What would you do if you became aware that one of your competitors had lifted substantial amounts of content from your website or elsewhere? Presumably, you’d call them out for plagiarism – demand they take the content down and even take legal action.
But what if you discovered your own marketing team was cutting corners by plagiarising your competitors’ content? Would you turn a blind eye? Have a quiet word with the person responsible, perhaps? Would you give the perpetrator a formal warning or even dismiss them for breach of conduct?
It’s a highly relevant ethical question. Plagiarism is a modern-day business risk and one of which marketers must be especially mindful.
the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.
“there were accusations of plagiarism”
synonyms: copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing, poaching, appropriation.
Ask any content marketer to name their greatest challenge and they’ll almost certainly tell you it’s producing the required volume of content.
Never than ever before has it been easier to plagiarise.
Never than ever before has it been more tempting to plagiarise.
And consequently, never than ever before has plagiarism been as rife – plagiarised blog posts, website content, marketing collateral…
In May 2018, Pink Taxi Coin was accused of plagiarising ‘basically everything’ from A2B Taxi – “website design, content materials, texts, even [its] advisor’s video explaining [its] token model.” Take a look and draw your own conclusion.
A punishable offense
Being found guilty of plagiarism would cause your business embarrassment at the very least but it could potentially cause longer-lasting reputational damage.
To date, most of the examples reported in the mainstream media relate to plagiarism by journalists. After all, journalists virtually everywhere are bound by similar ethical and professional standards. In Australia, for example, the Media and Arts Alliance created the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics. ‘Never plagiarise. Always attribute.’ is a central tenet of the Code.
- In 2014, CNN fired one of its London-based news editors after identifying around 50 instances of plagiarism.
- In 2016, The Daily News sacked one of its writers amid plagiarism accusations which were publicly described as “a series of egregious and inexplicable errors”.
- In 2018, a high profile feminist reporter resigned from The Daily Beast after it was pointed out she had ‘borrowed’ whole paragraphs of content from a competitor publication.
With marketers morphing into content creators, and brands transforming into publishers, marketers must be held to similar professional standards.
Yes, plagiarism can be accidental – but it mostly isn’t. CopyByte’s Jonathan Bailey, who has built a career consulting on plagiarism and copyright, considers most plagiarism is either deliberate or negligent. The accidental argument is simply a way to deflect blame or lessen the offense. No malice means no big deal, right? Wrong.
Intellectual property attorneys and lawyers make a living from securing, prosecuting and enforcing IP rights, including copyright. Yet, even IP firms aren’t immune from plagiarism, as the below examples show. Deliberate, negligent or accidental? You be the judge.
Plagiarism Example 1
Plagiarism Example 2
Plagiarism Example 3
How to avoid plagiarism
It’s not difficult to avoid plagiarising someone else’s work:
- Take inspiration, gather your ideas…and then rewrite.
- Paraphrase, don’t copy.
- Cite, quote and reference, when appropriate.
- Reimagine and represent concepts or thinking into some other format. Infographics are ideal in these situations and sites such Venngage make it easy for anyone to create high impact graphics.
- Incorporate links, both as a show of respect to the source, and to aid SEO.
If you’re a CMO or marketing leader, take additional precautions:
- Periodically host training for your internal and ancillary marketing team on ethics, copyright, and plagiarism.
- Put measures in place so that all content is rigorously scanned for potential plagiarism before it is published. There is a raft of anti-plagiarism software available to help you identify potential issues. For example, Grammarly detects plagiarism by checking your text against eight billion websites.
- Develop and embed a marketing code of conduct. You can take inspiration from the UK Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Code of Professional Conduct.
- Ensure plagiarism is addressed in your organisation’s employment contracts.
- If plagiarism is ever identified, act immediately. Take the content down and recreate it in an original format.
- If you discover someone on your marketing team is cutting corners by plagiarising content, don’t turn a blind eye.