Is Someone Plagiarizing Your Work?

About two weeks ago I received an article submissionthat immediately attracted my attention. The title wasidentical to the title of an article I wrote and whichwas published in 'WebProNews' in May 1999.

"Probably just a coincidence", I thought to myself,and kept reading. But the first paragraph stopped mein my tracks. It was quite clearly plagiarized from myarticle. As I kept reading I recognized sentence aftersentence that had been lifted from my article and thenmodified slightly.

The whole article was plagiarized. I could hardlybelieve it. As the English say, I was 'gob-smacked'.

------------------------------What Is Plagiarism?------------------------------

'Plagiarism' comes from the Latin word 'plagiarius', akidnapper. Here are two dictionary definitions ofplagiarism:

'[to] take (the work or idea of someone else)

and pass it off as one's own' (Concise Oxford

Dictionary, Third Edition, 1999).

'to appropriate ideas, passages etc. from another

work or author' (Collins Dictionary of the English

Language, ed. P. Hanks 1979).

Plagiarism can be done in many ways, but the mostcommon technique is to paraphrase someone else's words.

Here's an example:


"And if you've matched the ezine to the product you'reselling, you've reached your target audience."

Plagiarized version:

"If you have correctly matched the ezine or newsletterto the product you're selling, then you will havereached your target audience."

As you can see, the plagiarist has simply taken theoriginal and then replaced the phrase 'you've matched'with the phrase 'you have correctly matched', insertedthe words 'or newsletter', and replaced the word'you've' with the words 'then you will have'.

Part of the reason that plagiarism is so rampant onthe Internet is that many people genuinely believethat it's okay to take someone else's writing, make afew changes, and then present it as their own.

----------------------------------Is Plagiarism a Crime?----------------------------------

As far as I know plagiarism is not a crime in mostcountries, and this is probably because plagiarism isso difficult to define. How many words does aplagiarist have to substitute and rearrange before thecopied version ceases to be a copy of the original?

This is why plagiarism is much more difficult to dealwith than copyright theft. A copyright thief simplysteals your work, lock-stock-and-barrel. A plagiariststeals your work and disguises it as their own.

But while plagiarism may not be a crime, it is heavilysanctioned in professions that are based on thewritten word. I know of one professor of sociology wholost his job almost overnight because he plagiarizedsomeone else's work. And in journalism theconsequences of being exposed as a plagiarist would bethe same.

Unfortunately, internet plagiarism is flourishing.There's now a whole industry that supplies collegestudents with 'model' term papers for the purpose ofplagiarism. Here are just some of the websites thatare part of this industry:

School Sucks

Other People's Papers

Evil House of Cheat

But the plagiarism industry has spawned anotherindustry: websites and software designed to detectplagiarism. One such software was developed ( and

This is how it works: the software makes a 'digitalfingerprint' of a submitted document using anelaborate set of algorithms. That fingerprint is thenchecked against a database that contains over 1billion publicly-available web pages. Plagiarism.orgthen produces an 'originality report' that gives theuser an index of how original the submitted paper was,and whether it falls above or below the 'plagiarismthreshold'.

This software, however - while an excellent tool forcollege professors - probably wouldn't help writersfind out if their work has been plagiarized.

----------------------------------------What Can You Do About It?----------------------------------------

The Internet is so vast, chances are you wouldn't knowif someone had plagiarized your work. I only discoveredthat my work had been plagiarized because the 'author'sent his plagiarized article to me for publication inmy own newsletter.

But if you do discover that someone has plagiarizedone of your articles, you could do what I did.

I immediately contacted the author of the 'article'and requested that he email everyone to whom he hadsent the article, explaining that it was plagiarized,and that they should on no account publish it. I addedthat if he did not withdraw the article fromcirculation I would contact his web host and themoderators of any lists that distributed the article.

The author replied within a few hours and admittedthat the similarity between the 2 articles was "VERYuncanny". He said he had no idea "how they could be sosimilar". But after a few emails, he did withdraw thearticle.

In a way, it's a compliment when someone plagiarizesyour work: it means you're writing good stuff. Butthat's little consolation. If you make your livingfrom writing on the Internet, plagiarism could be thegreatest threat to your livelihood.

Michael Southon has been writing for the Internet for over 3
years. He has shown hundreds of webmasters how to use this
simple technique to build a successful online business. Click
here to find out more:

home | site map
© 2005