Plagiarism and 5 Ways to Avoid It

Ian Lurie

I got really angry this weekend, when I discovered someone stole my content. It sounds like it was an accident: Someone gave the blogger in question my writing, said they had permission to use it, and she published it.

It’s still plagiarism, though. Few bloggers or internet marketers understand this. So, here’s a quick explanation of plagiarism, and how you can avoid it.

What Is Plagiarism?

First, you have to understand what plagiarism is. I dusted off my handy copy of Black’s Law Dictionary:

Plagiarism: The act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of his writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one’s own mind.

In plain language, plagiarism occurs when you take someone else’s work and present it as your own. Note that intent is not part of the definition. You don’t have to intend to plagiarize, or be aware that you’re copying someone else’s work.

The Consequences

Oh, also: If you steal copyrighted work, it’s illegal, and you could be sued/fined/thrown into a pit of starving alligators. And, by definition, anything published online is copyrighted. Even if it doesn’t have a copyright!

It’s also a felony under some circumstances.

The Danger

If you run a blog or another type of web site, and someone hands you an article to publish, you’d must verify it’s legitimate. If you don’t, you’re as liable as if you’d intentionally stolen it.

Five Ways to Avoid Plagiarism

  1. Use Google. If someone sends you an article, verify it is theirs to give. It’s easy: Copy 1 sentence from the article. Go to Paste in the sentence and put quotes around it: “Know the Room”, for example. If you see a huge list of sites, try a longer phrase. If you still see sites, something may be wrong. Politely contact the person who sent you the content and make sure you’re OK.
  2. Use the Creative Commons. Many, many bloggers and online writers use the Creative Commons license system. You can use their search tool to double-check. If it is CC licensed, chances are you can still use it, as long as you follow the license’s guidelines for that material.
  3. Read the Article. There’s often something in the article or content that’s a dead giveaway. For example, does the supposed author live in Barcelona, while the article refers to Seattle?
  4. Trust Your Instincts. If something just doesn’t feel right, maybe it isn’t.
  5. Provide Clear Contact Information. If an author can quickly and easily contact you, they are likely going to trust that your mistake is just that – a mistake. If they can’t, they’ll assume the worst.

Other Resources

For more details, look at, which has some great. Also please see Brad Templeton’s great article on the subject.

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  1. Good guide! Seems like your friend over at the other site put together quite a comprehensive guide as well.
    Anyway, I’m not one to throw gas on a fire, even though it can be pretty to look at. 😉
    I look forward to your regularly scheduled programming. 🙂

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