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Friday, April 3, 2015

Plagiarism - Part 1

When it comes to tough topics for writers I think Plagiarism is worse than the so called writer’s block, at least in my opinion.

But what is plagiarism and how do you know if you’re doing it, or how does someone else know?

Plagiarism is basically defined as the misappropriation of someone else’s work or ideas.  Here’s the Wikipedia link to a lengthy discussion of plagiarism and well worth the time to read it:

I think if you’re a fan of copy and paste you just might want to closely analyze what you copy and from where, as well as where and how you are pasting text.  I keep research files and folders on my computer where I copy and paste information and links for reference but I know that those files and folders are not my work.  They are for reference – period!  If I’m not writing the words myself then it doesn’t go into any of my work without the source being referenced.

History is full of plagiarism examples but you don’t have to go too far back to find many startling examples, at least back to the 18th century when according to the Wikipedia link above, “the modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged,” especially in Europe.  From James Frey to Cassie Edwards there are many cautionary tales for all writers on just how damaging even the accusation of plagiarism or misrepresentation can be.

As you may recall, James Frey, who was one of Oprah Winfrey’s author picks for her book club, went from being an admired recovering addict who shared his gut-wrenching story with the world to being a celebrity writer accused of manufacturing at least part of the book which he previously presented as a memoir.   Technically, his situation is more an example of misrepresentation but when you search for writers who have plagiarized; his name often shows up in the results.

Cassie Edwards who had written more than 100 historical romance novels and who was long herald as a meticulous researcher, especially for a fiction writer, became notorious for “lifting passages” from numerous other sources without acknowledging those sources.  Many of her books have now been pulled from print and you most likely have to go to a garage sale or similar source to find the ones that were pulled from publication by her publishers.

Some of Cassie Edward’s books are still commercially available but from what I’ve been able to research her various publishers had to review all of her books and pull from publication the ones that were not properly cited.  I can’t really tell if she’s written anything new or not but the story was well covered years ago at the following cite:

If you want even more information about plagiarism and the two examples above or any others well you can just “google” it – and therein lies part of the reason that plagiarism is on the rise and has been since what we now know as the Internet and search engines became widely available.  Like many other tasks that use to require leaving your home, or at least getting out of your pajamas in the morning, plagiarism is just a few clicks away.

While not a crime, plagiarism is widely considered a breach of ethics and many intellectual property law suits have been brought in the civil courts by victims who’ve not been recognized or compensated when their work has been copied or used without their permission.  And - it’s not restricted to writers!  Recent examples of court awarded copyright infringement settlements in the world of music have highlighted just how pervasive plagiarism is and just how easy it is to do.

We are all influenced by the world around us and the events we live through so it’s understandable that some of those influences will show up in our own work but this isn’t what plagiarism is about.  Plagiarism is about not properly recognizing someone else’s work or ideas when you are using it to create or enhance your own, especially for monetary gain.

More about how to detect plagiarism and the concept of “fair use” in my next post, but in the meantime just be careful where you copy and paste, especially if you’re still in your pajamas.


  1. There's also been recent issues with using picture that have been copyrighted. Not exactly plagiarism, but you do need to be careful when pulling images from the web to use on blogs and things.

  2. When I refer to something, I like to use a link for readers to go to the source, so as not to worry about going over the line.

  3. Great info, Terri. Thanks for reminding us to be careful.