Are You a Thief? The Pitfalls of Plagiarism

Definition

So what, exactly, is plagiarism and how do we avoid it? Hopefully in the following paragraphs I will be able to give some insight into what defines plagiarism and how to avoid it in you writing. The most simple definition is as follows:

plagiarize -to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source. Source Merriam-Webster

See, even with an extremely common definition such as the one for “plagiarize” you still need to source your work to keep from committing unethical acts. The easiest way to avoid plagiarism is to……..WRITE YOUR OWN MATERIAL….it is really as simple as that. If you are copying and pasting more than a line or two, then you are not creating original content and, therefore, you are a thief. The only time it is acceptable to copy and paste is when you are using direct quotes, small passages to support your idea or thoughts, and snippets from factual sources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias,etc. In each of these instances though, you must indicate that they are not your original content and you must list the source where you received the content from.

It is never appropriate to copy and paste and entire article or paper and submit it as your own, even if you include the source. I have seen quite a bit of confusion over this on the various social media blogging platforms. There are people who think they can copy and paste someone else’s entire paper or article and it is acceptable if they live a link to the original source. This is incorrect. As mentioned above you can only use small excerpts from other works to enhance your own and you must always source where the information came from.

That is not that hard to understand, right? But what about photos, videos, and other media? I will attempt to give you some guidance on these, sometimes, grey areas of creativity and offer suggestions about what is acceptable or not.

Photography

One of the biggest mistakes I see on various writing platforms is the improper use of photography within an article or post. The main issue I see is many authors are using photos that they did not take. They find a photo onliine that matches what they are writing and they add it into their article without thinking twice about it. This is plagiarism. Not only do you have to source every photo that is not yours, you can’t just use any photo you find by using a search engine. It is extremely important that the photography has been licensed for sharing. You must find photos that have been licensed under Creative Commons and have permissions from the owner to be used without compensation. So just going to Google and copying a photo into your post may not work, even if you source it properly if the license are not proper.

I know that sounds extremely complicated and confusing. So in an attempt to make things a bit more simply for you, here are two sites that I use that offer photos that licensed under Creative Commons and you are free to use them in your publications. Just remember that you still have to source them. I routinely use Pixabay and Pexels. They both offer amazing photos that are free to use as long as you source them. Photos can be an engaging way to enhance your blog or article, but just make sure you are doing so ethically.

Videos and Other Media

Most social media writing platforms are still undecided about sampling video or music. Some are completely fine with it, while others consider it plagiarism. I feel that if you use small snippets from a video to make your point or support your argument, then it is acceptable as long as you source it. Of course, it would need to fall under Creative Commons licensing just as photos. The same goes for music as well. There is an awesome site for Creative Commons music to use in your steaming, live videos, and other videos, it is Free Music Archive. I have used it many times in my videos and you can find some really talented musicians hidden with the tons of music available.

The final item that most people can’t seem to agree upon is gifs. Some people see it as no problem adding them to your articles, while others are still on the fence. There is a school of thought that if you modify something enough that it becomes an entirely separate creation. The artist Andy Warhol made and entire career out of manipulating images of people, other pieces of artwork, and copyrighted images. Although many of his creations were changed so much that they constituted a new piece of art, he was also sued by companies in an effort to keep him from using their images and likenesses. I tend to lean towards if it is changed substantially then it should be alright to use.

Reposing Your Own Work

This is a hotly debated topic on just about every social media writing platform out there. Some people feel it is acceptable and others think you should produce something original for each platform you participate on. It is absolutely ethical for you as an artist to publish your work in as many places as you see fit to get the exposure and compensations you deserve for your work and effort. I would, however, mention the first place it was published and have a link back to the original publication. I routine cross post most of my articles across several magazines, blogs, and social media platforms. I usually have a disclaimer and link at the bottom of the article about the original publication. This is absolutely a common practice in the literary world and I don’t understand why it is frowned upon on some crypto platforms.

Conclusion

I hope that this article helped clear up some of the misunderstandings and confusion associated with plagiarism and how to avoid it. It should never be taken lightly and it should be pointed out and punished whenever found. Plagiarism is claiming that something belongs to you when it doesn’t and you are trying to profit off of someone else’s creativity. That is theft and should definitely be treated as such. If you have any questions or need help wading through all the confusion associated with this topic, then feel free to comment here or find me on Discord under the same name.

A version of this post was previously published on Steemit and is republished here with permission from the author.

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