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January 2010

Plagiarism: Are You Breaking the Law Through Your Web Site?

PlagiarismI founded AromaWeb in 1997, and since that time, I have lost count of the number of times that I have discovered my articles, other writings or my photos on other sites or in print magazines without my permission. Over the years, I have also discovered a couple sites that have taken virtually all of the pages of AromaWeb and republished them on their own sites for their own gain. I would like to thank AromaWeb advertiser Marge Clark of Nature's Gift for looking out for AromaWeb and letting me know of a very recent incident of a site that registered a similar domain name and hijacked virtually all of AromaWeb's 400+ pages. They went so far as to change all instances of my registered trademark AromaWeb to that of their domain name. I am still in the process of pursuing recourse hence am not disclosing the domain name or other details on this situation.

Just two days ago, a kind visitor to AromaWeb alerted me to a European print magazine that has reprinted one of my articles without my permission. Over the years, quite a few other AromaWeb advertisers and visitors have alerted me to instances of my work being plagiarized, and I am most grateful to each and every one of you for your help. Those of us that spend countless hours studying, researching and writing within the field need to look out for each other.

Most individuals are taught what plagiarism is at an early age when they are still in secondary school. Yet with the amazing ability that we have to copy digital media like DVDs and mp3s/audio files and the ease that we have in copying and pasting text and photos from Web sites, way too many individuals (even "professional" print journalists) are using those copy and paste keys to grab and republish someone else's photos or text without express permission. Doing so is ILLEGAL, regardless of the intent to make a profit or not. Just because it's easy to pull the trigger on a gun (an analogy to selecting copy and paste functions with the click of a finger) doesn't mean it's legal to do so in all situations.

If you operate a Web site or blog and do not have a grasp of what plagiarism is or have used text or photos that you've found elsewhere on the Web or in books, you are likely infringing upon someone's intellectual rights, and you put yourself and your company not only at financial risk, but you also risk severely ruining your reputation. It doesn't matter if the site that you copy from does not have copyright notices in place, and it doesn't matter where you took the text unless they expressly have given you permission or clearly state that it's ok to reprint/republish their work. Google Images and Flickr aren't sources of photos that you can freely use. Just cause they make it easy to find photos doesn't mean that you can legally reuse them.

This post isn't intended to teach you all the legalities involved on the subject (I'm not a lawyer), but is intended to raise awareness to the seriousness of plagiarism and make you stop to think that you are stealing from hardworking people (like me). If you're plagiarizing or aren't sure if you are, do some research on the subject, learn how to seek permission and properly credit sources and actually learn how to write.

If you are the type of individual that grabs text and/or photos without permission and republishes them on your site or blog (or even in forum posts), think twice. The one you'll wind up harming the most is yourself. Read on to find out why...


Situation #1
In addition to owning AromaWeb, I am the marketing manager for Natural Sourcing and its trademarked properties including From Nature With Love. Not everyone realizes that I'm the same Wendy Robbins that works for Natural Sourcing. A few years ago, on behalf of Natural Sourcing/From Nature With Love, we were looking for a qualified writer to act as a copyrighter/online content coordinator. After reviewing a number of resumes, I found a few that stood out above the rest, and one particular woman caught my attention as a strong candidate for the position. As I do with those candidates that peak my interest, I asked for writing samples. She submitted a few that she claimed to write. Upon reviewing them, I discovered that one of her submissions was an article that she plagiarized from AromaWeb, an article that I had written and published years prior. I did not immediately bring the plagiarism to her attention and I instead casually wrote her back asking her for the history of each article she wrote. I discovered by her own admission that she used MY article within her own teaching materials and apparently even had MY article published within a particular magazine. I did not pursue legal action against this woman as I think her loss of being considered for this promising position and the humiliation that she surely should have against her conscience should be enough punishment, but I will publically state here that should I discover that she is continuing to use my work without permission, I will actively and aggressively protect my legal rights, pursue financial compensation and will no longer choose to be discreet about who she is.


