What constitutes plagiarism?

By Katharine Swan On Saturday, September 22, 2007 At 11:10 PM

Occasionally I run across job ads where the client wants writers to simply reword existing articles. The idea is that they want to "borrow" these articles...without Copyscape or other copy-protect programs picking up their "loan."

Although some people — specifically, the clients that post these ads and the writers who answer them — don't consider this plagiarism or copyright infringement, I disagree. Even if you play musical chairs with the wording, the "new" article is still pretty much the same work, just wearing a dime-store disguise.

While researching an article for a client, I ran across a prime example: an article that was "borrowed" from two existing articles, both of which ranked on the first page of the search engine results. (In other words, the "writer" didn't spend very long "researching.")

Here are the two articles that were borrowed from:
http://ezinearticles.com/?Want-To-Consolidate-Credit-Card-Debt?&id=80580
http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/cc/19990329.asp

Here is the plagiarism:
http://www.brajeshwar.com/finance/badcredit/consolidate-credit-card.html

If you read through all three, you can see that the first article is copied sentence for sentence — if not word for word — in the third article. The second article is not copied quite so closely, but I think it is still arguably plagiarism, as all of the main points — and some similar sentences — are there.

I actually come across these things quite frequently in my research for this client — I guess his topics are popular ones. I have noticed that one of the hallmarks of these "borrowed" articles is poor English. Often, the words are replaced with synonyms that are close in meaning but not exact, and the sentences are rephrased so that they don't quite make sense anymore. Sometimes an extraneous "a" or other short word is inserted into a sentence — seemingly a typo, but I actually think it is either 1) intentionally placed to fool Copyscape, or 2) an indication of how poor the "writer's" English really is.

My opinion is that, no matter how you replace words or rephrase sentences, if you are copying an article point by point then it is plagiarism and copyright infringement. In fact, I would say that if you only have one or two sources, then you are in serious danger of plagiarizing, even if it is unintentional.

What are your thoughts?

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Anonymous Mariella Says:  

Katharine, this is totally OT from your post. But have you arranged your workshop schedule yet?

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Mariella,

I haven't officially locked into these yet, but the list of what I'm considering is here.

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

I agree with you. I have actually seen posts where people are like, "Hey, I need the lowest bidder for someone to rip off all the articles at whateversite.com and re-write them so they'll pass copyscape." In cases like that, I've emailed the whateversite.com site owner and given them a link to what's going on. Maybe I'm evil, but it's kind of a satisfaction of knowing I've helped get someone busted.

I've had people re-write my articles before (usually ones I've submitted to directories like ezinearticles.com), and then they get all pissy with me when I tell them they need to take their ripped off work down or I'll pursue further action. I had one guy tell me that since he lives in India, his copyright laws are different than mine, so that grants him the right to steal my work. People are unbelievably stupid sometimes.

Anyhow, my point in this large BC rant (BC= before coffee), is that if I were you I'd alert the folks who wrote those original articles. If something is copied that closely of mine, I'd want to know about it. Plus, they're just asking for it by putting this at the bottom:
"If you have any issues with content kindly mail us to copyrightsissues@gmail.com"
*dies laughing*

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Amy,

Thanks for visiting. I'm just as evil as you are, apparently -- I already wrote to both the authors of the original articles and let them know. I've done that before, too, although the last time I did so I didn't even get a "Thank you" in response. I guess some people don't care as much as I would, but I figure they still have a right to know and make that decision for themselves!

I found the "copyrightissues@gmail.com" email address funny too. Evidently they are expecting these problems. What do you want to bet they never check that particular email address, or set it up with an autoresponder to keep people spinning?

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

Good for you. Not many people would take the time to do that. I feel like it's one of those "what goes around comes around" things.

You might be right about that address. I was thinking more along the lines of they know they're doing something wrong, so they want to be able to have the chance to remove it if someone catches them rather than just get sued. But I was probably giving them too much credit.

Either way, I think they deserve to get into trouble and at the very least get their site taken down.

Not that I advocate it, but if you're going to rip off someone's work, at least "re-write" it well enough so no one will know. Morons.

 
 
Anonymous Anonymous Says:  

Hi,

Nicole Again. I have a kind OT thing to say, but I noticed one of the copied articles was from ezinearticles.com. I have major issue with this site, because many of the work I have had stolen from me when I was a beginning freelancer was published on this site! Do you more experienced folks know if there is any recourse with that site? It's not important any more - it was over a year ago and I have since learned what to watch out for when choosing clients - but I'd still like to know what to do if it were to happen again.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Hi, Nicole.

Ummmm... This may be a stupid question, but you know that the point of EzineArticles.com is to give away articles that others can reproduce for free...right?

In case you didn't know, the way EzineArticles.com is supposed to work is this: You, the expert, submit an article, complete with a resource box that has your website URL. Others can reproduce the article as long as they include the resource box. Every time your article is reproduced, you get branded as an expert, and your website gets exposure. Theoretically.

Stealing EzineArticles.com would entail reproducing the articles without the resource box, or someone putting their own byline on the article.

If your work is ever stolen, there are definitely things you can do about it. I'm actually going to blog about that momentarily, as it's a great idea for a post. Thanks, and stay tuned!

 
 
Anonymous Anonymous Says:  

I think you misunderstood. I was asked to write some articles for a client, and then was never paid for them. In an attempt to find them, I googled them and found them on ezinearticles.com. The amount was so small and I was so new at this that I didn't do anything about it, as I mentioned before. I don't really know why someone would want to take someone else's work and put it on a site that doesn't pay, but oh well.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

I did misunderstand. I thought the work was stolen FROM EzineArticles.com, because of your feelings about them.

I have to say, I don't think it is EzineArticles.com's fault that your articles were stolen. They didn't steal your work -- your client did, and then published them on EzineArticles.com (or sold them to someone who did).

Your client probably wanted the marketing benefits without having to pay the writer. Next time, I would give the client an ultimatim: Pay for the stolen content or else. If that doesn't work, write to the article directory and explain the situation, as the website owners can remove them and ban your client from using the site.

 
 
Anonymous Anonymous Says:  

I know the website itself had nothing to do with it - I did some research on that. But they also don't give you much instruction on what to do if your articles are falsely posted on their site. Again, I am not an internet marketer, so I have no need for their site. I was just wondering if they had a process in place to deal with this. As I said, it was hardly any money so I don't really care anymore. But your post was interesting to read about what to do with stolen articles.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Nicole,

I'm glad you found the post helpful!

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

Hi Nicole,

I would contact ezinearticles.com (http://ezinearticles.com/contact.html) and give them the link(s) to the plagiarized article(s). Tell them the person has stolen your work (because if you weren't paid for the work you did, and they used it anyway, it is the same as stealing the way I see it).

As far as getting the payment you're owed, ezinearticles.com wouldn't get involved with that. That's between you and the non-paying client. But, ezinearticles.com can take down the article and possibly ban the poster to avoid a lawsuit themselves. Sounds like that's all you want.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Amy --

Thanks for your comment. That's basically what I was getting at, but I think you said it better. :o) Also, although Nicole was asking about what to do next time, I think you are right — she still has every right to get her articles removed!

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

If it were me, I'd want them taken down. I've had the opposite happen, where someone has "re-written" an article I posted on ezinearticles.com, and then the idiot re-posted their version of my articles ON ezinearticles.com. When I reported it to ezinearticles.com, they removed the article, so at least I know they'll do that much.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

LOL. Well, no one ever said thiefs were intelligent. ;o)

 

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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