As anyone who has been the victim of plagiarism knows, being plagiarized can be a very be a very emotional experience.
To have something that you worked on lifted and reused under someone else’s name and without attribution can feel like a robbery and like a form of identity theft.
However, protecting your work from plagiarism is a major challenge. Computers and the internet were basically made for copying and that means anyone who has access to your work can copy it and, if they wish, plagiarize it.
That’s why, when it comes to preventing plagiarism, the first step is often restricting access to it.
Don’t post a work online unless you have a reason to do so and don’t share your work outside of those you trust. This includes not running your writing through an untrusted plagiarism detection service as some of those actually funnel scanned essays into essay mill websites for the express purpose of letting others plagiarize them.
However, restricting access to your writing is not always practical. Sometimes you want or need to reach a larger audience and that means posting the work publicly. To that end, the best thing you can do is make your writing as personal to you as possible. Tell stories and include information that only you or those close to you would know. Make it difficult or even impossible for a stranger to claim the work as theirs.
This may or may not deter the plagiarism, but certainly provides verification that the work is yours and will likely raise eyebrows if anyone does try to claim it as theirs.
It’s also wise to include a proper copyright notice with the work. Though such a notice is not legally required, it prevents any confusion about who owns the work and whether or not it is protected. Another possibility is to provide guidance to others at the end of your work on how they can cite it properly.
Beyond that, you can and should attempt to track how your work is used online. This can be done easily using a search engine by taking a passage from your writing and searching for it in quotes. If you choose a sufficiently unique passage, any hits returned should be copies of your paper.
If you wish to automate this, you can use Google Alerts to send you an email when new instances of the phrase appear online.
If and when you detect plagiarism, it’s important to keep a cool head and remember that, as the author, you are the copyright holder and you have rights in the work.
How you respond will depend heavily on how the work was used. If it was used in a classroom or a professional publication, you’ll likely want to reach out to either the instructor or the editor and let them know about your findings.
If the work appears elsewhere online, the stopping internet plagiarism guide at Plagiarism Today can help you either contact the plagiarist directly or reach out to their host to get the offending work removed.
Beyond that, any further action would require consultation with a lawyer to see what additional legal remedies might be available.
In the end, it is very possible to protect your work and both minimize and respond to any plagiarism that you find. The key is to think about the issues before publishing your work and have a plan in place from the outset rather than dealing with it after something has already happened.
With plagiarism, an ounce of prevention truly is worth several pounds of cure.