Last night I was browsing a Facebook page that I visit regularly enough to be familiar with the quality of writing. Let’s just say that it could be better. Suddenly last night, it was. The posts were professional, lengthy and informative. It struck me as off, somehow, so I copied and pasted a paragraph into Google. It had been lifted word-for-word from a book available in Google Books. The same content was also in Wikipedia. I emailed the author of the book and sent her the link to the Facebook page. I got an email from her first thing this morning. She had not given the people running the page permission to use her work. She left a PUBLIC comment on the article containing her work and told the people responsible for the page to use proper citations because, as presented, the post appeared to have been written by someone associated with the page. She also linked back to her Wikipedia entry.
She’s a lot nicer than I am because I would have told them to take it all down or brace themselves for a lawsuit. But, the public embarrassment may be a better way to go. Now they know that they can’t get away with it and their clients know that the steal other people’s work (yes, it’s a business page). I ran a paragraph from another post through Google and that post was also stolen, from an old auction catalog. It doesn’t matter that it’s “just” an old auction catalog. Someone either did a lot of research in order to write that entry or was already knowledgeable about the subject due to previous research. So I emailed the people who published the catalog, too. I haven’t heard back from them yet.
It doesn’t matter where or how someone tries to use plagiarized work. There is always going to be someone who will spot it. It will either be a scenario like the Facebook page and someone will notice a drastic change in the quality of the writing or someone will have read it in its original format and recognize it. Teachers and professors, of course, have access to tools like Copyscape and will always find out if all or part of a paper has been copied.
Plagiarism can ruin your grade point average, get you suspended or kicked out of school or ruin your professional reputation. If you’re a writer and you plagiarize, you’ll never live it down. If you’re a business owner and you can’t write your own Facebook posts and you can’t or won’t hire a copywriter and decide to plagiarize, you’ll damage your business and your brand. You can also be sued. For lots and lots of money.
There are a lot of people who think that once something is on the Internet, it’s free for the taking. It’s not. You may have noticed that I don’t have many pictures on my blog. It’s because a) I know that “borrowing” pictures from the Internet is wrong and b) because I know that I can be sued if I do that.
Then there are people who know that stealing someone else’s work is wrong but think that it shouldn’t be because the original writer or artist shared it online. These people will argue until you fall asleep from boredom from all their convoluted arguments about why they should just be able to steal something they didn’t create and even profit from it. This Facebook page was profiting by these stolen posts because they were using them to draw in customers.
Then there are people who ought to know better but are genuinely ignorant as to copyright law and trademark infringement. These are the people who should be given one free pass. One.
When I write a post here and use research from other posts or articles, I don’t copy, I link back to the original post and I use these old-timey things called footnotes.
If you have a website or Facebook page and want to use more than a quote from someone else’s work, ask. “I can’t find their contact information” isn’t an excuse. I found the email address of the author whose work was stolen in five minutes. They may give you permission to use their work, provided you properly attribute it to them. Then again, they may say “no.” Why they say “no” doesn’t matter. Their work, their decision.
I’m a copywriter. There are several sites that employ people like me and match us with clients in need of content for their sites, blogs and Facebook pages. You may be great at repairing appliances but terrible at writing. I can’t repair appliances but I can write the content that you need. If you have a business, you should consider a copywriter part of standard operating costs, just like advertising.
If you want to set up a page about a subject, learn how to properly research and write about it. Ask for help. You may get it for free if you just have a few questions, but if you want someone to do it for you, you’re going to have to open your wallet.
Writing isn’t easy. Writing a non-fiction book and doing the research is especially not easy. Writing a book involves a lot of skill, time, and editing. We’re very happy when you’re impressed with our work…but we’re not impressed when you simply take it. A book may take years to write and then it may take the author years to get it published and guess what, the majority of us don’t get rich and quit our day jobs even when we do get published. And you’re not just stealing our time and our work, you’re pretending that you did something you didn’t do. You did not write that essay. You do not know anything about that subject. You’re lying. And the embarrassment and loss of personal integrity upon being caught lying like that would, to me, be far worse than any financial repercussions.