A basset hound.
A basset hound. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A couple weeks ago I posted a piece here at the Kitchen on some recent announcements from Amazon. Shortly afterward, I was surprised to receive a message from the Kitchen’s editor, Kent Anderson, to the effect that my blog had been plagiarized. I went to the offending site, and was stunned by what I saw. It was an uncomfortable experience, which made me angrier the more I thought about it.

I am not going to post the link of the offending party, as that will only add traffic (and Google PageRank) to the site, but this is what I found:

  • The entire text of my post had been reproduced — the copycat had not stuck to Internet protocol and copied simply an abstract
  • There was no link to the Kitchen site at all
  • My name did not appear anywhere
  • The offending site displayed advertisements, making the plagiarism a commercial use

The copycat happens to sell consulting services, as do I. It was very galling to see my own work used in this way by a competitor.

I decided to take my case to an Internet community in which I participate. I told the story and got some interesting, almost entirely supportive responses. Among the things I learned was that this individual had done this before to others, including to at least one Internet luminary. No matter how some people feel about file-sharing on the Internet, plagiarism is held in contempt by everyone. Some community members wrote to the offending site to complain. The offender was getting loudly criticized within this community until one respected member of the community spoke up on his behalf. She vouched for the guy, said he truly was careful about this kind of thing, and that this one instance was surely a mistake. The thread died out then, having outlived its useful life.

Several days later, the offender posted an apology. The case is now closed, though we don’t have a conviction.

It is difficult to describe how annoying this incident has been. Yes, I blog without direct compensation. Yes, access to the blog is free. Yes, people pick up pieces of the posts all the time. And we have any number of pieces that get translated into other languages, but always after asking permission. But no one had ever behaved like this before, at least to me. Unfortunately, you can’t throw a brick across the Internet. You can only howl. That basset hound you hear in the background is me.

I am one of the lucky ones, I suppose, as I was able to get an apology. But what of people who work without the support of a community? Do you have to be one of the Jets from West Side Story (“You’ve got brothers around/You’re a family man”) in order to assert your rights?

I am not a professional writer, but if I were, I think casual talk about free information and file-sharing would disturb me deeply. It’s a wonder to me that authors have not been more assertive about their rights.

(Editor’s Note: As this blog has become more prominent, more posts are being poached without permission. We have added a policy on the blog for this, which can be found here. The enforcement tool? “If you take a post without getting our permission, we’ll first request you take it down and, if you refuse, we may shame you publicly.” This one toed the line.)

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Joseph Esposito

Joseph Esposito

Joe Esposito is a management consultant for the publishing and digital services industries. Joe focuses on organizational strategy and new business development. He is active in both the for-profit and not-for-profit areas.


19 Thoughts on "Help! I've Been Plagiarized"

Unfortunately, this has happened to two of my posts. I discovered them because I had cited a prior post in both of them, and when the plagiarist posted them, I got a ‘ping-back’ from the blog letting me know that I’ve been cited. In the first case, the plagiarist was a company focused on search optimization services. The other? A publishing consultant! I was able to contact him and convince him to replace the post with an abstract and link but I was astounded that he didn’t find wholesale reblogging a problem in the first place.

My view is that once you’ve discovered it is straightforward plagiarism as suspected, the person should be named on all relevant blogs and exposed on Twitter. I think Joe and Phil have been much too gentlemanly for the best of reasons. The people who do this are stealing not only your IP, but they are also trying to boost their own reputations fraudulently.

I presume that what Joe means is copyright infringement rather than plagiarism. The latter is borrowing of ideas without attribution, but it appears that the offender reproduced the entire blog post as is, which is copyright infringement. Since plagiarism per se is not illegal, if that had been the offense, Joe’s only recourse would have been to use the power of the community to shame the offender and extract an apology. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is legally actionable, but Joe’s options here would be limited to recovery of actual damages, which would be hard to prove and costly to pursue through litigation. Without having registered the blog post with the Copyright Office, statutory damages would not have been available to Joe. It rarely pays to go to court unless you can claim statutory damages. For just this reason the Copyright Office is floating the idea for setting up a small claims court for copyright infringement cases. If you support that idea, you should write to the Copyright Office.

