What is Plagiarism?

 

 Bart Simpson writing on a blackboard I must not plagiarize from Stone Mania

 

 

Contents

1. Plagiarism; Stealing Someone's Work to Pass Off as Your Own
2. Paraphrasing Often Leads to Inaccuracies
3. Plagiarising Plagiarised Articles
4. Don't Plagiarise Create Something of Your Own

 

 

 

Plagiarism Stealing Someone's Work to Pass Off as Your Own


Trying to find original articles to read online particularly about crystals rocks and minerals can be quite a challenge because so much of what's available is repetitive, not accurate and in many cases has been written for the sole purpose of improving 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.  One thing I can say for certain is that plagiarism is a real problem.


 

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 imperative if you want to drive organic 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 try and achieve page one 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 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 in recent years to address the problem.  Duplicate content no longer ranks well and by making regular changes to their algorithm, they have raised awareness and continue to work hard to combat what is basically theft.

The practice of plagiarism is not new and has been going on ever since there have been words to say and ideas to copy.  The word itself was first used in some form around 80 AD and it's widely believed William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci both plagiarised material 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 the work and ideas of others became easier and more tempting than ever.

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 recognised.  Today however with so much information being readily available things are different and it's much easier to identify information that has been copied from one source and used in another.

 

 

screenshot of the meaning of plagiarize from a dictionary

 

 

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 find duplicate content.  I remember doing some research for an article I was writing about the mineral turquoise and knew the name had originated from the French words "pierre turquoise" but other than that knew very little about the stone's history.  Having used those two words in a search hundreds of results appeared but as well as featuring the words pierre turquoise, much of what I was seeing looked strangely similar.  Considering the results all came from different sources it just wasn't possible they could all include exactly the same information written in almost the same manner.  From that point I became acutely aware of just how big the problem of plagiarism was. Although it was fairly obvious that some articles had been altered to try and fool the reader into believing it was an original piece of work, in others no attempt at all had been made to hide the fact that it had been plagiarised.

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 express ourselves in different ways so whilst a few lines of text or the odd paragraph may well be similar to what someone else has written, the likelihood of so many people using exactly the same information written in an almost identical manner is highly unlikely.

 

 

Paraphrasing Often Leads to Inaccuracies


Once Google started addressing the problem of duplicate content by penalising pages in search results, people slowly became more aware of what they were publishing.  Whilst it was a turning point for many, there was still no shortage of people who believed they could beat the system hence continued to plagiarise.  The only difference however was that 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 several different sources was being merged into one article.

From my experience I found that some of the worse perpetrators were small online businesses particularly those who sold gemstones, jewellery and crystals.  Although it wasn't always easy to tell immediately whether an article was original, running a few lines of text through a plagiarism detection service 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 caused by those who were trying to disguise work that had been copied.  With so many articles being paraphrased from articles that had already been reproduced many times previously and with new words and terminology being used each time to avoid being penalised for duplicate content, facts were being lost and information was being misunderstood.  As the process repeated itself across the world wide web the problem only got worse.

 

 

screenshot of Google search result on the mineral amethyst featuring plagiarised text

 

 

I believe the reason this issue is so prevalent on smaller retail websites is because although these businesses understand the importance of publishing articles in order to improve search engine ranking, most do not have the time or resources to keep writing them.  To get around this they either plagiarise material from another website or turn to copywriter who may not have the experience to write about a specialised subject matter.  With time being money the article will 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 read well and appear to be an original piece of work and may even do well on Google, there's a good chance of it being vague and lacking 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 daily hence the ability to plagiarise someone's work is as easy as copy and paste.  The problem is never going to go away completely but with technology evolving all of the time, Google will keep finding new ways to tackle it.

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 .  It 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 ever read that it comes from Greek mythology which simply isn't true.  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 are 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 it is acceptable to copy and republish someone else's work 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 of Your Own


Plagiarism is not just about reproducing written material in order to 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 is slightly different because not only is the work being used, but the person using it is also taking all the credit.

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 own.  I subsequently discovered they had plagiarised a significant amount of information and had made no attempt to hide it.  They had literally copied and pasted page after page after page and had even reproduced my network of internal links.  As if that wasn't bad enough, they had also taken design ideas including colours, logos and even replicated photos I had taken.  The company who are called Lumina Jewellery had been caught red handed.

As well as plagiarising my work online they also copied the way that I presented my business at retail events.  I would imagine this kind of behaviour is pretty rare or I hope it is but it goes to show that some people believe they are entitled to help themselves to other people's work simply because they have access to it.

 

 

two almost identical pages of text from two different websites. One has plagiarised from the other

 

 

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 someone else's work is so interesting that you want your visitors to see it, you can either add a backlink to their page or copy and paste the article providing you then add a citation.  If you decide that you want to rewrite the information ensure the article remains accurate and be aware of words and terminology because what you write may be understood differently by those who read it.  Using a plagiarism detector can help you to discover whether your work has been copied and is being re-used without your permission.  

A perfect example of information that has been repeatedly plagiarised whilst losing accuracy along the way can be seen in an article that I wrote about Kambaba Jasper.  The facts about this stone became so mixed up with another material with a similar name that articles being written contained a significant amount of inaccurate information. In fact the incorrect information had been plagiarised so many times that just like the original myth about amethyst, it became almost impossible to find the truth.

Whilst doing research for articles may not be everyone's strong point, it's worth bearing in mind that online forums and websites like Reddit, Quora and many others are a great place to get ideas and to discover new and original information.  They're also perfect for obtaining answers to questions that you may be struggling with.  They're used by all kinds people with knowledge on an endless variety of different subjects so whatever it is that you're looking to find out, someone will be able to help.