Five Easy Steps to Prevent Plagiarism

In this blog I talk a great deal about stopping plagiarism, especially how to detect it and how to shut it down once it’s discovered.

But while detection and cessation are both well and good, not to mention necessary, preventing your work from being plagiarized in the first place is the true holy grail. After all, Sun Tzu himself said "Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting."

However, preventing plagiarism is not always possible when dealing with works online. Someone, somewhere, is going to swipe your content, making just such a "fight" necessary.

Despite that, there’s several steps that you can, and should, take to prevent many would-be plagiarists from stealing your content. So, without any further ado, here’s my top five list of free, non-evil DRM solutions for protecting your content from unethical users.

1. Have a Clear Copyright Notice

The first, and probably most important, step you can take is placing a clear and concise copyright notice on every page of your sites.

Many plagiarists swipe content because they don’t understand the nature of copyright law and feel that, for whatever reason, it’s perfectly legal to copy and paste at will. Though these illusions about copyright law are fading, largely due to Internet copyright issues making the news so regularly, I still face these misconceptions every time I deal with plagiarists.

A good copyright notice, generally, should have both the traditional elements (© Year Name All Rights Reserved) and also a sternly-written warning about how the site is protected and plagiarists are handled. If such information can’t be placed at the footer, than linking to a separate copyright policy may also be effective.

The bottom line is to make it clear, on every page, that your work is protected by copyright, that plagiarism will not be tolerated ad that it carries consequences. I noticed a 25% drop in plagiarism with a mere change in my copyright notice, others have reported similar improvements.

2. Protect Your Feed

If you run a blog, your RSS feed is your weakest link. You need to either truncate it (use only summary feeds), put a footer on it or find another means of protecting it, such as using Feedburner.

Though copy and paste blog plagiarism does take place frequently, the vast majority of blog content theft involves the RSS feed in some way. Leaving your feed completely unprotected is dangerous and unneeded since it’s possible to have both a very usable feed and a well-guarded one at the same time.

3. Use Numly Numbers

I’ve talked a great deal about Numly Numbers this past week but it bears repeating again. Numly provides a powerful, effective copyright solution that helps to both prove ownership of a work, time of creation and locate copyright holders, all for any kind of digital asset While none of this will prevent a plagiarist from taking your content, it does give them pause to think.

Plagiarists, like any other kind of thief, need to avoid getting caught to stay in business and will look for soft targets from which to loot. Numly Numbers, like the other steps in this article, go a long way to reducing your status as a "soft target". It shows the potential plagiarist that you can prove your ownership of your material and that you take your content seriously.

Though a determined plagiarist will still take your content, one looking for an easy mark will likely pass you on by in favor of someone who treats their content with less concern.

4. License Your Work

While it’s true that licensing your work, for example, under a Creative Commons License, will not prevent theft directly. It’s also true that not all reuse of content is created equal and that some can actually work in your favor.

Legitimate reuse of content not only provides valuable links back, but also actually vouches for the authenticity of the work. Since many plagiarists are just looking for content to fill their sites, giving them a legal means of obtaining free content that also helps you out is a true win-win and will discourage theft.

It also has the benefit of setting down a rock-solid legal policy that is both easily understood and fair. Anyone caught violating that policy is clearly not just an innocent Webmaster looking for free content, but something much more malicious. If nothing else, having a clear line in the sand makes things a lot easier.

5. Make Examples of Those You Have Shut Down

While shame is rarely an effective way to stopping plagiarism (high drama, large amounts of expended energy and low chance of success in most cases) it can serve as an effective deterrent.

Even though you don’t want to make plagiarism the focus of your site, unless it happens to be called Plagiarism Today, making a public example of a few of your worst plagiarists definitely sends a message to those who might come later.

How you do this will vary based upon the nature of your site and and how serious your problem with plagiarism is.

Some Non-Free Options to Consider

Finally, there are few steps that, while not free, can also greatly contribute to reducing the amount of plagiarism you deal with.

First, consider registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.The cost is usually thirty dollars and, in addition to providing proof of ownership, also enables you to sue in federal court for copyright infringement and obtain full punitive damages for any infringement.

Best of all, it offers you a convenient serial number that you can include in your copyright notice to let potential plagiarists know that you are both serious about protecting your works and have taken steps to do so. This raises the seriousness and gives those that would lift pause to think.

Also, if registering your copyright is too daunting of a task, consider using C-Site by Godaddy, it’s a great, low-cost service that handles the paperwork for you. If you decide to do it yourself, the Short Form TX (pdf), the one most writers would use, has only eight simple questions.

Finally, consider joining any appropriate trade guilds or artist groups. They are usually inexpensive to join and provide invaluable networking opportunities. They can also raise the status of your site and, thus, help decrease the number of people willing to take the risk of plagiarizing from it since most plagiarists are looking for high-quality, but relatively unknown, works to take.

As a side benefit, this helps to ensure that your work is being viewed by people in your field who are more likely to spot misuse of your work and be in a position to help you stop it.

Final Thoughts

Finally Considered these links on Plagiarism Today for more help in preventing plagiarism:

Feedburner Fights Splogging and Scraping: More information on the Feedburner "Uncommon Uses" system.

Protecting Images: Five Methods Explored: Information for visual artists on technology to prevent plagiarism of images online.

Tapping Your Readers: A quick how-to guide on using your site’s visitors to help you fight plagiarism.

Technorati : Content Theft, Copyright, Copyright Infringement, Creative Commons, Feedburner, Numly, Plagiarism, RSS

Want to Republish this Article? Request Permission Here. It's Free.

Have a Plagiarism Problem?

Need an expert witness, plagiarism analyst or content enforcer?
Check out our Consulting Website