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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. ;)

Comments

57aromas

Wendy, Green Valley Aromatherapy has been the victim of plagiarism many times in our 15 years of business. In one instance someone had duplicated our site entirely and was selling it on ebay for $15!!! We contacted the 3 people who had purchased it (all immediately took action) and ebay banned the seller. We have been plagiarised so many times that we do a regular sweep of the web to find perpetrators.

Tip - to find web-based plagiarism, highlight a unique portion of text from your site and drop it into a google search with quotations around it. Unless yours is the only site coming up with that text, you've been robbed!

Thank you for bringing this subject up!

Wendy Robbins

Wow - thank you for sharing your story. It's important for us to spread the word and share our stories so that those who plagiarize others will think twice and take the time to understand the consequences to themselves. Robert Tisserand mentioned on my FB that a company in China has taken and created a "Robert Tisserand" brand without his consent. It's amazing all the many ways that unscrupulous individuals find to fraudulently profit from other people's intellectual property and outstanding reputations. It sounds like they took the entire Green Valley Aromatherapy site and were reselling it as an actual site template? Protecting our intellectual property including trademarks is an essential part of business.

Thank you for sharing the search tip! lol, I do cringe every time I do particular content searches as I know I'm likely to find yet another site that has lifted my work. I'm pretty numb to it all by now, but I still dread the time that's involved.

Green Valley Aromatherapy

We cringe too! Speaking of the Tisserands, did you know that we are the Canadian distributors of Maggie's new Benchmark Thyme? It is a fantastic oil and the research she's had done on it is quite impressive.

NaturesGift

I've lost track of how many times we've been plagiarized. There are a few key phrases I search on...personal descriptions that no one else would have written, that I like to search for. But, mostly, our friends and clients find them and bring to my attention. (Bless them!) The most outrageous is by a company that uses our trademark for their products. I have a lawyer pursuing them, since they are only trademarked "for use as a solvent"... who would use a solvent in a "Rose Cream"??? Several times, resellers went to our website and cut and pasted our description of Rose Otto into their product description. Not our product, but my intellectual property. It is really important that we defend our intellectual property. If you published it online, whether the copyright notice shows or not, it IS copyrighted.

Remember, though, Wendy... it is, after all, flattering! ;)

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