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Thread: Plagiarism & Copyright Q&A with Jonathan Bailey

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    Plagiarism & Copyright Q&A with Jonathan Bailey

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    Jonathan Bailey is a plagiarism and copyright expert and CEO of CopyByte. Following his own battle with plagiarism, Jonathan became passionate about fighting it. He started a blog - Plagiarism Today, which provides tools to combat all forms of content misuse online including plagiarism, copyright infringement, and spamming.


    Jonathan is a copyright and plagiarism consultant working with individuals and companies to help them protect their content on the Web, by being proactive with protecting and licensing their work, detecting incidents of infringement and stopping them early. He teaches a form of plagiarism self-defense to make people able to handle their own issues, rather than relying on him.

    In 2005, Jonathan started Plagiarism Today and, due to high demand for his expertise, began to offer consulting services. In 2009, he joined CopyByte as the company’s manager and in 2010 became owner and CEO. Jonathon also co-hosts the podcast The Copyright 2.0 Show.

    Questions From - The Fantastical


    I know that you started out fighting your own battle with plagiarism, but what what made you decide to help others and make resources easily available for everyone?

    Wow, that's a long story. I'll try to keep it somewhat brief though. When I first started dealing with my personal plagiarists I made the battle pretty public. I kind of regret that now as it's not a tactic I condone anymore, but other people started following my lead and checking the way I was and finding similar plagiarists. They turned around and began to ask me what to do.

    One in particular was a close friend. When I found some of my poems on a site, I saw one or two of his and let him know. He thanked me and asked me what he needed to do, so I wrote what was my first guide for him. I then hosted a version of that on my literature site.

    But the foundation of PT was when I tried to find a site on the topic of battling plagiarism. This was the mid 2000s and RSS reading was all the rage. I couldn't find a site and, at the suggestion of my girlfriend (who is still feeding me all of my best ideas today) I moved the plagiarism stuff there and it was born!

    What is CopyByte and what do they do?

    CopyByte is my consulting firm, it's primarily me and just a few other people who work on the larger projects. Basically what we specialize in is dealing with unoriginal content of all stripes. This can include spotting and removing infringing content on the web, determining the originality of unknown content (such as checking a site before a purchase) or providing expert witness testimony in a trial.

    We work in a lot of different areas, but the core focus is in helping detect and deal with unoriginal content in whatever context that means.

    How has the internet affected the issue of plagiarism? Has it become more widespread or has it actually become easier to protect your work?

    For plagiarism, the internet has been a real double-edged sword. On one side it's made it easier than ever to find content to plagiarize and to take it, but on the other it's made it easier to detect and call out.

    I have no doubt that the internet has increased plagiarism (anytime you make something easier to do more people do it) but much of the growth in awareness has come from the detection side as well.

    How does a person find out if their work has been plagiarised?

    There are generally two ways. The first is that they are informed by a third party. Someone else who notices the overlap lets them know and things begin that way (that's how I was first notified way back in the early 2000s). The other is by searching for their work, usually just punching in a few quotes in Google. The latter is becoming much more common as people are much more search savvy. But many don't think to search until they hear about plagiarism from an outside source.

    What should a person's first move be if they find that their work has been plagiarised?

    The first step is to keep calm. I did a pretty terrible job of this when I first learned about it and regret that. Beyond that, it really depends on the type of plagiarism. Generally though, the best advice I can give is, if the plagiarism is on the web, to reach out to the host of the website and file a copyright notice on it. The process is simple, there are forms on my site and it works very well.

    If it's in a publication or is somewhere that's not an option, find an editor or other supervisor to talk to. It's rarely worthwhile to reach out to a plagiarist directly these days.

    Is there a way to prevent plagiarism, or is there a way to limit the chance of your work being plagiarised?

    With text works, there's precious little you can do. The internet was designed to distribute text in a way that can be copied and, while you can do JavaScript and other tricks to make it harder to copy or highlight text, defeating them is easy and they can annoy legitimate visitors.

