WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Copycats: plagiarism in blogging

Copycats

Sure, Rand Paul may have lifted a speech from Wikipedia, but is there much plagiarism in blogging? I wonder…

It wouldn’t have occurred to me if I hadn’t stumbled on a few suspect cases over the last few weeks here and there. Blogging is largely a journal of individuals’ thoughts and activities and not necessarily load-bearing when it comes to scholarship or news, but some bloggers put themselves under quite a bit of pressure to publish every day, and we all know that it’s the deadline that usually causes the accidental “borrowing” of someone else’s words. Some of us actually put copyright notices on our blogs to ward off scavengers, but let’s face it, with the ease of cutting and pasting, anyone can snatch a bit of our writing and pass it off as his/her own.

I don’t see much of a deterrent to it in the blogosphere either. Unless the plagiarizer wants to run for office one day or apply for some kind of executive position that would require an exhaustive look-see into his past, getting caught wouldn’t mean very much. An earnest mea culpa, a promise never to do it again — or even ignoring the whole thing. You’re probably not going to feel the pinch.

But still. Writers have to have integrity. We’re the interpreters of experience. We know what all the signs and symbols mean. We’re the oracles and the readers of cultural tea leaves. If you can’t trust us, who you gonna call?

What those who are tempted to swipe others’ work need to realize is that it’s awfully easy to Google suspect phrases and locate the source. (There are even plagiarism checkers that will sift the questionable text through their sieves.) I ran a little experiment a while back. When something didn’t feel quite right in my readings, I copied the eight or ten words that seemed “inorganic,” plugged them into the old search box in quotes, and up popped — at the very top of the list — the original document. Busted! This was more than once, too. Discouraging.

I read a lot of stuff and, as a writer and blogger, I’m always looking for information and thought about a wide array of subjects, from Nietzsche quotes to reviews of books, music, and movies. There are a lot of words out there and a hell of a lot of blogs. It would be easy to convince yourself that nobody will notice if you take this one little paragraph and slip it into your post, but it’s not worth it. Someone might notice. Your integrity will take a hit. You might be able to keep blogging, but some of your readers will always be wondering…

Have you noticed this in your own reading of blogs? Is it prevalent or rare? Does it really matter? Especially if your own blog isn’t monetized, would you be mad or secretly flattered if you found out someone plagiarized your writing?

I guess all I know for sure is, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

16 comments on “Copycats: plagiarism in blogging

  1. jcollyer
    October 29, 2013

    I have noticed that a few posts will crop up around the same sort of time on the same subject: say, writing dialogue or researching or even e-book tips or whatever. But on this kind of scale I think it’s just the nature of the beast. And I don’t mind that. If I write a post on how I write dialogue and it inspires someone else to write their own version, fair enough. I’m not the first person to tackle the subject after all. And I will be been influenced by other posts I have read on the same subject. Besides, as you say, when you write a blog post you will be invariably drawing on your own experience and interpretations which will be unique to you.

    As for out-and-out plagiarism, I have found as a general rule writers are too proud to steal work. Most of the time they should be. They slaved over it, committed themselves to it and worked very hard (most of the time) to make it come about. I find, by and large, they don’t copy other people’s writing because they are committed to their own voice, their own vision, their own ideas. (The more naive ones believe they are all entirely unique). They don’t need to copy.

    Inspiration is another matter entirely. If you get an idea from reading someone else’s story and want to do your own thing with it, I think that’s fair. They say there are only three novels in the world anyway, with a billion different interpretations. So long as you haven’t abjectly stolen the whole thing and just tweaked it here and there I have no problem with this either.

    Art does not exist in a vacuum and if you are in anyway serious about what you are doing you will strive to make it your own. Influence is fine. Copying is unnecessary.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 29, 2013

      Really great points, Jex, and your earlier post is terrific. (I swear I never read it till just now!)

      You make the important distinction between subject/ideas and actual text, and it’s really the text that gets people in trouble. I think all writers understand that ideas are there for the taking, and even style, to a certain extent, can be borrowed, referred to, and manipulated to make their own.

      You just can’t swipe the actual words of another writer and expect to be absolved.

      • jcollyer
        October 29, 2013

        Exactly! You phrased it much more succinctly than I did 🙂 and it’s an important point to make that, whatever your motivation, you cannot steal word-for-word without acknowledgment.

        And no worries! I knew you wouldn’t have read my post 🙂 it just happily proves the point that we all face similar challenges and come up with similar ideas, whether it be fiction or blog posts or articles. Bringing your own voice and experience to it is what counts, and that’s exactly what we’ve both done 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        October 29, 2013

        In other words, great minds think alike!

      • jcollyer
        October 29, 2013

        Fo sho 😀

  2. jcollyer
    October 29, 2013

    I phrase this all much better in this post I did a while ago: http://wp.me/pail1-5b

    🙂

  3. storytimewithbuffy
    October 29, 2013

    I haven’t come across this yet during my blogging adventures. Not that I know of, anyway. I tend to follow people who write about their lives or their interests so I would hope that their words are their own. If not, I wouldn’t want to read their posts. Thank you for mentioning this. I shall be vigilant.

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 29, 2013

      Well, normally I wouldn’t spend much time investigating this sort of thing, but stumbling on a few instances lately did get me to thinkin’.

      I hope it’s not very common…

  4. Amyclae
    October 29, 2013

    Isn’t there a cheery quote by Eliot that quips, a bit profanely, that what differentiates good writers from bad ones is that the former are not afraid of stealing? Heh, I’m sure even he could not abide by lifting wholesale, but when a conversation turns to plagiarism I cannot help myself. It’s something that I abstracticly despise but when I look at the details I can’t help myself. I condone minor plagiarism all the time, or otherwise known as ‘allusions?’

    • Kevin Brennan
      October 29, 2013

      Allusion is one thing, but cutting and pasting another. Most literary allusion — I’m sure you agree — is meant to be recognized. Outright plagiarism is hidden by the absence of attribution and of winks indicating that the writer is purposefully borrowing.

      But hey, it’s the best of times and the worst of times. What the hell…

  5. ioniamartin
    November 1, 2013

    Ah bugger! I just plagiarized part of your post up there to promote–uhm…your post up there. Damn.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 1, 2013

      OMG. Guess what I’ll be reblogging tomorrow!

      Oh, and this kind of plagiarizing is A-OK. 😉

      Grazie!

      • ioniamartin
        November 1, 2013

        Lol. You have a great site.

  6. 1WriteWay
    July 9, 2016

    I don’t know how I managed to Like this post and not comment at the same time. I don’t have your eagle eyes plus I don’t think the blogs I tend to read are likely to be plagiarized, but I don’t doubt that it happens and probably far more often any one realizes. I do think with technology it’s become easier to unintentionally plagiarize (like copying and pasting and forgetting to add quote marks and/or attribution … it’s possible) but obviously it’s also become easier to catch people at it. So you wonder why people bother. Except we’re inundated with information so maybe the plagiarizer figures she/he has good odds of not getting caught because we’re all just too busy.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 9, 2016

      I’m sure only a fraction of the abusers are ever caught, but it’s a long road back to respectability when you do get nailed. Somehow big media seems to be pretty forgiving, though. Mike Barnacle, Dolores Kearns Goodwin, Fareed Zakaria, Joe Biden!

      • 1WriteWay
        July 9, 2016

        Oh, yes, I was thinking of those writers …

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