Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Plagiarism Over The Internet: Awareness and Prevention

Photo by JLP/Deimos/Corbis
Plagiarism is a serious offense. But still, many commits on doing it. Whether they know that they are stealing other's works, or they are not aware of the seriousness of the act -  still, plagiarism is plagiarism. In this digital era where texts are easy to copy and paste and publish to the world via the Internet, plagiarism can easily be done compared to other types of theft like shoplifting. 

First, we should know what plagiarism really is. So how do we define plagiarism?

According to Plagiarism.org, 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

Now let's put an explanation to those.

Of course, you cannot invent information. Unless they're purely your ideas, information is something that is formed by acquiring bits of information from different sources or from a main source, so to speak.

One example is the latest news about the Nokia-Microsoft partnership which spread like a wildfire on technology and marketing blogs and other online publications. Every high-ranking technology blog I've hopped into contains the said news. Of course these are two well known corporations in the industry, it is indeed a BIG news. 

What's the trick here? You cannot invent the news all by yourself (of course, we need the main source), but you cannot tell who's the first to publish the news either. So will this be an exclusion to plagiarism? No. If you copied and pasted everything from the publication (or the majority of it as Plagiarism.org suggests), it is plagiarism. Even if when creating a news, you acquire and publish only the facts without regarding to the opinion or ideas of the publisher, copying the structure of the publication is still plagiarism.

Do we need to credit everything? How about sharing the things I know, I already forgot from what source I got that info! What will I do?

Stating general knowledge and facts like people need to sleep is a common sense. Thus, stating those need no sources. 

How about who invented the telephone? I just learned it from my elementary school, do I need to put my school as the source!?

As I said, verified facts like those need no sources. Of course, your school is not the main source of that information (unless your elementary school is a research agency as well!). General knowledge is made to inform people, so it is free to distribute as long as you distribute it correctly (distributing wrong information is a crime so beware).

Errr. So copy and pasting from Wikipedia is not plagiarism? They are facts, too!

Observe. If you have an encyclopedia at home, browse the back pages, at the Bibliography part you could see from where all the information on that encyclopedia was gathered. Go to Wikipedia, you could see the at the Reference part all the sources from which the contents of the page came from. They are not the main source but if you are going to get a part of their contents, you should cite them as the source of those contents you gathered from them.

Actually, these things doesn't cover much on plagiarism. Sources on this type are mainly included for the sake of verification and validity.

Let's hop into the major part: Stealing ideas.

Yes, this is where much of the plagiarism takes place. Ideas are something we formulated on our minds. We created them and it's up to us if we want to share them. Of course, sharing ideas is much better than keeping them all by yourself. But, throwing them to the public always attaches a big risk - the risk of being stolen.

Before we complicate things, let's first differentiate the term copy from the term steal. When you copy something, you are not getting the original one, as what you do when you copy instead of cut. When you steal, you are getting the original and leaving the victim nothing. 

In this case, we are talking about stealing ideas. But you cannot cut and paste ideas from the mind of the original source to your mind because it's impossible (unless you know the Obliviate charm).

So how do we define stealing ideas? Go up and read the second bullet of Plagiarism.org's definitions, it says copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit. It's what defines the phrase stealing ideas. Because when copying someone else's work and publish it without citing the sources, you are making it look like it's yours, that you made it all by yourself, thus disregarding the original publisher's intellectual rights. That's where the cut part lies, you are removing the rights of the creator by not mentioning him/her as the creator. 

Regarding the sixth bullet, copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not, the 'stealing' falls on so many aspects. One example is the probability to steal possible readers where instead of reading the original, the readers might have been patronizing the copycat. Some people do disregard the sources part so if they enjoyed the latter, (which should be credited to the original work), it's what they'll remember. Moreover if the readers didn't even manage to take a look at the original. And that's what the stealing part lies, sharing credits with the original though you only did a little part of it because the majority of the work you did is copied from the original.

Take note of the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism. Detection of copyright infringement is much simpler in terms of violating rights because an act of copying or owning of the said copyrighted work without a license (even a little part of it) is the crime itself - whether you give credits or not. This is a violation far greater than plagiarism, it is a crime.

So now that you are aware of it and wants to be cautious, how do you prevent it?

We all know that most people wants their ideas or works to be known. But, you should also be aware that others don't want you to distribute it.

Knowing their terms of use, license, or whatever rules they set on their works is the first step. Do they let their works be featured on other's work? If not, then don't do it. However, most publishers just want to be properly credited. In case of online publishers, they often want to be credited by linking back to their website.

This is also another problem that causes plagiarism. Since most bloggers are aware that having so many external links may affect their ranking on search engines, they are afraid to link back to sources. But it is indeed unethical to not link back to sources especially if they are required to do so. Whenever I see blogs that post things which obviously came from other sources and do not credit them, I'd definitely close the tab and will not visit their blog again. A brilliant example of crediting sources can be seen on this post. Well for me, I do not include so many details but as long as the readers could understand how I credit the sources, it should be fine.

If you are a blogger or an online publisher, there are services where you can find out if somebody's been plagiarizing your articles or works:

CopyScape - It checks the web for copies of your page. You may also include a badge of this as what I did on my footer.

FairShare - Most blogs offers feed subscription, so you might want to check if someone copies your articles via RSS.

Free Online Plagiarism Software - A free online plagiarism checker that scans the internet for similar texts as you put your text in the box. It provides you the results in just a few second with its analysis.

If you know more services which I can add here, or if you have any experiences of others copying your works and how you dealt with them, feel free to share them.


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