Just (Don’t) Do It: Plagiarism is not the sincerest form of flattery

Just (Don’t) Do It: Plagiarism is not the sincerest form of flattery

Claire Walker

Claire Walker

Plagiarism in the communications industry is an extremely dirty word, but unfortunately, it is not uncommon. The recent news of Donald Trump's wife, Melania Trump, brought this home when Twitter users were quick to sniff out plagiarism in her recent convention speech.

Unfortunately for Melania, the person who wrote her speech lifted lines and phrases directly from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The writer of the speech, Meredith McIver, eventually apologised and offered to hand in her resignation – but the reputation damage to the Trump campaign had already been done.

As communication specialists, our role is to build and protect reputations. Plagiarism undoes all the great work you've achieved and can knock you back even further from where you started.

Indeed, the repercussions of plagiarism can even go beyond reputational damage. Copyright laws are crystal clear and infringement can be deemed a criminal offense – it is intellectual property theft. There have even been cases of prison sentences.

Fortunately, there is more plagiarism detection software on the market these days, making it easy to find plagiarists. Sites like www.copyscape.com, for example, scan your website content and flag content that has been duplicated elsewhere on the web.

Granted, we all lead extremely busy lives and lifting other people's words is faster – but don't be tempted! As communications leaders, it’s vital that we don't let other team members or partners be enticed by the quick win. Ignorance is not an excuse. Every organisation needs to be mindful and make it clear to all employees that plagiarism checks take place on all written material.

Here are my plagiarism catcher golden rules:

  1.  Don’t do it: We’ll assume that we’re preaching to the choir, but it’s vital that best practice starts at the top
  1. Use online tools to scan work for plagiarism. Sites like Grammarly compares text with over 8 billion web pages – as well as giving it a good proof. Other great tools include Whitesmoke, PlagScan and QueText
  1. Never cut and paste text. Read and write up notes for inspiration, but never drag and drop sentences or paragraphs into your own writing. Not only are you plagiarising, but the style of writing and tone of voice will jar for the reader
  1. It's not just the written word – be careful with images too. Get consent from the person who created the image. If you are using sites like Flickr or Google Images, you need to restrict your search parameters to ensure you can use the image under the correct creative commons licence
  1. Cite sources and be careful not to misquote. It may seem obvious, but when copy goes around several rounds of subediting the source can be lost or the citation is paraphrased
  1. Be confident in your own work!

All exam essays are fed through sophisticated plagiarism checks today. If students fail the checks, they are given a warning, excluded temporarily from a course or even banned from the University completely. Businesses needs to wise up to the risks and take an equally ruthless attitude towards plagiarism. For example, is plagiarism covered in any HR policies? Don’t assume employees understand the severe consequences of plagiarising someone’s work.

We’ve just touched on plagiarising people’s words and images – but stealing ideas is also a big no no. The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of plagiarism is: The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. Even taking an idea from one agency and asking another to execute it can be considered plagiarism and land you in hot water. The agency owns the IP for creative ideas put forward and that should clearly be stated in proposals.

So have faith in your own ideas and don’t be a trump chump – plagiarism is lazy, unoriginal and a sign of having no faith in your own work and no respect for ethical conduct. You’re better than that!


Image courtesy of McLevn: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chelsea-e-levin/

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