Woman Made a MistakeThis is a guest post written by freelance writer Nancy Lin. If you would like to submit a guest post to the site, please contact me and let me know.

Whenever you come across a plagiarism-related article, the very first thought that may come to your mind is “Now I’ll learn how to protect my precious content from illegal use”. No wonder. Anxiety and self-protection are among the primary human instincts. That’s why many of us forget that can easily become the guilty too. The same is true when it comes to unintentional or unwitting plagiarism.

Clear understanding of what it is and what possible precautions can be taken are essential for anyone dealing with content including website owners, content writers, bloggers, etc. So, what constitutes unwitting plagiarism and how much you should know about proper attribution of videos, images, and texts crafted by others? The answers are below.

Unintentional Plagiarism: What It Is and When It Occurs

Unwitting plagiarism is about mentioning or using someone’s content or ideas without proper acknowledgement, because of incorrect referencing, poor paraphrasing, not knowing copyright rules, etc.

The internet untied the knot on the hands of content creators making information more accessible and increasing the competition. As a result, you have to cope with bigger amount of tasks in no time. That’s why lots of important details are often left unnoticed. Among them there are the following:

  • Failing to (carefully) read Content Usage/Attribution Policy

These guidelines may be named differently, of course. But the main point is – they must be read by everyone willing to use statements, images, or videos published on a specific online source. For example, Terms of Use on CNN provide a separate section for User Content and Conduct. Not taking into account these policies, you immediately put yourself at risk of being accused of illegal actions. This can entail large financial losses and long hours spent in court too.

  • Misunderstanding the “public domain” term

“Public domain” should be interpreted as a status of the work which is not protected by copyright. These works are available for distribution, editing, copying and other unrestricted use including сommerce. For example, the copyright term for “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens has already expired. This is why the story has become the plot basis for so many movies and cartoons.

Additionally, there is a list of works that can’t be under the copyright protection. These are titles, ideas, facts, processes, systems and many more. To dig deeper into the issue, you can check this link out.

Besides, for you to easily find all the works being in public domain, Creative Commons introduced a special mark, which is similar to the copyright symbol. Though, guidelines for the works with public domain status may vary in different jurisdictions. That’s why double check is absolutely necessary. You can never be too careful.

  • Paying little attention to the origin of web content

With pressing deadlines, you can eventually use the work which has already been ripped off. This can make you a plagiarism crime accomplice. Not to get into the trap, choose only reliable sources with clear Terms of Use.

If you welcome guest writers to contribute articles to your website or if you hire a freelance writer to create content for another web section, make sure to check it for originality long before publishing on the site.

  • Giving no due credit to the source of information

Leaving out quotation marks especially when you need to mention more than just one sentence may mislead your readers. Thus, your authorship can be questioned.

As for visual content, acknowledging the author isn’t always enough. The thing that should be done in the first place is asking for permission, and then giving credit to the author.

  • Ignoring copyright and fair use rules

There’s a fine line between copyright and fair use policies. Similar to public domain, copyright rules may vary from country to country. That’s why it makes sense to bookmark a number of web pages to consult on copyright related issues, e.g.: International copyright treaties, copyright length for different countries, etc.

Essential Measures to Stay Safe 

The more you know about your enemies, the better you understand how to fight them. The same rule is applicable for finding proper techniques to prevent unwitting plagiarism.

To ensure you are still on the light side of the Force, here’s a short checklist for you to make use of:

  • Carefully study key fair use, public domain, and copyright rules.
  • Find credible sources.
  • Read and follow the content usage/attribution guidelines published on the site.
  • Attribute the author and contact him/her in person to get a written permission to use content.
  • Avoid citing large portions of someone’s content and take time to provide more personal insight instead.

For more details on how to better cite different types of content, find some prompts below.

Citing Text: Blog Posts, Data, Social Media Posts, News

To make your own posts or articles more credible, it’s quite natural to insert the facts or data provided by some highly reputable people into your content. For word-for-word quotes, put quotation marks around the author’s words, and mention the name of the author or/and resource you found the information on.

Even if you paraphrase their ideas, you should reference the original source. Sharing the same views doesn’t mean there’s no need to do it.

Numerous introductory phrases can help you acknowledge the author in a simple and natural way. Besides, you can even establish good relationships with him or her by indicating one of the social media accounts readers can follow to read other publications of the author.

The best practice for quoting news or data is not only to include “according to …” phrases into the article, but also link back to the source.

Quoting the source via social media seems to be even much simpler. For example, to mention someone in your tweet, you just need to type “via @username”; for LinkedIn – copy and paste the link to the post together with the company or person’s name; for Facebook – link back to the person or company’s timeline.

With a huge amount of posts to be published daily, you will obviously need a number of online tools able to timely detect content similarities and prompt you that they need attributing. Among them can be these two:

  • Copysentry for keeping an eye on your website content and informing you about duplicated content spotted elsewhere on the internet.
  • Unplag for checking texts you receive from other writers or generate on your own for matching content and see the sources to be attributed.

Citing Images/Photos/Infographics

Unless you give preference to royalty-free stock images as the ones provided by Unsplash or Pexels, you should get familiar with the license an image or photo is protected with. They specify whether you can use visuals for commercial purposes and modify them or not. Some photostocks may even provide samples of proper citing to be placed below each image.

As for infographics, rules to be followed are almost the same. Though, you may be required to contact its creator to obtain an official permission for reposting.

If inspiration never leaves you, there is a great number of resources to design your own visuals, such as ThinglinkInfogr.am or Canva.

Citing Videos 

When featuring someone’s video in your article, presentation, or on a website, you should also cite the original source. But, it’s not the only thing to be done. Depending on the purpose and character of use you can either be allowed or not allowed to embed a video into your post. General guidelines are stated in fair use policies, whereas more precise ones should be read on each particular source.

For example, Youtube suggests its copyright guidelines for users to see what type of videos can be submitted and what way videos should be acknowledged.

Bottom Line

Whatever your usual workload is, learning what is meant by fair use, copyright, and citation rules is crucial to build trust with your readership and not to lose your high search ranking positions.

Though reading content attribution guidelines along with numerous regulations related to copyright may seem to be a daunting and time-consuming task, you need to do it only once.

Later, you will just look through the guidelines provided by a specific resource and make sure the content it offers is correctly cited.

So, whenever in doubt, drop a line to the content creator and keep on impressing your readers or website visitors with well-grounded and unique content.

About the Author

Nancy ImageNancy Lin is a young and enthusiastic freelance writer from Kansas City. Her favorite thing about writing is the way she can’t breathe whenever a good idea arrives. Connect with Nancy via Twitter and LinkedIn

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