By now, everyone should know that plagiarizing on your blog is ethically wrong and, in most cases, illegal.
If you get caught the punishments can be severe as you can face legal consequences, including copyright infringement lawsuits, DMCA takedown notices and more, as well as damage to your reputation and your career.
But let’s say for a moment that you’ve decided the rewards, whatever they may be, are worth the risks. Let’s go on to say that you’re right and you’re able to blog and run your site for an extended period of time without having your misdeeds noticed.
That’s great right? This hypothetical version of you (which I will be addressing throughout this post) just beat the system, cheated death and managed to build an entire site using the works and ideas of others without attribution or consequence.
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Even if you aren’t caught, plagiarism still hurts you and your site. Regardless of whether the world never learns your secret, you’re still setting yourself back.
Consider, briefly, the following three consequences that you’ll face for plagiarism, even if you are never found out, and ask yourself again if plagiarism truly is worthwhile.
1. Google Will Still Know
While it’s possible to plagiarize and never have a human know what you did, but you can’t easily hide your missteps from the search engines and their algorithms.
The problem is pretty simple. Google, and other search engines, want to deliver the best results that they can to their readers. This not only means trying to find the best and most relevant sites for a query, but also finding a variety of sites for the first page of results. After all, the top ten results are pretty useless if they are all exactly the same.
To prevent that from happening, Google looks at the content that appears on various sites and makes a determination of it’s too similar to other pages. If it is, it chooses one version of the page, usually the earliest, and pushes the others down.
While this system isn’t perfect and sometimes plagiarized results can creep up to the top undeservingly, most of the time Google gets it close to right and plagiarists end up getting bumped down, even if they modify their version.
There’s no easy way around this one, Google doesn’t want too much similarity in the top results and the only way to reliably reach the top is to both have something that deserves to be there and is original enough to earn a slot.
2. You Miss Out on Networking
Another thing to consider, all of the people you lifted from without attribution could have been possible networking opportunities.
When you plagiarize from someone, you have to avoid them looking at your work for fear of them discovering what you did and taking action. However, when you attribute them and use their work correctly, you can invite them to your site and maybe have them participate in your efforts.
Perhaps, for example, if you had used their content correctly your victim might have wanted to link to your post or put it out over their social media channels. Maybe they would have left a comment or even become a regular reader of your site. By plagiarizing, they are shut out from your site as is their audience through proxy.
This is doubly bad because other bloggers are among the most important people to reach out to in order to grow your traffic and reputation. After all, they’re the ones who provide inbound links and can drive new people to your site.
3. You Will Not be Growing or Improving as a Blogger
Blogging is a skill and, like any other skill, you have to keep working and practicing at it to get better. If you aren’t out there challenging yourself every day, you will not be growing and improving as a blogger and your site will not be moving forward.
For example, one of the reasons that many people who turn to plagiarism do so is because of a lack of confidence in their writing. While that may seem to be understandable, it’s also short-sighted as the only way to get better at writing and build that confidence up, is to write regularly. By plagiarizing, they deprive themselves of that chance.
When you plagiarize a blog post, even if you put a lot of additional work into it, you’re skipping many of the steps into crafting a blog post including idea generation, writing from scratch and honing your voice.
While this might not sound like such a bad thing so long as you aren’t caught, at some point you’re going to find yourself in a situation where your blogging skills are put to the test and you can’t plagiarize for whatever reason. With your shortcuts gone, you could easily find yourself unable to meet the challenge in front of you and suffer the consequences, whatever they may be.
In short, plagiarism may be a shortcut to running a good blog, but it isn’t a shortcut to becoming a good blogger.
It’s easy to talk about plagiarism in terms of a plagiarist/victim relationship where the person who is having their work misused is the sole person being robbed. However, the truth is when someone plagiarizes, they aren’t just stealing from their victim, they’re also robbing themselves.
A large part of the reward of writing a blog and maintaing a presence online is not just attracting an audience and, possibly, collecting ad revenue, it’s also about creating something original and leaving a mark, no matter how small, on cybcerspace.
Knowing that something is truly yours and that you built it, more or less, from the ground up gives one a sense of pride and whenever you build your achievements on the backs of others that you failed to attribute, that sense of accomplishment is taken away.
That’s a big part of why most serial plagiarists, when they are eventually caught, don’t purport to feel anger or sadness, but a sense of relief. As Jonah Lehrer once said, the lies are over.
While there’s still some debate as to whether or not plagiarist hurts the direct victim, there’s almost no doubt that it harms the plagiarist and that’s why it’s worth avoiding even if there’s no chance of getting caught.
Jonathan Bailey founded and continues to write at Plagiarism Today, a site about content theft and copyright issues on the internet. He also manages CopyByte, a company that protects online content, and writes a regular column for BloggingPro.
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