Writing an Effective Plagiarism Warning

First off, there’s no such thing as a completely effective plagiarism warning. Much like with any other kind of theft, if someone is going to steal your content, they’re going to do it regardless of threats or warnings.

Much like how legal consequences have failed to dissuade home burglaries or armed robberies, a plagiarism warning, even when backed up with action, isn’t going to stop the worst from taking your work.

Still, given the number of people latching on to misconceptions about copyright law and don’t realize that they can be caught if they choose to plagiarize, it’s generally worth the time to protect your work from theft with a well-worded warning. Furthermore, it sets it up so that those who do steal have absolutely no excuse for their actions, making the fight go much more smoothly.

But writing an effective anti-plagiarism warning isn’t an easy thing, especially for those not familiar with copyright. Luckily, such a warning is less about legalese and more about psychology.

Here are the steps to writing an effective plagiarism warning…

Make it Legal

Before you do anything, make sure that you have a copyright symbol, the year the work was created and the line “All Rights Reserved” (or “Some Rights Reserved” if using a Creative Commons License) at the footer of each piece.

Though none of this is required to preserve copyright, many will assume that by not doing it you’re donating your work to the public domain and that they are free to do as they please with it.

In addition to posting this footer at the bottom of your works, it’s also a good idea to have a well-written legalese copyright policy. I strongly encourage the use of a Creative Commons License as it provides both human and lawyer-friendly versions, but there are other sites out there that offer help with creating a more traditional copyright policy.

Use Psychology

Most plagiarists, even those who might have misunderstandings about the legality of their act, understand that it’s not a moral thing to do. Plagiarism is lying and even a child can understand that. Appealing to a potential plagiarists sense of morality and/or decency will get you nowhere as that has already been forsaken.

Instead, focus on convincing the plagiarist that, if he/she steals you work, that they will be caught and punished. Furthermore, tell them why they will be caught, how it will happen and what the consequences will be. Lay it out for them.

Part of this is having an effective anti-plagiarism strategy in place to start with. If you’re using Google Alerts or Copyscape to check for your work, mention it specifically. Go into detail about how often you search for your work and what you do when you discover theft. Make it clear that these are inescapable consequences of content theft.

Also, it’s worth a few lines to let potential academic plagiarists know that you’re already in most major databases that teachers use to check for plagiarism. Even if you’ve made no effort to do so, being in Google already puts you within easy reach of instructors and you’re almost certainly contained in the LexisNexus Copyguard database as well. Though many will recognize it as redundant, others need to be told specifically.

Back it Up

Finally, back up everything you say. If you’ve stopped plagiarists in the past, list a few of the incidents that you’ve dealt with. It might be worth your time to create a “Hall of Shame” or similar page that lists off plagiarists who were caught and dealt with.

The idea is to let anyone who’s torn on the issue know that all of this isn’t just a bluff. You have done it before and you will do it again.

While there will always be those who either ignore the warnings with a simple “it won’t happen to me,” or miss them altogether, usually in their hurry to copy, paste and move on to the next target. This has the same effect as posting an alarm system sign in your front yard. It gives those who do care about being caught something to think about and reason to go somewhere else.

Of course, that is the bitter truth in all of this. Even the plagiarists that your warning does stop will likely just move on to another target. They aren’t likely to simply change their ways and never steal again.

However, it’s up to all of us to protect our works and our rights. Our freedoms aren’t protected by one person standing up for everyone, but by individuals each asserting their rights. If enough of us take these steps, plagiarists will have to think twice before blindly copying and pasting.

After all, it only takes a small percentage of Webmasters to take serious action against plagiarism to to make the act a risky proposition. The riskier it is, the fewer plagiarists we’ll have and the less we’ll all have to deal with.

So, even though posting a warning isn’t a perfect step, it is an important one and shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially when being used as part of a larger plagiarism strategy.

[tags]Plagiarism, Copyright Law, Copyright, Content Theft, Internet[/tags]

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