Plagiarism has been at the front of my mind since beginning to study with the OU five years ago. They panic you with repeated warnings about the penalties of plagiarising someone’s work, until in the end you are scared to use your own words in an assignment in case you have used them before!
It’s a difficult topic, is plagiarism. If someone publishes an exact copy of your work with the intention that they are credited with producing it, then I would see the perpetrator as a plagiarist. If they credit you as the original writer, but without asking first, that is a tricky one, but sounds sort of good enough. If you receive a request to use your writing with an agreement to cite the source, then that’s surely how it should be.
But what if someone has taken your work and changed around the order of a few words, replaced some with synonyms, or maybe simply rephrased your ideas and lines of argument? They may not have walked off with your words, but they have, surely, stolen your thoughts.
Then there is that totally original idea for a short story. One which has never smelled the fresh ink of a printed page. You mention the idea on a social network. Then a few months later find that the perfectly planned plot appears over your eggs, bacon, and fried slice. Coincidence? There is no way of knowing, but suddenly the weekly fry-up treat doesn’t taste as good.
So, what can you do to protect against the word-lifter? As soon as you publish something original , including on the web, it is automatically copyrighted, even if you don’t do that © thingy. But how does that prevent plagiarism? It doesn’t. But it does mean that if you find that someone has stolen your original work, and you can prove that you created it first, you can take legal action against the infringer.
Why am I ranting on about this? It had never, ever, occurred to me that anyone would plagiarise my blog or even that there was anything here worthy of the crime. But someone has. Almost verbatim. A whole post. I’m immensely flattered to think it was worth copying, but I feel as though I’ve been burgled. Shall I tackle them about it? Probably not. This time. But I guess if it happens again, the buzz will have worn off and they’ll suffer the wrath of my pen!
Oh, and that idea for a story? Looks like you can’t copyright a thought, only a material representation of it. So, if you dream up a pearl of a plot, keep it under your hat and enjoy your Sunday breakfast!