There isn’t just one act that constitutes plagiarizing content as thousands of honest freelance writing pros will tell you. Students who copy portions of another’s paper, professional writers who precisely mirror other articles or essays, or even works that quote other speeches without proper citation are guilty of plagiarizing. When a contractor or company builds a website advertising their services, it is still an act of plagiarism to copy the text from that site and use it on your own site.
Because people produce works that are so widely varied in nature, it can be extremely difficult to conclusively establish a single definition within the entire realm of plagiaristic happenings. As such, the definition often varies depending on context. Most definitions of plagiarism include wrongfully using the work of another; plagiarism, in fact is defined by Stanford University as using the work of another without properly referencing or crediting the original work. Protected content ranges, in their definition, from formulas and ideas, to written work. Yale uses a more broad interpretation, simply identifying plagiarism as use of another’s (unspecified) work without credit. In professional situations, the definition of plagiarism often overlaps with the language involved in copyright disputes.
How Plagiaristic Writing Occurs
Plagiarism is most commonly found in a few different areas: academic institutions, journalism, and the professional world. Plagiarism is so widespread on college campuses that there is often a member of staff designated to deal solely with plagiarism cases. Students not only copy work from each other, but from articles and essays published in books or online. Because copying work from another student doesn’t involve using an already published source, it can be much more difficult to catch. If a student buys essays or class materials from an older student, for example, it is unlikely that a professor will recognize or remember the original work, whereas copying material from another student currently in the class would be much easier to recognize.
In some cases, authors replicate passages from their previous works in other journals or publications. While the rules regarding this conduct can be difficult for the layperson to understand, this is often a matter of copyright infringement, rather than the traditional concept of plagiarism. Because it is the individual’s original work, the act cannot be considered plagiarism by any means. However, authors are often bound by exclusivity agreements that make republishing one’s own work an act of copyright infringement unless properly cited.
Journalists are held to a relatively high ethical standard, especially by the public, which depends on the integrity and honesty of journalists to garner accurate information about the world around them. If someone searches the internet about a particular news event, however, it is not unusual to see a dozen websites, each hosting almost exactly the same article. While dishonest and un-original journalism might be inconvenient to the reader, there are far more drastic impacts.
The new-age adage for freelance writers, should one exist, is copywriting is not copy my writing, a term which is relevant to the dishonest journalists and copywriters who’ve negatively impact the entire industry. The success and reliability of the entire journalism and news industry depends on the trust that the public places in their information, and journalism can be a powerful tool to expose scandal or wrongdoing in a community. Dishonest journalists place all of these concerns secondary to the ease of copying another’s work.
The Consequences of Plagiarism
One of the biggest impacts of plagiaristic writing is the detrimental effect it has on the value of everyone’s work, especially that of freelance writing professionals. Stand-out websites and essays make a much less substantial impact on the consumer or audience when there are a dozen virtually identical copies lying around. The originality of content is what makes it so valuable, especially in the professional world. A student is much less likely to receive an A for a paper, for example, if 20 other almost identical papers have been turned in, which unfortunately devalues the work that each student put into an assignment, even if their copy was completely original. More important to academic institutions trying to keep their students honest are the ethical implications of plagiarism.
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign came to an end when he was caught using portions of other peoples’ speeches without properly citing the original work. While Biden had previously used the same excerpt (and properly cited it in his speech), failing to properly cite the original speech merely one time had disastrous effects on his campaign and career. Great content is boundless in small doses, and it makes sense to reference works of high caliber; you may do so, albeit sparingly, in order to avoid any potential copy encroachment accusations.
Strategies for Defeating Plagiarism
With the rise of sites like Copyscape and Paper Rater, professors are catching on to writing infringement purported by students more quickly than ever before. Some sites scan for exact matches only, while other sites have “matches” in different categories: exact matches, similar passages, and close matches. There are variations of these sites for non-text content as well. Sites that watermark hundreds of images at a time or scan for duplicated images can be used to secure non-text content on the internet, while other sites have features that make it more difficult for users to save text or graphics from your website.
Websites and software that detect content theft are much more effective than most preventative methods, though persuading content thieves to remove stolen content could become harrowing to contend with, at best. Professors (and bosses) should carefully watch for plagiarized material, and stress the importance of original work when outsourcing assignments to freelance writers around the world. While there might be less time required to copy a paper off of the internet, the consequences of plagiarism far outweigh the convenience factor.
There are potentially time consuming disadvantages to using these sites, however. Each time a student or contractor uses an exact quote, the software will likely return a quote, even if the quote has been properly cited. This can result in the professor or client being forced to go through each article or essay to closely check for proper citation or references to the original material. They also won’t catch every use of stolen material: a freelance writing guru or web designer can easily mirror your work without replicating enough exact text to be caught by anti-plagiarism software.