Why We Don’t Plagiarize

Vice President Joe Biden takes the oath of off...

Joe Biden, plagiarist, swearing to uphold the law. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Is plagiarism suddenly all the rage?

Articles about it popping are up everywhere. My new pal Tim Bonner posted about it, as did Content Marketing World speaker Rachel Foster. Craig Silverman writes about it at Poynter.org.  Then I read a post from a marketing student at the University of South Florida, Murewa Olubela.

Murewa focuses on the kind of trouble students can get into for plagiarism. Because she’s a student, and president of her PR club, I can see where she’s coming from.

But I wanted to offer another point of view.

It’s not a matter of the punishment. It’s a matter of your values.


Imagine that on your student PR blog, your new post included a wonderful paragraph. In it you explained an arcane point of PR in a way that was original, interesting, persuasive and memorable. It was so powerful, it could change the way seasoned professionals thought about PR.

Imagine that all your fellow students and faculty agreed: It was a sign of your talent, knowledge, thoughtfulness and leadership. You’re rightfully proud. 

Weeks later, you moseyed over to my blog. There, you find a post on the same subject.

At first you smile because I’m covering the same topic and agreeing with your point of view. And you see that hundreds of people have commented, with rave reviews. In fact, the whole thing has been reposted throughout the PR universe. People are besides themselves with what a great thinker and writer I am.

Then you spot it: Your brilliant paragraph. But it’s right in the middle of “my” post. With no credit to the real author – YOU!

You’d probably feel sick to your stomach.

We don’t plagiarize because it’s stealing.

When you steal someone’s work, you violate them in a very real way.

In the ad world, in the past, one part of the community watched like hawks for stolen ideas. These tended to be the creative, talented ones. Another part of the community – or should I say a parallel community – saw no problem with borrowing someone else’s ideas, images and words, and taking full credit.

Whether you are a student, a marketing director, an agency creative or account supe, or a consultant: It’s never OK to steal someone’s work, even if you think you can get away with it. You can NEVER justify it. Not even with, “The client made us.”

But then, people will eventually forgive some plagiarists.

Look at Joe Biden. He plagiarized a speech and more in 1988 when he was running for the Democrat Party nomination for president. For his punishment, they’ve made him vice-president. Go figure.

If we fail to punish and ostracize plagiarizers, and instead rewarding them, we’ll only see more of it.

Yes, laws can help. But our individual tolerance of this type of theft just makes the problem get worse and worse.

Agree? Or disagree?


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20 thoughts on “Why We Don’t Plagiarize

  1. I agree with you, having written a couple theses in my day, I can’t imagine the effort it took to construct it be copied and pasted at the ease of someone else’s fingertips… then again, nobody in their right mind would want to plagiarize from me to begin with. 🙂

    Good post Barrett

  2. Thanks Ben! Imagine not just a little blog post — but a well researched white paper — that some unscrupulous competitor, perhaps in another part of the world, steals and uses as his own. I think companies have to crank out volumes of content, so that it’s not just one or two examples work in their favor, but also an entire body of work.
    barrett recently posted..Avis: A Vague New Slogan

  3. What? You can’t ‘borrow’ paragraphs like that? I mean, it let me cut and paste it……….

    Stealing is stealing, and it’s not ok to take the philosophy it’s only cheating if you get caught.

    Did I notice you used the word ‘and’ in the third paragraph, just like I used it in the 3rd paragraph in my post today? Just askin’…….
    Bill Dorman recently posted..You don’t have to be perfect

    • Guilty as charged, sir. Beg your forgiveness. I’m giving credit to everyone on everything these days.

      It makes sense that when everyone has to “publish” for their business, a lot of people are taking the cheap, easy way out. I really liked Tim Bonner’s blog for ways to find online thieves, but that doesn’t prevent small-time print-version thievery.
      barrett recently posted..How To Avoid The “Solutions That Matter” Trap

  4. Hi Barrett,

    I always give credit where its due either by linking to the post or the book from where I have received the idea. Plagiarizing some other’s work is not correct.
    Online reputation is really fragile and we need to make sure that it is protected by all means.
    Thanks for making us aware about it
    Ashvini recently posted..Are you a great buyer?

