Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not murder.
Thou shalt not steal web content.
Okay, the last one is not one of the commandments, but darn well should be. It is unethical, illegal, and far too rampant. Ultimately, it can lead to massive headaches on both ends. As such, I offer 3 different perspectives with suggestions:
As a copywriter, how do you protect yourself from being accused of plagiarism? There is really only one answer and it is a simple one. When you use the intellectual and/or written property of another – give them credit! Whether it be an MLA-style end-note, a Chicago style footnote citation, a directly quoted passage, or a link back to their website, give the original author their dues. You may still encounter the random situation where somebody asks you to take their work down (whether you choose to do so is up to you), but people tend to be less likely to sue when they have been credited.
As a website owner, how do you make sure that the people you have hired are not engaging in this practice? I recommend taking random snippets of 5-6 word text and searching for exact (in quotes) matches on Google.* If you feel the text is a bit generic, you may want to select a longer string; but you would likely be surprised how rarely the exact same 5 words appear on the internet together in the same order. Search through any results that are not your web page and look for fishy similarities. If any pages are older than yours and stating very similar thoughts in the same wordage, you likely have a copywriter or developer who needs a good kick in the rear.
But what if you find similar content that is younger than yours? If you find that your intellectual property has been stolen, what do you do? Document, document, document. This includes both your original publishing and a record of your violator’s content. Your word is not good enough, you need cold hard proof. After that, it is up to you how far to take it. You may just want them to take it down (some sites may have hired a firm to do their content and were unaware that they were infringing upon your material) or you may want to take it as far as you can through legal channels. At the end of the day, you just want to make sure that the information is on your side.
The next commandment we will focus on is that Thou Shalt put no other Search Engines before Google…
*If you prefer the automated route, Copyscape offers free (up to 10) results on sites that offer similar content to your own.