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Plagiarism is one of those phenomena that is difficult to understand to the average, honest person. As content creators and writers, we pride ourselves on creating work that we are proud of. We don’t put our name to something unless it is representative of our talents; the way we use words is everything. We rely on it for our income, our enjoyment. So why on earth would someone ever want to take credit for something that they didn’t write?
The motive, as it so often is, is cold hard cash. Being able to monetize content is one of the upsides of why we all do it- while it’s good to write for pleasure, pleasure isn’t so good at paying the bills. When someone decides to sidestep the actual creation part – as in, the difficult part – life becomes easy. They don’t have to worry about reviews, slave over a keyboard, coffee in hand and writer’s block consistently threatening. They don’t need inspiration, to find their voice or correct their grammar- they just steal. Then they can reap the rewards of something that someone else has slaved over.
The justifications are usually along the lines of the idea that nothing is original. All of the stories have already been told, the articles have been written. It’s all just rearranging the same words into a different pattern anyway, right? Some may have even tweaked the original, thinking the swapping of a few words means they have created something new. It can almost be painted as being arcane, even quaint, to think that the creator should maintain control of their output.
So it happens. Anyone who has ever been a victim will know how close to violation it feels, to see someone taking credit for something that they didn’t create. Not only does it damage you financially, but it can also harm your reputation. What if someone took an article you wrote and use it on a site that you didn’t support, such as one promoting hate speech?
Fortunately, plagiarism is not just something that you have to accept as part of the life of a writer. You are protected; copyright is assumed unless stated otherwise. You are always in the default position of power. And when that’s the case, you can fight back and reclaim what is yours.
Step One: Check You Have Actually Been Plagiarized
There is some truth to the concept that nothing is original anymore. Look at the reaction to any major news story; you will see almost identical think-pieces appearing in news media. That doesn’t mean they are plagiarizing one another, just that people are having the same thoughts at the same time. So look for similar phrases, which may have been edited.
If you’re dealing with image fraud, it’s usually simpler. Even if the original image has gone through PhotoShop, if it is still identifiable, then you have a case.
And remember, an essential part of plagiarism as per the dictionary definition is that someone is taking credit. If they are just reproducing your work but leaving your byline, it may be best just to contact them directly and ask for it to be removed. Be as polite as possible. If they do not then respond, then it has escalated, and you can take the next steps necessary to remove the content.
If someone else is claiming that they have produced it, then you have been plagiarized.
Step Two: If It’s A Website, Tell Everyone
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Get yourself active on social media, making it clear what has happened. There have been many cases of social networking getting behind people who have been victims of this, and getting real results. You can be one of them. Include a link or image of the original content and show how it is being represented by someone else. Tag in the plagiarist, so that they know you are on to them.
Contact them directly and ask them to remove it. Quote the piece of legislation that they have violated. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a good place to start, and should be cited in most violations. When you contact them, make it a formal “cease and desist” letter.
Step Three: Contact The Web Host
Violating the DMCA is a crime, and no web host is going to want any part in that. If the thief chooses not to respond to your initial contact, then go straight to their host and complain.
The same goes for if it’s an indie book- contact anyone who is selling the book. Inform them they are retailing plagiarized material. You might not get much response, but this is one time when keeping quiet won’t do you any good.
Step Four: Seek Help
The more people you have looking at the problem, the greater your chances of managing the matter. We’ve already mentioned utilizing social media, but consider contacting professionals. This might be a legal professional or a dmca takedown service, both of whom will be able to act on your behalf if an initial contact has not solved the issue.
Step Five: Think About What You Want
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If you feel you have suffered financially from this issue, you may want to look at recovering damages. This becomes a legal issue, and a lawyer specializing in intellectual property can advise you further. This is an expensive process, though. Yes, you can win the money you pay back, but that’s assuming the thief can pay- they might not.
In most cases, getting the item removed and – potentially – gaining an apology is the most you can hope for. It is only advisable to consider escalating it further if there are significant financial sums involved, or it is a repeat offense. If one individual is consistently targeting your work, then it becomes malicious, and should be dealt with in the courts.
It’s a tough journey and one which can shake your faith in publishing your work. Fight each case as it comes, and hope that eventually, the message will get through.