    One of the best things you can do is to make sure to include links to your other works in your text when you can. This is a better trick for blogs than authors of long-form fiction, but including such links means plagiarists often scoop them up too. This not only proves the work is yours but can alert you to the plagiarism when you see referrals.

    Beyond that, there isn't much you can do, especially if you're writing fictional work.

    Is there one important fact that everyone should know about plagiarism?

    That it is incredibly common. When I started writing I never thought anyone would plagiarize my work. I was too obscure, not good enough, too niche, etc. Yet, I had hundreds of plagiarists. It doesn't matter what you think of your work, if it fits the needs of the plagiarist, they will take it.

    Can you tell us what the biggest no-no is when it comes to contacting a plagiarist?

    When contacting a plagiarist, which is something I only recommend under certain circumstances, it's important to remember that you, at that moment, are the good guy. Don't do anything that changes that. No threats of violence, no doxxing, no defamation, etc. You don't want to do anything that makes you worse than a plagiarist and especially nothing that can get you in legal trouble. Be firm, be polite, but don't engage with your emotions, you have other tools available.

    Is anything that a writer can do to stop plagiarism outside of their country of publication/origin?

    Many of the laws that deal with the removal of copyright infringing content are pretty much standard across most of the world. U.S., EU, Australia, New Zealand, etc. all have similar notice and takedown systems. It's always worth a try.

    However, If the plagiarism takes place in a country that doesn't have such a system, you can always request the page be removed from Google. They are a U.S. company and are obligated to remove infringements from their database when they are notified.

    How can an author prevent unauthorised translations of their work? If an unauthorised translation has occurred how can an author recover royalties?

    Translated plagiarism is a weak spot when it comes to plagiarism detection. There's progress being made here and technology solutions are improving, but it's a weakness. As I said earlier, preventing any kind of text plagiarism is difficult, most of the emphasis is on detection and cessation. But this is an area where detection is weak too and probably will be for at least another 5 years or so. Maybe longer.

    In the event of extensive plagiarism (whole works being passed off as another's) what are the chances of financial restitution?

    Assuming that the plagiarist and the original author are both in the U.S., the question hinges on whether or not the original author took the time to register their work timely with the U.S. Copyright Office (either within 3 months of publication or before the infringement). If they did and the reuse was for a commercial purpose, there's a good chance of financial restitution.

    However, this is really a decision for your lawyer and, if you're seeking such restitution, I would steer you there. Register your work and, if you want damages, work with an attorney.

    There are 'How to Guides' available online suggesting plagiarism to construct your own self-help books to make money. Is there any recourse against those?

    I'm not familiar with these guides but they sound pretty damn horrible.

    I'd really push this one on to a lawyer but there could be an argument that they might be liable for vicarious copyright infringement for directly inducing their users to commit an infringement. This is definitely something for an attorney, we see other services get held liable for copyright infringement that do far less to induce direct infringement.

    To whom do you report plagiarism? There are books for sale that are collections of online content lifted directly from blogs, magazines and news, how does one challenge these?

    Depends on the exact plagiarism. If you want to reach out to me directly I'll gladly take a look at the sites. But if the books are for sale I'd report them directly to the store selling them. You might get a cold shoulder if you aren't the copyright holder, but any reputable store would take these claims serious, investigate and remove any plagiarism.

    Questions From - H.Brown

    Jonathan, can you explain to our members the benefits of asserting copyright on their work and why it is important?

    Asserting your copyright, meaning placing a copyright notice on your work, doesn't provide any direct legal benefit but it does alert others that you are protecting your copyright and there are still many who believe that, without a notice, nothing is copyright protected. It can work to discourage infringement and ensure that people who do infringe your work were on notice.

    Registering your copyright, meaning registering it with the US Copyright Office, is significantly more useful in that it provides great legal protection. Registering your work is a requirement to file a lawsuit and timely registration is the only way to collect statutory damages. If you're in the U.S. or going to be working/marketing with the country, it might be worth considering registering at least major projects that way.

    Copyright and plagiarism go hand in hand. To plagiarise is to break the copyright or steal another person's work. So at what point in the writing process should a writer be protecting their work?

