My mother once told me that imitation is the biggest form of flattery. A quote by Oscar Wilde, this statement is powerful and honestly true. But when you’re a professional writer building a career from the words you write, and someone plagiarizes and makes a profit from what you share from the heart, hearing that statement doesn’t help you in the slightest.
Since I started my career as a writer, I’ve found my writing on countless sites, blogs, and social media accounts—all without credit. I’ve confronted bloggers about using my words without permission, I’ve reached out to brands asking for proper tags, and I’ve messaged individuals directly about copyright infringement. The worst situation, by far, was in early 2018 when I discovered a German writer was translating my words into his language. He was gaining thousands of followers from ‘his’ articles that were actually mine, and publishing (and profiting off of!) my writing in books wrongly attributed to him.
I don’t know if you’ve experienced plagiarism before, but it feels like someone’s kicked you right in the gut. You can’t breathe. You can’t move. And you can’t believe this is happening to you.
I was devastated, but here are a few things that I did when this happened to me, and what I learned in the process. Hopefully this can help you if you’re ever faced with this terrible situation.
First, make sure that what you’ve found is, in fact, true plagiarism.
When you discover your writing on another person’s site, first make sure that it’s truly plagiarized. Here’s what I mean by that: if someone has your name credited on the site (albeit small or off to the side), this isn’t actually plagiarism because you are, in fact, credited.
If you don’t see your name, see if the person/blog has dropped any links. Though they should put your name on the page, oftentimes people use link-backs to original pieces to suffice. If this is the case, then you can’t pursue any issues. You can, however, thank the person the share and ask them if they can credit you in a different way.
Take some screenshots.
If you know that what you’re looking at is plagiarism, first take screenshots. Make sure you have picture evidence of what’s wrong before messaging the person or taking any action. That way you can prove what happened even if it gets deleted (especially if you need to take further action, i.e. reach out to the social networking platform/website host, pursue this in court, etc.)
Take a deep breath.
You’re bound to be angry, frustrated, or upset. This is human. However, the best approach to dealing with emotionally-charged situations like these is to take a deep breath and think about your end goal. What do you want to happen? Do you want the person to credit you? Do you want them to remove the post altogether?
If you approach a person with anger or hostility, more often than not, you won’t get the result you’re looking for. Sometimes people will delete your comments or even block you, allowing you no options (or complicated ones) to actually get the piece taken down.
Rather than reacting in anger, if possible, draft up a message that politely and sternly articulates what’s wrong and what you want them to do. Then, depending on their response, act accordingly.
Know your rights.
Are you the legal owner of the work? Is your company/employer? Can you prove this? Gather all links (along with publication dates) to build your case. Research copyright laws for your state and country.
If this is content written by you under or for a company, reach out to your employer and make them aware of what’s going on. Oftentimes their legal/copyright department can and will handle this for you. If you’re your own entity, or if this content is owned by you, here’s what you can do:
(a) Again, gather all the information and originals: documents, links, etc. (including dates).
(b) Look into getting your work copyrighted immediately (if it isn’t already) so that you can legally prove ownership if this continues or gets worse.
(c) Look into getting a lawyer, if necessary.
Contact the platform, hosting site, or web developer.
Depending on where this plagiarism is located, research ways you can report copyright infringement and get the post(s) taken down. For example, if you’re on Facebook, you can click a few buttons to report content as an infringement on your rights. You’ll have to prove you’re the legal owner.
Depending on the site/platform, the person who plagiarized you might lose the post, have restricted access, or be under scrutiny for future postings (which will hopefully eliminate issues in the future).
Contact the authorities, if applicable.
If this plagiarism is local or online but in your area, contact the non-emergency line for the authorities. They may have resources to help you, or if not, in the very least they can create a claim record that you can reference if you need to go to court, etc. Having an official report is great because it shows that you were actively doing something about what happened.
Bring awareness (in a positive way).
If you didn’t get positive end results or if you’re concerned about this happening again to you/others, bring awareness to the issue. However, do this as positively as you can. Bashing another brand or person might make you look bad, even if you’re not the one in the wrong.
To avoid making a bad name for yourself, share about what happened and encourage others to pay attention. Avoid sharing links to the plagiarized post, if possible, because that will only give that person views/shares, which is not what you want. Share your original post instead to show that you are, in fact, the original creator.
Fight fight fight.
Even if nothing happens to that person as a result of their infringement, fight for yourself. Advocate for what happened, share about what happened, and keep sharing your original work with a message of truth. Though you won’t automatically gain all the followers or profits from what was rightfully yours, you can show people the truth and hopefully that will translate into people resonating with YOU.
Credit yourself on everything you create.
To keep this from happening, add your signature to everything you create. If you’re posting images on Instagram, for example, make a copyright, logo, your initials, special font, or some kind of stamp to prove that piece is yours. That way, even if someone screenshots and reposts, it will have your brand and be easily distinguishable as yours.
It can also help to copyright all your pages/work (if you haven’t already) and add a note to your profile(s) that pieces/photos can only be re-shared with credit, or with your permission.
Don’t be discouraged.
Though this is incredibly disheartening, don’t stop sharing your work and your message. Anyone who plagiarizes you won’t have the ability to articulate all that you can, or create content that is as pure and unique as yours. This will reveal itself over time when that person has nothing new or individual on their pages.
Rather than focusing on the negatives of this situation—even though there are many—focus on what you can still offer, despite what was copied. Rest assured that the truth about who you are will eventually come out. And above all, don’t stop posting.