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June 23, 2022 (Updated: March 8, 2023)
With so many businesses in your industry or niche doing content marketing, not every topic you cover is original, fresh, or groundbreaking. But even if other people talk about the same topics, your content shouldn’t look exactly the same. There’s a difference between turning out content that adds nothing new to the conversation and plagiarism. But how do you know if someone’s work is plagiarized? Whether it’s one of your content writers or a source you link to, we’re breaking down how to uncover if someone turns in or publishes plagiarized content with topics like:
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Plagiarism is a two-part offense. It’s stealing someone else’s words and then lying about it after the fact by passing it off as your own. When we think of plagiarism, we often think of words and written content, like blog posts, articles, or manuscripts. But you can plagiarize music, photos, video, or any original creative work.
Most often, you’ll hear the term plagiarism associated with written work and the term copyright infringement associated with other forms of media or art. The concept is still the same though. With copyright infringement, you’re taking someone’s original work and passing it off as your own.
Related: Someone Plagiarized Your Work Online, Now What?
With a broad definition, you may wonder what counts as plagiarism? Can it be accidental? Can you plagiarize yourself? All the following situations count as plagiarism:
Copying and pasting content is likely what most people think of when they hear the word plagiarism. This happens when someone lifts or retypes full passages of content from another source to their own work without credit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phrase, paragraph, or the entire piece of content. If someone does this, it’s an act of plagiarism.
Another blatant form of plagiarism is having someone else write your content and then turning it in as your own. This isn’t the same as ghostwriting. Ghostwriters work as a service. They get paid to write content and agree to forego individual recognition for that work. What they write becomes the property of the brand, company, or agency that employs them.
If your agency hired a ghostwriter and that person had someone write their content and passed it off to your team as their own work, that’s plagiarism. That writer intentionally lied about who created the content and acted in an unethical manner.
If another company or thought leader in your industry develops a new topic or concept, you’re allowed to talk about that in your brand’s content marketing. But you have to give the proper credit. The only time this doesn’t apply is when you’re dealing with a common knowledge concept.
For example, if your content creators develop a blog post on how to teach children to tie shoes, they don’t have to credit the person who came up with the method every time they talk about it. It’s common knowledge. Most everyone knows the process for tying shoes and uses it regularly. There’s nothing proprietary about it. Discussing important dates and information in history, like recounting basic facts about battles, also counts as common knowledge.
If you quote someone word for word but leave out the quotation marks, that’s also plagiarism. When quoting someone verbatim in an interview or from a work, like a script or song lyrics, you have to indicate that with punctuation. Add quotation marks around the content and attribute it to the right source to avoid plagiarism.
For example, if we wanted to quote a line from the movie You’ve Got Mail, we’d include that attribution and write the line like this: “People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”
Misquoting a source is also a form of plagiarism. You can follow the rules and use quotation marks, but if you attribute the wrong source, you’re still passing off one person’s work as another. If we said the quote in the last section came from the movie The Proposal instead of You’ve Got Mail, that would be a misquotation and technically plagiarism.
This kind of plagiarism is often a mistake, but it still counts. This is why it’s important to check your sources or the sources of your team when working with content writing.
When writers discuss a complex or industry-specific topic or issue, sometimes they have to rely heavily on other sources to explain it in the most common-sense way. But when they take too many ideas from one source without attribution, it’s plagiarism. Even if they’re discussing a common knowledge issue. There’s no hard and fast rule about what constitutes “too many” ideas, which is why it’s important to often cite ideas that aren’t your own. Hyperlinks, in-text citations, and bibliographies are helpful tools to avoid this issue.
Yes, writers can really plagiarize themselves. This involves resubmitting work you’ve already published or otherwise released to the world and trying to pass it off as new content. Recycling previously collected data or materials and claiming they’re new is a form of self-plagiarism. Publishing the same content in different places or content on the same topics without any new research and information are also types of self-plagiarism.
Self-plagiarism can be dangerous because even a really great and experienced writer may not realize they’re doing it. This is often the case when one writer is responsible for writing content on the same or very closely related topics time and again. They may unknowingly write the same sentences and ideas that they included in other articles because they don’t cross-reference or practice other standards when reviewing their work.
Self-plagiarism differs from content syndication. In that practice, you only publish the original content once. Then you push that piece out to a variety of sources. Sharing a link to the published article on LinkedIn is an example of content syndication, not plagiarism. You’re not claiming the article is brand new, you’re simply sharing the link.
As we said earlier, plagiarism isn’t just for words. If you use other artistic media like music or videos to accompany your content but don’t give credit, that’s also plagiarism. This often falls in line with copyright infringement, too. If you try to pass this content off as your own without permission, you could face legal ramifications. These include content removal from the internet and search engines under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
With all the ideas and content trends floating around your industry, what does it matter if someone plagiarizes? Everyone’s talking about the same subjects, so who cares who said it first, or where you got the information? That’s not the case. If people never got credit for their own ideas, why would they share them in the first place?
Though it may feel like everyone in your industry is circling the same wagons, it’s still important for your brand to give credit where it’s due in all pieces of content. If you don’t, it affects your brand, industry, and audience credibility. Some reasons to care about plagiarism in content marketing include:
Recognizing plagiarism, especially in content marketing, can be tricky. When you’re dealing with professional writers—or people passing themselves off as professional writers—it’s hard to determine what’s their real work and what isn’t. But there are a few things you can look for to find plagiarism in any work:
This type of clue is easier to spot when it’s a contract writer you’ve worked with for some time or a team member whose writing you know well. A writer’s style and tone are like fingerprints. If you know their work well enough, you can name who wrote a piece, even without a byline attached. This is because writers gravitate toward certain words, sentence structures, and other mechanics in their pieces.