It’s happened to me a number of times, honestly I have given up caring. These thieves – that’s all they are – don’t deserve our time and attention. They’re not doing any harm – I really can’t imagine more than a handful of people read their ‘blogs’ and when I’ve looked them up on alexa.com they usually don’t register at all, meaning they are not getting any traffic to speak of.

So really I think, whatever, they’re thieves, I have better things to think about 🙂

The exact same thing happened to me. In fact, the plagiarist not only lifted my post and posted it on her site as her own, she uploaded it to a big online magazine under her name. When I notified the magazine, they pulled the article immediately and issued an apology. The plagiarist? She attacked me on her blog, sent me threatening emails, and claimed she had a perfect right to re-post my original blog post since I hadn’t stated – This Article Is Copyrighted.
I was furious. I know how you feel.

Then the blogger has just demonstrated how ignorant of the law she is. Send me the blog link and I’ll point that out to her.

Thanks for your support, Sandy. I would send you her link, however her email threats were so vicious I decided the best thing to do was let it all die down. I informed the online magazine about her response as she’s on their staff. I’m not sure how they handled the matter, but the threatening blog post was pulled from her website and she very abruptly stopped harassing me.
I’ve been in this business for a number of years and plagiarism is far more commonplace than most writers realize.

I have a worse case, if only because it is in a published journal and the editor didn’t care.

After reading a research paper related to my field, I found two paragraphs and a figure that I recognized as my own writing and subsequently found my journal article from where they were taken. I pointed this out to the editor, who essentially came back to me with the decision that it was “an acceptable level of plagiarism”. I then dug deeper and found the whole introduction had been plagiarized from various journal articles by different authors. I went back to the editor to point this out, with the evidence. The editor refused to do anything about it as it was only in the introduction and therefore didn’t affect the results. He said if I wanted anything done about it, then I should write an editorial for his journal to point it out. At no stage did the editor seek to get the authors of the offending article to correct the work, nor would he retract it. In the end, the editor said he would write an editorial and post it with the offending article. Well, its been over 6 months and the article is still there and with no editorial or retraction. And I can’t do anything about this, because I don’t have any copyright, because when I published I signed copyright over to the journals.

And to top it all off, this isn’t in one of those new journals published but some new company, but by one of the big, respected scientific publishers.

I would bet the publisher would care. You should write to the publisher directly and let the publisher know how the editor treated your complaint. If I were the publisher of that journal, I’d fire the editor.

If you assigned copyright of your article to the journal, it’s their duty to enforce that copyright for you. That’s a service journals provide to authors. You should contact the editorial office of the journal from your original publication and let them pursue this for you. You might also consider notifying officials at the institution where the second author works (the Provost is a good place to start). Most researchers are hesitant to take steps like this, and you may instead prefer to have your editor do this for you.

Ahh, and therein lies the next problem. Whilst the material that was copied from me, came from a different journal, the journal is published by the same big publisher.

It’s probably still worth your effort. Journal offices usually act independently within a publishing house. Contacting your journal’s editor and letting them know may give you an advocate working on your behalf.

Thanks David, although I don’t think contacting the officials at the authors university will work; they’re in Iran.

Again, it’s still worth the effort. Universities, particularly those in developing nations, want to be taken seriously as credible sources in the research world.

I’d second David’s comment here. We’ve dealt with a number of plagiarism cases over the years, and by far the quickest response I’ve seen was from a university in Iran.

The publisher really would care; if it’s a prestigious scientific publisher, their editor is likely to be a member of COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) and is expected to adhere to both an editorial Code of conduct and flowcharts for suspected plagiarism. The response he’s provided at present doesn’t sound adequate at all. 2 paragraphs and a figure should at least warrant a notice of correction.

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