Situation #2
On one particular day of a hectic week, I was looking forward to spending a quiet hour or two relaxing over a few magazines as I awaited a car repair. I had been getting acquainted with the editors and an assistant editor or one trade magazine in particular on behalf of Natural Sourcing and was looking forward to getting a strong feel for the publication, and brought this particular magazine with me to read. A couple weeks prior, I had spent quite a bit of time answering the questions of one of the assistant editors of this publication regarding natural exfoliants. As I cracked open the issue that I had brought along with me, I noticed that there was an article on aromatherapy written by this same assistant editor that I had just recently assisted. To my dismay, there were quite a few instances within the article that very closely resembled material that I had written for AromaWeb years prior. Because the matter is not resolved to my satisfaction, it is best that I do not elaborate in detail publically aside to say that I am pretty confident that this assistant editor did indeed lose her job over this incident. Taking other individual's work may seem like an easy way to get ahead, but it's usually the dishonest individual that winds up suffering the most and losing face.


Situation #3
It broke my heart to discover one of AromaWeb's most prominent advertisers had at least one of my articles displayed verbatim on her site. It's been a long time since this particular occurrence, and she did resolve the situation to my satisfaction, but from the moment I discovered her plagiarism, I no longer would accept her as an advertiser upon AromaWeb. I was financially compensated for her plagiarism, and I had refilled her position immediately, but it was nonetheless a losing situation for her as she lost a prominent position on AromaWeb.


Situation #4
I discovered that a site had taken AromaWeb in its entirety and republished it directly on their site. This company apparently thought that they could get away with simply ignoring my demands to take down their copy of AromaWeb. I won't disclose all the details of what transpired, but I will say that the very first thing I arranged was to immediately have their hosting company remove their entire site.


Situation #5
One of the content writers at my last employer had severely plagiarized another site. Apparently, she didn't think anyone else in the company would realize it. I couldn't but help notice that her text was identical to a herbalism site that I had recently been to. As difficult as it was to know this woman would probably be fired once I brought this to the attention of my boss (and she was), there's no way I could have ignored the situation and allowed that woman to put the entire company at risk by her solitary actions.


There are more instances, but I'll stop with these.

I am NOT a lawyer and I cannot offer legal advice. But I do have quite a bit of experience in dealing with the plagiarism of my work. I hope this post will help bring more awareness to the seriousness, harm and negativity that plagiarism causes. Plagiarism not only sabotages and dilutes the efforts of hardworking authors, but it also causes them added time and aggravation in having to pursue the protection of their intellectual property. Plagiarism also will wind up ruining the reputation of those that include plagiarized material on their site. Word gets around. Especially with tight knit communities like the aromatherapy industry. Think twice. Then think again. Then just don't do it.


I would like to encourage you to please link to this post and spread the word, but don't plagiarize it. ;)


Happy 15th Anniversary Online to Nature's Gift!

Nature's Gift Logo

Marge Clark of Nature's GiftWishing Marge Clark and the entire staff of Nature's Gift a very happy anniversary tomorrow, January 15, 2010. Marge Clark, President of Nature's Gift, has been involved within the aromatherapy community at large for ages. Marge has actively participated, networked and helped others in an array of online communities/message boards/mailing lists devoted to aromatherapy. Marge is author of Essential Oils and Aromatics: A Step-by-Step Guide for Use in Massage and Aromatherapy, available through Amazon.com and directly through Nature's Gift.


Nature's Gift ProductsMarge has an excellent reputation for sourcing superior quality and precious essential oils available through Nature's Gift, for her essential oil knowledge and is known for her passionate, unique writing style. Nature's Gift has been an advertiser and supporter of AromaWeb since its beginnings, and is AromaWeb's longest running advertiser. Marge is a wonderful mentor and was a source of encouragement to me when I originally launched AromaWeb in 1997. Her passion and love of aromatherapy shines through in all she does for Nature's Gift and the aromatherapy community at large.


Nature's Gift Anniversary SealOn, January 15, 2010, to celebrate their 15 years online, Nature's Gift will be featuring a generous 15% discount on a collection of their books including Marge's book Essential Oils and Aromatics: A Step-by-Step Guide for Use in Massage and Aromatherapy. She'll even sign it for you. For more information and to view the discount code that you need to use at checkout, visit Nature's Gift and view the details on the home page.