    Actually, plagiarism isn't ALWAYS copyright infringement. You can plagiarize the works of Shakespeare and be a complete idiot but not a copyright infringer as the work is public domain. Still, the overlap is very large.

    That being said, the point to start thinking about protecting your work is once you have a version that you intend to share without others. Once you get a version that is that finalized, it's time to think about if you want to register it with the U.S. Copyright Office, what license you want to place it under and other steps.

    Beyond that, you have until three months after publication to claim the full benefits of registration. Just be mindful that, under current rules, almost any posting of the work online is considered publication. So, once you post it, the clock starts ticking on that.

    Could I be doing more to protect my work?

    Registering with the U.S. Copyright Office is a step too few people do, especially with major works. Also, including a copyright notice is vital but one overlooked step is indicating the license for the work. If that license is "All Rights Reserved" that's fine, but if you want to allow reuse, seeking a Creative Commons license can actually help protect your work by setting clear boundaries for use.

    Beyond that, with text work, there is precious little that you can do to protect a work due to the nature of the internet.

    How does one go about copyrighting their work and how much would it cost?

    Registering a copyright is actually fairly simple. The instructions are on copyright.gov and the cost, for a single work with a single author is $35 per work. It's not practical for every blog post or forum post, but for any major projects you might be working on, it's relatively fast, cheap and great protection.

    WF has member only workshops which are not visible to guests or search engines. This effectively means members retain exclusive or first publication rights to their work. WF also has open boards which are visible so their work is considered published. How can members prevent their work being plagiarized from either boards?

    Whether it's a private forum or a public one, the issue remains the same: There's not much that one can do to stop unscrupulous people from copying and pasting text elsewhere on the internet. While restricting access limits the number of people who might do it, the situation is still largely the same.

    Copyright notices and proper licensing can help, but if someone is going to truly be an evil idiot, there isn't much you can do to stop them. It's best to put the focus on tracking infringements and stopping them quickly

    For those of our members who are considering publishing their writing through the more traditional route of using a publishing house, to what extent should or will a publisher protect the work by defending copyright?

    It really depends on the publisher and the nature of the work. Go infringe some Harry Potter books and you'll have publisher lawyers on you in a heartbeat. Do the same with a random book released by a small publisher 20 years ago and you likely won't hear anything.

    If you find that your publisher is unresponsive, the best thing you can do is ask for permission to handle the copyright issues yourself. Your publisher can always designate you as an agent to act on their behalf for the purpose of filing copyright notices and stopping infringements.

    Does copyright differ when applied to different creative works such as art or photography? If so how can people protect their photographs or artwork?

    Copyright really doesn't differ with visual works. It's just a different class of copyrighted works, same as with audio and video. As for protection techniques, using a good watermark is crucial when dealing with visual works. A non-intrusive but difficult to remove watermark can do wonders to protect an image.

    However, with images detection of infringements becomes more difficult, because search engines aren't as geared for spotting similar images as they are spotting similar text. Still, Google Image Search and Tineye can both provide that technology at a great price.

    How can you make sure your blog is protected?

    Blogs are particularly difficult because it's impractical to register each post with the U.S. Copyright Office. I would make sure to include a good copyright notice and to truncate your RSS feed. Most blog copyright infringement (even now) takes place from RSS scrapers so having a truncated feed can help greatly there.

    Beyond that, there's not much to do other than monitoring for infringement of key posts and content and dealing with them as they arise.

    Does copyright differ when applied to different forms of writing, for example between poetry, novels and short stories?


    Technically, no. Copyright applies the same to all works that it covers. However, practically, yes. Issues such as fair use take a look at the portion of the work that's taken to determine whether a use is an infringement. As such, shorter works often can be infringed with smaller portions than longer ones. Though it's a small difference (other factors are much more important), it is one to look at.

    Overall though, I wouldn't worry about this too much. All works that are copyrightable receive the same protections, regardless of style or length. Shorter works may need to find ways to be registered as a collection or may have their use slightly less likely to be a fair use, but the differences are fairly minor.