    • Ashvini, thanks for your comment. I worked on a project a few years ago in which a staff of researchers and writers were ghostwriting a book for a CEO. Our group leader was very rigorous in his attention to referencing sources. As a writer of ads, I wasn’t used to it. But it was a good lesson, and good practice. Online it’s so easy to give credit, and by doing so you credit yourself.
      barrett recently posted..Why Marketing Fails In Small and Midsize Businesses

  5. It’s wrong, it’s lazy writing. If someone has something great to say, then by all means share it – but give them their due credit. Hell, I’m even careful to give credit in tweets; if it’s someone’s cool headline and clever post I’m sharing, I make darn sure I mention their name! I quote, cite, link people all the time, that’s how this is supposed to work. Passing off someone else’s creativity – be it a blog post or photo you ‘got off of Google’ – it’s still wrong, it’s still theft, it’s absolutely unprofessional. FWIW.
    Davina K. Brewer recently posted..Please don’t change MY Twitter

    • Thanks for the comment Davina. Thank God there are free photos out there. 🙂

      For me, it goes beyond being careful to give credit to my sources in the blog. I LOVE giving credit. It’s a way of celebrating a shared idea or feeling, and maybe making a connection. On several occasions, I’ve credited people who, before social media, I would probably never get the chance to meet. In return, I received a nice email or DM from these people. That puts the social in social media.

      I guess you could call the plagiarists “anti-social” media.

      barrett recently posted..5 For The Weekend, Vol. 6

  6. Hey Barrett,

    I have seen you around the ‘shere and really enjoy your sense of humour (comments are fun that way). Thought I would come by and see what’s up.

    I agree that to blatantly steal someone’s idea is not cool and to use an idea and not credit them is also not cool but I do believe in being inspired by others ideas and using them to grow your own concepts.

    I wrote a post a while back that dealt with this issue directly that I thought you may enjoy. I took a bit of a hard line stance so we will see. http://theviewfromhere.ca/2012/04/can-cover-bands-teach-us-anything-about-being-creative/

    Anyway. Great thoughts. Really enjoyed the post.
    Ralph recently posted..{Guest Post} Recipes for Success: Copy/Paste or Create Your Own?

    • You make a great distinction Ralph. I just stopped to read your “cover band” blog post and it’s fantastic!

      There’s a big difference between using someone’s ideas as inspiration, or a starting point, and outright theft. We all stand on the shoulders of others. That’s part of the deal in being a member of society.

      You cover it so well in your post, I don’t want to repeat it here — just recommend that people click your link.

      Thanks for checking out this blog and for the comment and link!
      barrett recently posted..Avis: A Vague New Slogan

  7. Hey Barrett

    Thanks for the mention in your post!

    I definitely agree that if we don’t do anything about plagiarism and let people away with it then copying will just become even more rife.

    People will always try and find ways to do this under the radar and that’s where article spinners can be an issue too. You’ll probably never know that someone has copied your work.

    I read somewhere that Copyscape only checks every 4th word for copying, so if people change every 4th word then this probably won’t get picked up by Copyscape either!

    Anyway, if we challenge plariarism, at least we’re doing our bit to try and stop it!

    Thanks for sharing another point of view on this subject.

    Tim Bonner recently posted..Would Your Blog Win A Grand Slam?

    • Thanks Tim. If there’s no shame in stealing work, then we’re going to have our work stolen. I say “our” like my work is so important — that’s not what I’m saying. People spend real money and time to develop valuable content, or art. And they get robbed of their efforts.

      The Biden thing really upsets me because to me, he’s a common thief who has never apologized, to my knowledge. (You know he plagiarized Neil Kinnock, a British Labour leader in the 80s who ran and lost against Thatcher.) And he’s given a place of honor in our society. Humbug!
      barrett recently posted..5 For The Weekend, Vol. 6

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