dear me, the best answer is the simplest. Be yourself. Write what you can talk about intelligently. I believe that the main goal of blogging is to add value to my readers, and value can either be educational or something that makes them smile.
  • If you’re a blogger who’s categorized in the ‘personal’ or ‘creative’ sections, yay for you! You have endless possibilities for the next 42 million blog posts you may write. In fact, your biggest enemy isn’t inspiration, it’s boring your readers to death. Trust me, a blog a day keeps the reader away! So go beyond how your cat’s meow is a symphony and think harder. Don’t just write… create.
  • Sometimes, having a niche can also mean you can write yourself into a dead-end. Some niches are more flexible than others—finance, photography, current events have infinite possibilities. Computer skills and language skills are very informative but what will you do 5 years and 400 blog posts from now? If you’re a niche blogger, you need to get creative. Think ahead. Stay current. Be willing to experiment and diversify. Your blog probably has loyal readers. Don’t let them down.
  • Take the pressure off. Choose quality over quantity. How about writing a kickass post twice a week instead of five hastily written ones?  Blog at the speed of (a good) thought, and allow for the time it takes to shape that thought into something worth remembering. (Note: As a newbie, I now get away with blogging twice a month or less, but if and when my reader base grows, I plan to keep a buffer of at least one or two blogs so I can create without the pressures of missing self-appointed deadlines. In fact, I have a buffer right now, too. It buffers for my laziness.)
  • Lastly, forget everything I said and do what you best—write, and write honestly. There’s always a chance that someone somewhere WILL have written about this before, but it’s unlikely that your views will be exactly the same. But if you write in good faith and do your reasonable bit to stay original, chances are, you’ll be lawsuit-free. And the best part? Your readers will appreciate you for it.

I hope to fine tune the plan as I go along and find my blogging personality, but as of now, I continue to double check with Google every time I coin a new word or use a name for my characters, just in case!

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About chaitanya

Since the day I realized that making two words rhyme was the first step to poetry (a step I've now thankfully outgrown) I've been writing. I've just been too shy to blog. But What is the Question? is a baby step toward exploring my blogability. I aim to post twice a month and I'll try my very best to not bore you, because I hate boring blogs too! Keep checking back in!

Posted on May 6, 2013, in Food for Thought and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. and at times we get to know when someone copies an idea, a thought, a punch line or an entire post from our blogs. as per dcma guidelines, we cannot do much if two consecutive lines are not copied other than taking legal action. many a times, people copied ideas and punch lines from my posts and rewritten them, that too after commenting on my post; how dumb! i actually created a cartoon on that but did not publish.

    i double check everything before publishing a post; however, a couple of times i realized that my post titles were not unique. even though that was unintentional but i felt terrible.

    wonderfully written post! liked how you analyzed and explained everything in details!

    i am writing a nasty post and part of that is dedicated to bloggers who publish three posts a day. hope i get readers for that.

    Like

    • That’s outrageous! Where the law falls short, I think social prompting might just work, like following queues. I’ve never had this happen to my blog(or at least I think so), but it outrages me to see stolen content. I would write them a stinker and also report them. Many blogging directories have the report button, I wonder if someone ever takes action on it though. I’m in a good mind to write to these directories and ask them to consider it seriously.
      Accidental plagiarism freaks me out, esp because you are still liable for no deliberate fault of yours. After I started work on my book, I’ve stopped reading books in that genre and mostly reread books I’ve already read because of that.
      Thanks for reading my post!

      Like

  2. i agree with you. It’s the whim to churn out more posts and stay ahead of other bloggers lead a blogger to indulge in plagiarism. If one choose to write one’s best, one need not be a fake in the realm of writing.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading, Easwar. A quick way to the top isn’t always the best one, but it’s always tempting to take the easy road.

      Like

  3. Chaitanya, I love the title!

    Sometimes I do feel like the killer from the movie banging around the ‘Find -Replace’ artists and the ‘Aggregators’ (How to like a facebook status!). I do come around sentences of my own, direct rip off at times and paraphrased on others. I recently run into a beauty: the entire opening paragraph of one of my pieces were paraphrased by an overambitious blogger! The trouble is, how do you copyright your single sentences, or the idea/style of a paragraph! Debajyoti has said something about single sentences. Well. there you are!

    Keep up the tempo!

    Like

    • Gosh, that is shameless! Did you send a message to the person, telling them that you know, and you’re watching them? Sometimes a little prompting can go a long way. But sometimes not, with more brazen offenders. In fact, the fear of having my ideas stolen was the biggest reason it took me many years to start blogging.
      I intend to do more research on this topic and write to blogging directories to take this seriously, citing examples. I may reach out to you when I’m doing so, so we can put some social pressure on these bloggers to be original.
      Thanks for stopping by at my blog!

      Like

  4. always give credit where credit is due is my strict policy..that is why it pisses me off when people use my photos and don’t give me credit and i have to nicely ask for it. i have not yet caught anyone stealing my words but i did see people using my ideas. it is harder to accuse someone of stealing an idea and modifying it, and that us not as criminal as passing off my content as their own. some people don’t even do it wittingly, that somehow bugs me more.

    Like

    • True. Like Umashankar also said, how do you copyright ideas?
      My blog has been lucky so far, but I’ve had people steal from my other writings, and not very nicely. The best we can do is give a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge to the offender and hope they at least think again before they repeat their actions.

      Like

  5. blogging goes on n on 🙂
    no matter what !!

    Like

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jyoti. Yes, Blogging does go on and on, which is why it’s so important to stay original during the long journey!

      Like

  6. Nicely articulated – a “must read” for all bloggers.
    You are right about plagiarism:
    “Plagiarism is stealing. Writers reveal themselves to the world through their writings, so plagiarism isn’t like parading around in stolen shoes… it’s like pretending to be someone else. It’s an intellectual identity theft”
    Once some unscrupulous persons plagiarized my blog posts too.
    I do not understand what these bloggers who plagiarize want to achieve?
    And most of them operate under the cloak of anonymity under fancy handles.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading my post, Vikram.

      The problem is that a lot of people think that to be a qualified intellectual, they have to blog. What they don’t try to do is find their best method of expression. Maybe they are the ones who freeze in front of the keyboard and then shop around for ideas.
      But then some are just lazy. The best we can do is that every time we suspect plagiarism, we notify the perpetrator that we know. The more readers that do that, the more pressure there will be to do the right thing.

      Like

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