You’ve caught a plagiarist. Perhaps they took your work or maybe you’re a teacher dealing with a plagiarist student. Though you have a protocol in place for dealing with these cases, somehow simply filing a copyright notice or turning the matter over to the disciplinary board just doesn’t seem adequate.
Instead, you want to have a bit of fun busting your plagiarist. Whether it’s to drive the lesson home or just to do something different, you want to turn the situation around and be a little more creative.
While none of the methods below are the easiest or most reliable way to deal with plagiarism cases, they certainly can make an effective point and, more importantly, teach a slightly stronger lesson.
To be completely clear, I’m not actually recommending you use any of these ideas. There are legal risks that come with resolving plagiarism cases publicly and, they are far from the most efficient and reliable ways to get resolution. Furthermore, since these methods involve some amount of deception, using trickery stop a thief is, at best, ethically dubious.
I have not used these methods nor do I recommend others to do so.
Still, if you’re looking for some non-traditional (and perhaps slightly sadistic) ways to teach a plagiarist a lesson, here are a few techniques I’ve seen used by others over the years. If nothing else, it’s a bit fun to imagine watching the dishonest squirm under the weight of their own lies.
1. Ask Them Questions
Plagiarists rarely read and understand their source material, something that you, as either the author or the person who caught them, most likely have a great deal of. This gives you an advantage and lets you, rather than confronting them directly, try a more subtle approach.
Rather than lobbing accusations directly, try asking questions of the plagiarist and force them to answer tough queries on what they claim to have written. This can work great in a classroom setting, and is often used as proof of plagiarism by savvy teachers, but it can work well online as well if you can publicly ask questions that can’t be easily searched for on Google.
Good questions test the person’s knowledge by trying to connect the work in question with another work, for example, asking how a character is like or different from another in literature.
The plagiarist is then forced to either really quickly pick up the material or, more likely stammer and give very stupid answer. Even if a quick-thinking plagiarist is able to parry a the first few questions, most will quickly trip up after a short barrage.
I’ve seen some cases where the plagiarist was pushed hard enough and, eventually was almost glad to admit that they didn’t write the work. Perhaps it’s better in some minds to be a plagiarist than a fool.
2. Put Words in Their Mouth
This works particularly well if your plagiarist either took a large body of work or took a piece from a larger collection. Once again, trusting that your plagiarist has little understanding of their source material, claim that their content says things it doesn’t.
It can be just about anything you want from an outrageous statement, to a political opinion the plagiarist would never hold to providing fake “spoilers” for when a plagiarist takes one or two works in a series.
This works best with online plagiarism as. when the plagiarist asks for proof, you can say that you found their original site and will have to hunt down the link later. This has two effects, first it forces them to scramble to either understand or defend a statement that doesn’t exist and it lets them know that you’ve seen the works on the other site. This forces the plagiarist to either admit that they took the work, accuse the other site (your site) of plagiarism or try to defend something they can’t possibly argue.
If the plagiarist attempts to make the second argument, simply say that the earlier site was clearly posted well before the new one, you were reading it for some time and assumed it was their original site before they moved to their new location. Now they have to either explain an obvious discrepancy or start trying to find the statement that doesn’t exist.
3. Become the Plagiarism Police
Finally, you can play the role of helpful whistleblower and pretend that you’ve detected their work being plagiarized and point, either in the comments or on a forum, to the original site. If you want, you can take things a step farther by pretending to have already sent the “plagiarist” (meaning yourself) a nasty letter demanding that they apologize.
This tells the plagiarist A) That someone has seen the original and remembered the two and B) Alerted the original author to the misuse. There’s a good chance, when faced with this, that the plagiarist will run into hiding already but if they don’t you can continue the fake conversation and indicate that the other author is investigating the matter and may be seeking legal counsel.
Little seems to make a plagiarist worry more than realizing their victim is on to them and that they are going to be especially angry about it considering they were just accused of being the thief.
To reiterate, you shouldn’t actually do any of these. There are potential legal consequences that can arise any time you hand a plagiarism case publicly and these methods are far less reliable and far more time-consuming than the more direct approaches. Also, using deception to battle liars and thieves only belittles yourself and your efforts.
Still, it’s often times fun to think up creative ways for dealing with plagiarism cases and these are just a few of the possibilities.
If you have a creative way you think you could resolve a plagiarism case, whether online or in the classroom, definitely leave a comment below, I’ll be eager to hear them.