    Would you say that plagiarism has gotten worse, with the invention of the internet?

    As I said above, the internet has been a double-edged sword for plagiarism. It's made it much easier to do, but also easier to detect. As such, while I'm certain plagiarism has increased with the internet (make something easier and more people do it), I'm equally certain that much of the increased awareness is due to improved detection.

    In short, it's gotten worse but maybe not as much worse as it seems.

    Questions From - Olly Buckle


    It is easy to spot someone who is making a direct copy of someone's work and calling it their own, however, taking an idea and reworking it is rather a different kettle of fish. I consider that I have learned quite a lot about short story writing by doing just that. I have not infringed any copyright, the originals were well past the time limit for that, over two thousand years in one case, and I reckon that in changing the characters, the setting, the period etc. I have actually created something original.

    My question is; how different from the original do I have to be?

    For example there is a story on my site called 'The Lion' which is based on a story in 'Plain tales from the Hills'. Where Kipling had two grass widows I have two barmaids. Where he had a young subaltern I have a university undergraduate. He is in India, I am in England. He is at the turn of the last century but I am in the present.

    I have followed the original plot fairly closely, deliberately, it was a learning exercise originally, but I think, given that there are only so many stories and I have original material for character, setting etc. I am entitled to claim it as 'my' story, how true would that be if the original was not so old?

    This question can be summarised as - In order to be considered original how substantively different does a derivative work have to be from the original? Is there a quantitative amount one can use as a guideline?

    To answer the question with a question: Do you mean legally or ethically?

    Legally there really isn't any bright line rule. First you need to avoid using anything that can be copyright protected. That would definitely include the text, but also locations and characters if they are truly unique to the story. No one can own a generic G-man style character, but you can be sure JK Rowling definitely owns Harry Potter (or her publisher at least).

    Beyond that, it's still possible to not directly use anything copyright protected but violate the law by creating a derivative work. The line there in the law (in the U.S.) is whether an ordinary observer would know that A is based upon B. It's an intentionally vague and open standard. Honestly, without reading the full work, I wouldn't even want to hazard a guess.

    The best advice I can give legally is that, if you're going to base your book in a significant way on another author's work, you should get permission. With copyright, it's almost always better to ask permission than to beg for forgiveness.

    As for ethically, that's a separate question and it hinges heavily upon your intended use. If the author involved is tolerant of fan creations, you may be able to write and release this without issue for non-commercial purposes. It doesn't change the legality should they decide to sue, but many authors have taken an informal tolerance to fan creations.

    Still, the best advice I can give is to reach out to the author if you are unsure. You might be surprised at the response you get.

    Questions From - Clubs_and_Hearts

    I've wondered about using pictures on the web that do not have watermarks for book covers ? Is this considered stealing or is it allowed since the pictures are available online? What would the recommendation be for that?

    It's fairly safe to assume that ALL pictures you find online (with only a handful of exemptions we'll get to) are copyright protected and that their use, without permission, is an infringement. This is regardless of watermark.

    Watermarks are merely ways that creators indicate ownership and deter infringement, they aren't necessary to copyright protect an image.

    There are sources you can find public domain images. First, images taken by the federal government are automatically public domain (including NASA) and there are many artists who release their work under public domain licenses. One great resource for finding those images is pixabay.com which, despite sounding like The Pirate Bay, is a legitimate site for finding public domain images.

    Failing that, you can always hop on stock photo sites and, usually for a very low price, purchase an image that you can use.

    All in all, it's not hard to find a photo you can use, you just can't use any photo you find on the internet.

    Questions From - PIP

    Who or what inspired you to start your personal website Plagiarism Today?

    Way back in 2000, I was just another writer on the internet and I discovered widespread plagiarism of my work. I fought and dealt with my plagiarists, about 700 of them, and got involved in helping some of my friends deal with their plagiarists as well.

