What is Plagiarism?



bart simpson writing lines on a green coloured blackboard



Taking Credit for Someone Else's Work

Trying to find original articles to read online about crystals rocks and minerals can be quite a challenge because so much of what's available is repetitive, unoriginal and in many cases has been written for the sole purpose of improving a website's search engine ranking. I research extensively in preparation for articles that I write for Stone Mania and have been posting articles online for many years and one thing I can say for certain is that plagiarism is everywhere.  According to the Oxford Dictionary the word plagiarism means "the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as your own". It comes from the Latin 'plagiarius' meaning 'kidnapper' and the practice contributes to a huge amount of inaccurate and misleading information being circulated online.


Well written articles have the potential to rank well in Google search results which is essential if your want to drive traffic to your website.  Over the last few years more and more online retailers have turned to writing articles about their products or services in an attempt to improve search engine ranking.  As word spread that content peppered with relevant keywords was a great way to attract traffic to a retail website, articles on almost every subject imaginable quickly started appearing in search results.  As the world and his wife suddenly started writing, it wasn't long before the age old problem of plagiarism surfaced and Google has worked hard to address the issue of duplicate content by making regular changes to their algorithm to ensure they can deliver the best possible results to a search query.

Plagiarism is nothing new and the practice has been going on ever since there have been words and ideas to copy.  The word was first used in some form around 80 AD and it's widely believed that William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci both plagiarised work from others.  Until internet use became widespread, plagiarism was something most of us were largely unfamiliar with but with the rapid growth of information being shared online since 1995, the opportunity to steal other people's work became easier and more tempting than ever so what followed really came as no great surprise.

Prior to the internet the only way of doing research on a subject was to read books, encyclopaedia's or printed reference material and although a certain amount of that text is sure to have been plagiarised, it generally wasn't something that most of us took too much notice of.  Today however with so much information being available through the internet things are different and it's much easier to identify information that has been copied from one source and used in another.

Not so long ago the snippets of text that appeared in Google search results included the exact words that had been used in the search which made it easy to identify duplicate content.  I remember doing some research for an article I was writing on the mineral turquoise and knew the name had originated from the French words "pierre turquoise" but other than that knew very little about it.  Having used the words "pierre turquoise" to search for information, hundreds of pages appeared but as well as featuring those two words, many of the sentences which had been taken from different websites were strangely similar.  Considering these articles had all been written by different people it just wasn't possible they could all include exactly the same information written in such a similar manner.  From that point onwards I became acutely aware of just how big the problem was of plagiarism online. Although it was fairly obvious that some articles had been altered slightly to try and fool the reader into believing they had not been copied, in others no attempt at all had been made to disguise the fact.

It's true to say that when writing an article about amethyst for example there's always going to be a certain amount of information that's the same as in other articles especially considering most people do research on a topic before writing about it.  With that said, we all have our own way of expressing ourselves so whilst a few lines of text or the odd paragraph may possibly be similar to what someone else has written, the likelihood of so many people using exactly the same information that's also written in an almost identical manner is highly unlikely.


Paraphrasing Leading to Inaccuracy

Once Google started addressing the problem of duplicate content by penalising pages in search results, people slowly started becoming more aware of what they were publishing and the importance of it being original.  Whilst it was a turning point for many, there was still no shortage of people out there who thought they could beat the system and who continued to plagiarise but instead of changing just a few words here and there whilst retaining the structure of the sentence, whole sections were being paraphrased and information from different sources was also being introduced.  I can only talk about retail websites that I visited whilst doing research for crystals and gemstones and although it wasn't always to easy to tell immediately when a page had been copied, running a few lines through a plagiarism detection service such as copyscape quickly revealed how many other pages online featured exactly the same information.  Another serious problem was also coming to light and that was the spread of inaccurate information on a vast scale.  With so many people paraphrasing articles that had already been paraphrased many times before and different words and terminology being used each time in order to try and avoid featuring any duplicate content, facts were being lost and information was frequently being conveyed in an incorrect manner.  As the process repeated itself across the entire internet the problem only got worse.



five paragraphs of almost identical text



The reason why this issue is so prevalent on smaller retail websites is because whilst these business owners understand the importance of publishing articles in order to improve search engine ranking for queries relating to their product or service, most do not have the time or resources to keep writing them.  To get around this they either plagiarise material from another website before reproducing and republishing it as their own, or turn to copywriter who in many cases will not have the experience to write about a specialised subject matter.  With time being money the article will need to be written as quickly as possible so a limited amount of research will be carried out before something is reproduced from material that's already widely available online.  Whilst the end product may appear to be original and well written and is likely to rank well because it features all the relevant keywords for the business or product that it's promoting, there's a pretty good chance it will lack accuracy.



