The ethical concerns that are raised by plagiarism means those accused of dishonestly copying another's work rarely avoid public scrutiny and condemnation.
Actor Shia LaBeouf suffered a media storm following the release of a film bearing striking similarities to, and alleged direct lifts from, a Daniel Clowes comic. A law firm has also got into a spot of bother after legal journalist Joshua Rozenberg spotted the reproduction of other's writings, including his own, on their blog without accreditation.
The morality (or amorality) of copying in art is not, conceptually, clear cut. As LaBeouf has crudely attempted to demonstrate, the line between creative appropriation and dishonest kidnapping of another's work is necessarily pliable. This flexibility, however, does not apply to online content - it would be quite a stretch to claim copy and paste as an artistic process.
As more people feel pressure to create content in order to catch an audience, corners can be cut. In rare cases, another's work is directly lifted in order to populate blogs and websites with allegedly unique content. More often, copying happens unintentionally because of a failure to credit the original author.
Yet the intention behind copying another's work is ultimately irrelevant. A charge of plagiarism connotes dishonesty and can have a particularly damaging effect on reputation. It hardly needs to be written, but, for those that value their integrity and intellectual honesty, original content that properly credits its sources is vital.
Keeping these following basic rules in mind will help avoid content being blighted with unintentional plagiarism.
Give credit where it's due. If you've read an article and have used its ideas then it is safer to credit the source of your inspiration. Rather than criticise you for it, many readers will be glad to see your information backed up by (another) credible source (always make sure you reference sources that you know and trust). Remember to use the quotation marks if you are lifting exact chunks of text.
Paraphrase correctly. Changing a few words and using synonyms is still classed as plagiarism. If you are paraphrasing, then make sure to restate someone else's ideas in your own words and credit them with the ideas.
Add your own opinions, style, tone and flavour. Your readers will probably recognise if you have lifted a passage of text as it will be different from your usual style. Where you have quoted someone else, try to add in your own opinion or justification – it will help make the content your own and (hopefully) will be more interesting to read.
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