Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, according to the old adage. But when does imitation blur the line and become plagiarism?
It's very tempting to copy and paste from the internet; after all the information is there and who is going to notice? People copy and paste all the time, right? Here's a quick reference to keeping out of trouble online.
There's a right and wrong way to use other people's work you come across on the internet. Let's have a look at the definition of plagiarism according to plagiarism.org
, a website aimed at the education industry but relevant to all of us:
"...To plagiarise means:
- to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
- to use (another's production) without crediting the source
- to commit literary theft
- to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source"
The site goes on to say,
"ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ARE CONSIDERED PLAGIARISM:
- turning in someone else's work as your own
- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)"
For business owners being original is essential, whether you are blogging or stating what your capabilities, products and services are.
Here's what the Australian Copyright Council
(ACC) says in its Internet Copying and Downloading Fact sheet
: "You do not infringe copyright if you express in your own way (for example, by using your own words or diagram) information or ideas you have found on the internet. You may, however, infringe copyright if you copy all or a “substantial part” of someone else?s expression (for example, a document)..."
Talking about 'substantial parts' the ACC says, "Copying part of a work may infringe copyright if the part is a ”substantial part”. In this context, a “substantial part” does not mean a large part: it means any part that is important, distinctive or essential. You need to consider the importance of the material you copy to the work from which it is taken, rather than its importance to the web page or the website (which will usually be a collection of separate works – for example, a number of images and some text)."
So, let's say you regularly blog and read others' blogs, and find someone else's blog post or news story truly strikes a chord with you and you want to reproduce it on your site. You have options which cover yourself:
You can contact the writer and seek their permission to reproduce in full, including giving a credit or citation to the writer and, preferably, a link to their website.
You may quote phrases, sentences and paragraphs from that website in your own post as you talk about why that post or story floats your boat - but you must always put them in quote marks and give a citation/credit. This also goes, obviously, for any hard copy written content you wish to quote from; retype it but do ensure you make it clear you are quoting from someone else's work and credit them.
What you mustn't do is simply copy the contents of other website pages onto your own site without citation or credit in the hope that it will increase your site's visibility, particularly if those pages contain popular keywords. RSS feeds however, which pull web posts to your site, automatically credit the 'parent' site and they are a different animal.
For some business owners, writing about their own business can be difficult. YOU know what you do, and you may be utterly fantastic face to face with people, and with great skills and ideas to impart when you talk with your clients, but you may have trouble putting it into words - in which case you ask somebody like me to sit down with you and help you draft web copy which brings your personality, as well as your skills, to your website.
What you don't do is copy text from the website of someone in the same line of work as you (particularly if they are better known as they may find you out!) and use it on your own website. Even if you are offering exactly the same service - ie you may be a consultant in a particular field offering a very specific service - your words about your service offering must be your own. If you are a reseller for a product, then it is perfectly acceptable to use copy supplied by the reseller when onselling those products and services. This also applies to franchised businesses.
If you have concerns about having been plagiarised, you can check here with Small SEO Checker
, which will match content if it exists elsewhere on the web. It works best with paragraphs rather than one short sentence.
With tradies it can be harder to be original - after all most plumbers, for example, offer much the same services as each other. Look at most tradies' sites and the lists of services will be pretty similar. What does make a difference, and what might be the dealbreaker for you as a consumer, is the human touch: the tale behind the business, whether it's a family business founded in the 1940s and proudly passed on from generation to generation or a larger organisation with a more impersonal feel about it.
The same is true for images as well as words. If you find a original diagram or concept on someone else's site that you'd like to use, ask permission and credit the image (ie, "reproduced with permission of XYZ..." with an associated link), don't just download it and use it. Stock image libraries are an excellent source of royalty-free images which, in most cases, don't require a credit on your site and give you a professional edge. Yes, it will cost you a few dollars, but you can sleep at night knowing that you have used an image legally.
Get in contact with me
if you'd like to learn more about good writing practices and how to 'sell' yourself in your own original way.
You be you now!