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May 20, 2022 (Updated: March 8, 2023)
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But there’s a difference between imitation and getting ripped off. If your marketing team and copywriters are good at what they do, there’s a chance that’s going to happen at least once. And while the internet makes it easy for people to find, share, and access information, it also makes the perfect setting for plagiarism. Once you’ve found out someone plagiarized your team’s work online, what are you supposed to do next? Unfortunately, the answer is usually: do nothing.
Whether it’s someone using an image your photographers took without credit, or someone stealing a written article or blog post word for word, plagiarism can happen anywhere. There’s tons of information on the internet and not as many people who fact-check. Use these steps to figure out how to handle an online plagiarism situation:
Every online space is different. Maybe you’re looking for credit in the wrong place. Make sure the situation is really plagiarism before you make a move. Did someone quote your company’s article but forget the quotation marks? Maybe they mistyped the source link for an image. Scour the page, click on things, and read everything through before jumping to conclusions.
Sometimes people make honest mistakes. And you may find them when you do a little more digging. If it is just a mistake, is it worth the time to contact someone, point out their error, and fix it? Probably not. Just let it go. Revel in the fact that your team’s content was so witty or brilliant that someone else found it worthy of sharing with their audience, too.
Image via GIPHY
If you browse the suspicious piece like a detective at a crime scene and it still looks like deliberate plagiarism, then it probably is. Some people may tell you to stay calm in a situation like this. But if that’s not your style, forget them. You’re allowed to feel whatever you want. In most cases, that emotion is anger.
Let yourself be mad for a few minutes. Your team worked hard to create that content and somebody ripped you off. They’re taking credit for your company’s ideas. Bring the issue up at your next staff or marketing meeting. Share with your team members how annoyed you are that this happened. Feeling your feelings first can help you make more levelheaded decisions later when you move on to the next steps. It can also help you get advice on your next course of action.
Once you know there’s real plagiarism, it’s time to decide. What should you do about the situation? Not every case of plagiarism is worth addressing. Like everything else in the world, pick your battles. How big of an issue is this? Did the other source take a few paragraphs or an entire article? Are they profiting off work your team created and shared for free?
For most plagiarism, the time and effort you put into “sticking it” to whoever stole from your company is more work than letting it go. Think of it as trying to find a parking space at the grocery store. If someone takes the space you want, you get angry. But it’s more effort to yell at them than to find another spot. Though, if someone rear-ends you in the parking lot, now you have damage to your car. That’s worth getting out and addressing. Decide which category your plagiarism situation falls into.
If your plagiarism is a rear-end situation, reach out and contact the person or company that took your work. Find an email address or social media handle for the author. Be calm and professional in your message. Tell them what you or someone else from your team found and why it bothers you. Suggest some ways to fix the situation nicely and without taking extreme or legal action. Handling the situation professionally when reaching out to the plagiarized party often has excellent results, especially in case of true oversight. Your contact email may sound something like this:
Dear Ms. Martin,
My name is Stevie King. I work in the marketing department at CopyPress. As I was checking metrics on our blog posts, I found that your article “5 Ways To Promote Your Business on Social Media,” uses three paragraphs taken word for word from our article “How To Become a Social Media for Business Boss.”
I read your entire post and can’t seem to find any links or references to CopyPress as a source. I’d like to ask you to credit us with a backlink to the original article within yours or credit us with an in-line citation for the idea. Thanks for your cooperation. I look forward to hearing from you.
If your request becomes a problem or you never hear back, take further action. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) helps protect against the illegal use of your copyrighted works online. Under this act, you can contact the website’s hosting service and ask for a DMCA Takedown, or removal of the content by the host. Use a tool like Netcraft’s “What’s This Site Running?” to find a website’s provider and follow their recommendations to send your Takedown notice. For matters of intellectual property theft, which go beyond the coverage of the DMCA, contact a lawyer for more advice.
The best way to combat plagiarism is to do social listening. Pay attention to the content your company puts into the world and track where it’s going. This helps you recognize when something isn’t right. You can also request your free content analysis report from CopyPress. It shares information about your keywords and backlink profile so you know what information to monitor to prevent competitors from plagiarizing your work online.
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