Posted on 05/12/2019 at 12:00 PM by Guest Author
Preventing plagiarism should be a top priority for authors. Discover what plagiarism is, what the consequences are, and how to avoid it.
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“Certainly the plagiarism, and dealing with the fallout of it, was the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced since I started writing.”
— Nora Roberts, “A Conversation with Nora Roberts”
Plagiarism has been a point of contention among writers and researchers for years.
So, what does it mean to plagiarize someone else’s work?
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the word plagiarize as follows:
[transitive verb] to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; use (another's production) without crediting the source
[intransitive verb] to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source
Essentially, plagiarism involves copying someone else’s work (either verbatim or with very minor adjustments) and calling it an original piece — or simply failing to attribute any borrowed part to the creator.
For the individual whose work has been plagiarized, it’s an emotionally draining experience.
In some cases, they may also suffer financial hardships due to legal fees and/or lost revenue.
However, since the goal of this article is to help authors with preventing plagiarism on their part, it’s important to address the consequences of plagiarism on the other side and emphasize how doing this can potentially destroy one’s career…
The consequences of plagiarism often vary depending on the community in which it takes place.
For example, there have been cases of tenured professors being pushed to resign after plagiarism scandals.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for college students to be suspended or even expelled after trying to pass off someone else’s work as their own.
However, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to highlight the consequences of plagiarism for independent book authors.
So, as an author, what are the risks of plagiarizing someone else’s work?
You can be served with a lawsuit.
Authors put a lot of time and effort into their work, so it’s perfectly understandable that they would want to take legal action when it’s discovered that someone else is trying to pass off that work as their own.
If you plagiarize the work of a fellow writer (be it deliberately or accidentally), you could be sued for copyright infringement and find yourself in court.
You can receive a monetary penalty.
If you’ve been found guilty of copyright infringement as a result of plagiarism, you’ll likely have to pay a hefty settlement, along with your own legal fees.
In such a scenario, you’ll be liable for damages (e.g., lost sales on the copyright holder’s part) and any additional profits — although some copyright holders opt to recover statutory damages instead, which can still amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
You can face imprisonment.
Most of the time, copyright-related plagiarism is a civil matter, but in some cases, you can wind up facing criminal charges.
When you plagiarize someone else’s work and violate their copyright, you can also be sentenced to jail time if you’re found guilty in a court of law.
According to the United States Department of Justice, the penalties for criminal copyright infringement are as follows:
1) A first-time conviction can result in imprisonment for up to 5 years;
2) a second-time conviction can result in imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Even if the court finds you guilty of a misdemeanor violation, you could still serve up to a year of jail time, which makes preventing plagiarism of any type all the more important.
You lose your credibility as an author.
Legal ramifications aside, being found guilty of plagiarism can have a lasting impact on your career.
Authors who steal from others suffer a huge hit to their reputation.
If news of your plagiarism scandal reaches the rest of the writing community (and it will), you’ll not only lose your credibility but also lose your fans.
Given how severe the consequences of plagiarism can be (and how much you undoubtedly want to create a completely original piece of work), preventing plagiarism should be a top priority.
This should be simple, right? Just don’t copy another author’s work…
But one of the major problems with plagiarism is that sometimes it can be done unknowingly.
An author may believe they’ve come up with a unique character/turn of phrase when, in fact, it’s something they read before and simply forgot (a phenomenon referred to as cryptomnesia).
That’s why you need to take extra care to make sure that what you’re creating is your own and that any borrowed parts are attributed to the rightful owner.
The following tips for preventing plagiarism should help:
If you include a quote, passage, or fact from another’s work, ALWAYS cite the source.
While you’re writing, avoid having books or other materials open nearby, as this increases the likelihood of plagiarism — whether inadvertent or not.
Whenever you come up with a new idea for your book, do some research and consult those you trust. Going on a fact-finding mission can help you determine if it’s too similar to something that’s already been written and allow you to shift gears before you get too far into your work.
If you’re suddenly struck with inspiration — be it a piece of dialogue or a setting description — run it through a plagiarism checker such as Grammarly or Unicheck to be safe. This can stop you from accidentally jotting down a passage that you simply read before.
Preventing plagiarism is important for everyone in the writing community.
As an author, you want your book to stand on its own, and you certainly don’t want to copy from someone who has put their heart, mind, and soul into their work.
So make it a point to research the ideas you have for your book thoroughly, and always give credit where credit is due.
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