If you notice a sudden shift in tone or diction in the piece that doesn’t fit the writer’s typical style, this could be a sign of plagiarism. This indicator may be subtle, but when you’re familiar with your team members’ or contractors’ work, it may be more obvious when reading through their pieces.
Depending on how your creatives submit their content, using multiple fonts could be a big red flag to indicate copy-and-paste plagiarism. If you notice work appears in various fonts in a writer’s word processing document or content submission, it’s worth a second glance. Look for changes in the font type, but also color, size, and style like bolds, italics, or underlines. Irregular formatting could also indicate plagiarism, such as single vs. double spacing or additional code within the document from copying and pasting.
Formatting issues may not always indicate plagiarism. Some writers may create a draft of a piece in one document, then copy their revisions into a clean or final document. If you notice irregular formatting in submissions, use some of the other plagiarism checkpoints before accusing the author. You may also ask about their writing process to learn if they use multiple documents that could explain inconsistencies.
Even when writing an opinion piece, there’s often at least one idea, quote, or comment within that requires a citation. If your writers turn in content that doesn’t have any hyperlinks, sources, or attributions, that could be a sign of plagiarism. Those who don’t want to get caught often won’t cite any sources and try to pass everything off as their own work.
Sometimes, especially in content marketing, it’s easy to be nervous to link away from your own brand channels. You may think that citing another source or including an offsite link to another website sends away business. But that’s not always the case. Sharing helpful information from around the industry is actually a good thing. It shows your audience that you don’t know everything and that you’re comfortable enough to potentially send business to another source because you trust they’ll come back to your brand to make a purchase.
It also shows that you’re thorough in your research and that your main goal is to provide valuable content to the right people, rather than just making a sale. All these things increase lead trust and customer loyalty. When you link out to other sources, it also entices them to link back to yours when your company provides quality thoughts and ideas. This increases your backlink profile and authority with search engines.
It’s normal, expected, and encouraged in content marketing to research your topics. Even if the writer is an expert. This lets you find the most up-to-date statistics and trends on any subject. So outdated information in a newly written piece is grounds to be suspicious of plagiarism.
For example, an article discussing Google’s most recent algorithm update, Panda, could send up a red flag. The Panda update went live in February 2011, and there have been many more since. This is no longer the most recent update, and it’s easy to disprove that claim with one internet search. But if the writer copied and pasted that content from someone else’s old article, it could have been the most recent information at the time of publication.
Content writers receive a brief, outline, or other specifications for the assignment they plan to submit to your company or for a client. When reading through the finished product, does what they wrote fit the original brief? If it’s wildly different, it’s possible the writer plagiarized the content. There’s a difference between missing the target audience or the exact scope of the project and writing something that has nothing to do with the instructions.
For example, if an assignment brief asks for a list of 10 benefits of social media curation and the writer turns in a piece about how to curate art for a gallery, this is more than just misunderstanding the keyword. While it might not necessarily be plagiarism, chances are no matter what the issue, it’s still worth investigating how and why the incident happened, especially with the increased usage of AI writing.
One of the quickest ways to find out if something’s plagiarized is to choose a line from the piece that doesn’t sound quite right and do a Google search on it. Run a search on the line by itself and then put quotation marks around the line and run the search again.
The first type of search shows you any content online where a large enough combination of those words appears. The second option shows you any place online where that line appears word for word. Even if the content isn’t plagiarized verbatim, the first type of search may show you what sources provided most of the thoughts and ideas for a piece. If the author took too many and didn’t provide any attribution, it’s plagiarism.
Whether you work with freelancers or a staff team to create your content, it’s good to have a policy in place to handle plagiarism. It’s a harsh crime for a writer, but is an instance of plagiarism always grounds for termination of contract or employment? It depends.
If your company has a plagiarism policy that contractors and team members have to read and sign before they start work, then yes, a first offense is a fireable offense. If your company doesn’t have a plagiarism policy, you may use a warning system instead. Allow the writer to see where plagiarism occurred and fix it. Your company may even offer training or consultation to help new writers learn what counts as plagiarism and how to avoid it. If the same writer repeats the offense after the warning, then it’s time to terminate.
Just as your target audience finds plagiarism in your content hurts your reputation as a business, when a writer commits plagiarism it hurts their trust with you. If you make this clear when you hire, your good writers will work hard to keep their spotless reputations. And if they make a mistake, they’ll learn from it and not do it again.
If you’re still not sure if a work is plagiarized, there are ways to check. It’s important to be certain before you accuse a writer of plagiarizing, especially if there’s a chance they didn’t. Use an online plagiarism checker like the free one from Grammarly.
Or, rely on the professionals. CopyPress vets and tests our writers and holds every member of the creative team to a zero-tolerance, no-plagiarism policy. We use internal plagiarism checker tools like CopyScape to ensure that when each piece reaches the client, it’s error-free and original. For great content without the worry, schedule your free 30-minute strategy call with our team today. Then, sign up for our newsletter to get more tips, tools, and advice sent straight to your inbox.
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