Plagiarism and Stealing

Recently, I’ve witnessed several acts of plagiarism and stealing. As the need for content and attention (a result of good marketing ideas) increases, it’s likely individuals will engage in more thefts.

Unfortunately, stealing ideas and content is something that impacts all businesses and individuals trying to monetize their online activities (here’s a piece on how to detect plagiarism).

It’s too damn easy. Copying and pasting content, whether it’s via source code or simply highlighting text on a screen, makes all words accessible. Blogs are frequent targets for plagiarism.

The intense demands of content creation and the ensuing burnout that many individuals complain about creates a sense of desperation. Publish or perish, as academics used to say. When publishing becomes difficult or impossible, some people turn to stealing ideas and content.

Unfortunately, stealing hurts many people, and business itself.

When you steal credit from someone you rob them of the very attention and relationship equity that they, too, are investing time and resources to achieve. Why not write your own post and link back? or share that post?

Can’t riff off the post, then ask to reblog it. Most authors and companies are happy to grant folks the ability to reblog.

Repercussions Abound


Image by Valerie Peters

Plagiarism and stealing hurt the offending party, too. Consider the following:

1) You get caught, and are exposed publicly — perhaps even sued — permanently tarnishing your brand in the eyes of your community as well as long term through search.

2) You get caught, and the matter is handled privately. Your reputation is still tarnished with those involved. Word may get out on the grapevine.

3) You get caught, and are not told. The party prefers to not do business with you in the future, storing the information as a character reference. Worse, perhaps they inform the grapevine about the incident.

4) You don’t get caught, but now have to continue feeding the content beast. Who will you steal from next?

This latter consequence may be the most underweighted one. A brand or individual that continuously steals from people suffers in a few ways.

How will you develop the critical thinking necessary to succeed as a top brand in the information economy? Because your are sharing others’ ideas, when it comes time to deliver to customers who are attracted to you because of that content, you won’t perform as promised. Plus the costs of knowing that you didn’t write or deliver that content, which may not be top of mind, could plague you wherever you go. It’s the proverbial look in the mirror.

So, just link and share. If you can’t blog or create content to meet a need, hire help or find a different way to market.

Just some thoughts on plagiarism and its impact. What do you think?

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog. Feature image by Andrea Allen.


  • i would like to see just one example of someone “successfully” plagiarizing content. As in, I’ll steal some content from Geoff Livingston and make a career out of it.

    I dont think a single example exists. So why do people keep doing it? I just dont get it…

    Btw, I did have my post lifted once by an authority blogger. His star has faded however :-)

    • I know three bloggers that have done this in some way or form, and in each case their star waned. I can’t speak for why others liked their content less, but I for one refuse to share content I suspect that is stolen, or generally, someone who steals content and ideas. That includes business leads, and yes, their Klout score ;)

    • Lifting posts is easy to spot. But idea theft is more sinister, and I’ve certainly let it pass out of an unwillingness to get into a public pissing match. It’s SO EASY to link or provide credit when an idea “inspires you” that failing to do so is the worst kind of intellectual laziness, on top of being dishonest.

      • It’s a terrible way to find out who your real friends are.

        • It’s stunning to watch the lack of accountability. But as you say, you do find out who you real friends are… and who is actually worthy of your respect.

    • Examples do exist, unfortunately. Jonah Lehrer, for one, made a career as a blogger and journalist with a plate full of plagiarism and fabrication. It’s difficult to do but it can be done. One step though is to be careful about who you plagiarize from and how much you take…

  • Spundge is a great content development tool that automatically cites where content is taken from so the originators get the proper credit. It’s easy to use too.

  • I’ve never understood why people do it. Online attribution is so easy and so more likely to flatter the other party, giving it lift, credibility, and discussion. When you think about it, the plagiarist steals from themselves as well as others. Idiots.

    • And in their greed to reep the rewards and seem smart, they often achieve the opposite. I’ve seen karma work its way through in several instances, and its not pretty. Usually, as a result, thieves are forced to spend time with other theves and people of questionable character. The end result is much like sharks, who when starved will eat their own.

  • Johns Hopkins made us take courses in plagiarism to make sure that we fully understand what it is, and that we comprehend the consequences. it’s better to take the time to get educated about it, than to risk the consequences that can come from ignorance.

  • Just caught a site that has been blatantly using my content for months. In the process trying to shut them down.

  • With the risk of discovery high and the payback low, I have no idea what the attraction is.

    • I loved what you said about karma in Triberr. I just got to witness that myself a couple of weeks ago. Just brutal. Could not help but smile from afar.

  • Patton Oswalt recently posted a long piece about plagiarism and about what happens to comedians who plagiarized, How, even if they aren’t punished directly, they fall to the wayside because, eventually, they can’t keep up.

    I think the same is true for bloggers. You’ll either get caught and face the music or eventually realize that you’re out of your element and can’t keep pace.

    Still, like Oswalt, I think the greatest danger isn’t the plagiarist themselves but the attitude in society that trivializes plagiarism as an ill…

    • I would agree with that. It’s part of the free culture which doesn’t reward creative capital. In a tengential note, it was interesting to see Pink Floyd slam Pandora for this very reason.

  • Wow! How can we check to see if our stuff is being used elsewhere?

    • You can run your own stuff through copyscape every now and then. If someone’s done a copy-paste-steal then it will show up. You’ll get the direct link to the other person’s website.

  • Plagiarism is ignorant and short-sighted…especially in today’s digital age. As one commenter already said, attribution is so easy…and actually invites input (and the following) from the original source.

    The offenders could also gain more by including only excerpts from the original source (with attribution), and then provide a running commentary that still establishes them as a thought leader – without having to come up with the original content if that isn’t their strength.

    Most of these plagiarists probably do not have large, loyal followings – so they would also be best served by commenting on the original source for a larger set of eyes to see.

    • Exactly! I’ve learned that running commentary off of other people’s attributed and quoted posts actually challenges me to be far more insightful and original than when I was creating posts in a vacuum (even though I wasn’t stealing them, the ideas just were too basic to be very “insightful.”) I’ve been having a lot more fun as a blogger since I started doing that, too.

      • It’s one of the primary reasons I am certain to link back. Attribution and proof that I’m not creating stuff in my magic mind.

    • Oh, I think you might be surprised by some of the people who lift content and ideas. The bigger ones are just more deft at the craft.

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