Plagiarising Plagiarised Articles

With almost four billion people using the internet worldwide and almost two billion active websites, a huge amount of data is being shared on a daily basis hence the ability to plagiarise someone else's work is as easy as copy and paste.  The problem of plagiarism will never go away but with technology evolving all of the time Google will keep finding new ways to tackle it and by identifying duplicate content they can also prevent it from ranking well in search results.  Here's a great example of how accuracy can become lost by plagiarising articles that have already been plagiarised.  It relates to a story about the mineral amethyst that's featured on countless websites and relates to a myth that was written by a French Poet by the name of Remy Belleau that was published a year before his death in 1576.  This is a copy of the original text which I hasten to add is not that easy to find;


"Bacchus (Roman name for Dionysus, Greek God of wine) was pursuing a maiden named Amethyste who refused his affections. Amethyste prayed to the gods to remain chaste, a prayer which the goddess Diana answered, transforming her into a white stone. Humbled by Amethyste's desire to remain chaste, Bacchus poured wine over the stone as an offering, dyeing the crystals purple"


Although written in the 15th century it's stated in almost every article that I've read that it comes from Greek mythology which simply isn't true and furthermore, as the text has repeatedly been republished its content has changed considerably and in some cases is not even recognizable as the original verse.  Furthermore several variations have also appeared and they too claim to have come from Greek mythology,  This is one of the most popular;


Dionysus had been insulted by a mortal and swore to slay the next who crossed his path creating fierce tigers to carry out his wrath. The mortal turned out to be a beautiful young woman named Amethystos who was on her way to pay tribute to Artemis (Goddess of virginity and protector of young girls). Her life was spared by Artemis who transformed the maiden into a statue of pure crystalline quartz to protect her from the brutal claws. Dionysus wept tears of wine in remorse for his action at the sight of the beautiful statue. The God's tears subsequently stained the quartz purple.


Despite being a heart-warming tale it is just that and is certainly not from Greek or any other mythology. The only reference to amethyst in Greek mythology relates to a stone that was given to Dionysus by the titan Rhea in order to preserve the wine-drinker's sanity.  The myth as written by Remy Belleau has been reproduced so many times there are now many different versions in circulation, some slightly longer others shorter and then there are those like the one above which bear no resemblance at all to the original piece of work.

What many people are unaware of is that whenever a reference is made to someone else's work it's perfectly acceptable for it to be copied and republished without being penalised by Google for duplicate content providing citations are used.  Citations show the reader where the work has come from and reveal the identity of the author and must be used whenever something is quoted, paraphrased, if an idea has been used that has come from someone else and whenever a reference is made to someone else's work. They also enable the reader to find the original text should they wish to and when used correctly, the republished work is not regarded as plagiarism.  


plagiarism written in large red letters



Don't Plagiarise Create Something Better

Plagiarism is not just about reproducing written material in order to try and pass it off as your own but also includes ideas, photographs and even the way a business presents itself.   In many ways it's similar to copyright infringement which is using someone else's work without obtaining their permission but plagiarism differs because not only is the work being used, but the person whose using it is also taking credit for it.

Some years ago whilst doing research online I landed on the page of a retail website whilst looking for information relating to a particular mineral.  Curious about who was behind the business I started exploring the website and was surprised at how similar it was to mine.  I subsequently discovered that this business had stolen a huge amount of information from my website to use on their own and had made no attempt at all to hide it.  They had literally copied and pasted page after page after page.  As if that wasn't shocking enough, they had also stolen design ideas including website colours, logos and even copied and reproduced my network of internal links.  Not a single page of text of their entire website was original, it had all been copied from mine.  The company who are called Lumina Jewellery had been caught red handed.  As well as plagiarising our work online they even copied the way we presented our business at the shows and county fairs that we used to do.  I'm fairly sure this kind of behaviour is pretty rare or I certainly hope it is but it goes to show that some people really believe they are entitled to use other people's work simply because they have access to it. 

With regards to writing articles to publish online for the purpose of improving search engine ranking, my advice is to write original and interesting content and instead of using a copywriter, consider finding someone who specialises in the subject matter and ask them to write a guest blog on your website.  If you use someone else's work and decide to paraphrase it be sure to retain accuracy and be aware of words and terminology because what you write may be understood differently by those who read it and always use citations correctly.  Use a plagiarism detection service to ensure your article is unique and recheck it periodically to ensure copies of your work do not start appearing elsewhere online unless of course citations have been used.

Lastly forums and websites like Reddit, Quora and many others are a great place to get ideas for articles to write and also to discover new and original information.  They're also perfect for obtaining answers to questions that you may be struggling with.  All kinds of people use these sites so it's probable that someone with a wealth of knowledge on whatever it is that you're asking about will be happy to share their expertise with you.