Plagiarism and Why You Shouldn't Do It
A few weeks ago, my boss emailed me late at night. I don't always reply to emails at midnight, but I often see them. His email was about some website text I had recently turned in for a client. This one I answered from my smartphone.
He said, "Did you write this?"
"No. The client wrote it. I just corrected a few mistakes and moved it around a little to fit the sitemap. Why?" I said.
"It's all plagiarized."
"Plagiarized? Listen, I don't plagiarize, so if it's all plagiarized, then by definition I didn't write it."
"I didn't think you would, but I had to ask," he said.
"Nope. The client wanted to write the copy. Fifteen website pages. Is it all plagiarized? I wouldn't have even thought to check."
"All of it."
So, the next day I was assigned to rewrite the website text.
Let me explain how this works. When a new website is being built for a client, I write the website copy with input from the client. The text often goes through several drafts before it's finalized. Occasionally the client wants to write the text. Which suits the hell out of me because I have plenty of work. Then I can spend a couple of hours making the text fit the sitemap of the website and adding some technical language for the coding person. And Bob's your uncle. I'm done.
In this case, the client wanted to write the website because he said he knew exactly how he wanted it to sound. Okay. Have at it. Go crazy. And when I got the copy, I thought it wasn't bad. I don't care because I'm not paid to care too much. Just to make it free of errors. It never occurred to me to check for plagiarism because I don't plagiarize.
Here are some reasons why you shouldn't plagiarize:
1. It's unethical
When I went to university, in my first year, in my first English class, we were told that if you were caught plagiarizing it was grounds for expulsion. Period. So, I never considered doing it because I didn't want to get expelled. I wanted to graduate.
In 1979, when I started university, you could probably get away with plagiarizing because there was no internet, and there were not a lot of ways to check for plagiarism. Unless you were plagiarizing Shakespeare, who would know? But today, it's easy to check for online plagiarism with free plagiarism checkers. You just copy and paste a little text that's suspect and click on a button. And within seconds, these programs will tell you the probability that the text is plagiarized.
But I don't routinely check for that because I don't plagiarize. Ever.
2. It hurts your SEO
Google doesn't like plagiarized text. If you plagiarize the contents of your website, this lowers your rankings on Google. So, not a great idea.
3. It's illegal
When someone publishes text or photos, whoever created that text or those photos owns the copyright. (I'm simplifying here to make it understandable.) You cannot take things that are copyrighted and do whatever you want with them, like publish that text on your website. It's illegal, and people can come after you.
4. It makes you look bad
It just makes you look stupid. You don't publish something that doesn't belong to you, unless you ask for permission first. It's possible to ask for permission, but you may not get it and probably won't get it for text. If I come onto your website and find that your text is plagiarized, I think you're an idiot.
You may not care what I think. However, if you have a product to sell and you're running a business, then you should care what others think. You want people to love your website, not think you're an idiot.
This little occurrence was a real eye-opener for me. A few days ago, my boss sent me some website copy to edit.
I asked my boss, "who wrote this text?"
"The client," he said.
This time I checked for plagiarism and found one page or about 500 words completely plagiarized, so I alerted my boss. There is something called the Fair Use Doctrine with copyright. Under certain circumstances you can copy some text and not be infringing on copyright. I told my boss this case might fall under that but it's iffy and would have to be trimmed down quite a bit.
So far, I don't know what happened with that, but I'll be a lot more alert now about clients plagiarizing. I guess I'm a bit naive. I always figure business owners are too smart to plagiarize. But apparently not.
My grades in grad school so far.