    After a few years, I decided that I was interested in learning more about fighting plagiarism. It was around the time RSS reading was all the rage so I searched for a blog that would give me the info I wanted but didn't find one. At the goading of my girlfriend (who is still the one in the relationship with the good ideas) I decided to start one up and now, about 12 years later, it's still going.

    Not much of a story but it's a classic case of seeing a need and moving in to fill it!

    Last edited by PiP; May 4th, 2017 at 09:51 PM.
    Mildly dyslexic - Oops may occur, do occur.

    “Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
    -- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

    "Failure? There's no such thing as failure, only early attempts at success."
    -- The Love Guru

    "It's not worth doing something unless you were doing something that someone, somewere, would much rather you weren't doing."
    --Terry Pratchett

  2. #2
    Interesting interview, FT. Thank you!
    Check Out Our Members' Creative Works on <FLASHES of BRILLIANCE>



  3. #3
    Students should be aware that instructors often check their student submissions for originality (plagiarism).

    WriteCheck (paid service) is designed for students to also check grammar, style, mechanics.

    Turnitin ( same company/paid service used by instructors) checks the same data base for original material usage, but will show actual source of plagiarized insertions. Do your own work, or cite it.

    I only write inconsequential poems. But, was still furious when I found some of my work lifted on LinkedIn. Gosh, someone has to steal poetry? Heck, little of it even gets published today, much less my amateur work. I should be flattered, I guess. But, ever since, I delete my work after a short period.

  4. #4
    Last year I got the heads up from one of my professors that a student was behind the loss of three villanelles I had written. My prof had printed them out so he could do a critique on them and one of his seniors stole the printouts and then tried to pass them off as her own at the annual poetry slam. Little did she realize that the poetry slam's pieces where reviewed and approved by the professor she took my villanelles from. I showed up at the slam with the original poems, the prequel quatrain, and the subsequent villanelles. She got caught red handed. Needless to say, she had no claim to the Star Socks Fox and linguistic comparisons came back a spot on match for my style. Her submitted samples had less than 3% conguency to the contested works. It put an end to her academic career at that institution and I got my poems back.

    What I don't understand is why people assume that they aren't going to get caught when they pull crap like this, especially with something like my Star Socks Fox. Yes, it is a classic form, but the flow and cadence of the language are inimitable. No one else's brain is a broken and backward as mine...Normal people don't talk or write like I do. Why run the risk of gettting kicked out of school over a mere 57 lines of poetry? Just do the work...It isn't hard.

    On a brighter note because of the ensuing bruhaha I have landed a number of commissions for my narrative pieces...I just wish the work could have garnered attention for a reason other than a plagiarism battle.

    Sorry about the vent. A great interview on a tough subject, one still very much at the forefront of my mind.


  5. #5
    I was actually very surprised by the interviewer. I feel the interviewee is a good source and his comment how "plagiarists will lift if it suits their purposes" makes me shudder a little bit. I guess, especially for the novels that I'm working on, that I should get them copyrighted. For $35 that's great piece of mind.

    Great interview. Some excellent questions raised and the interviewee really gave some thorough answers.
    Carpe Diem.

  6. #6
    Thanks guys!

    Sadly this is going to be my last interview for WF. I have decided that I need to take some time off the net and constraint on my writing. I just wanted to say that I have really enjoyed bringing your guys interviews and helping around the forum. It has been a great joy to be as welcomed as I have been here.

    I won't be gone, gone. You will possibly still see me lurking in the corners but I will be around a lot less.

    Thank you all!
    Mildly dyslexic - Oops may occur, do occur.

    “Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
    -- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

    "Failure? There's no such thing as failure, only early attempts at success."
    -- The Love Guru

    "It's not worth doing something unless you were doing something that someone, somewere, would much rather you weren't doing."
    --Terry Pratchett

  7. #7
    You did an excellent job. Darn, I'll miss your interviews. Great stuff. Thank you. Sas

  8. #8
    great interview Fanta - an insight into an aspect of writing on the net I never considered before.

    it makes you wonder - Jonathan had 700 plagiarists to deal with!

    and, we will miss your thoughtful input Fanta....
    Ned
    To grasp the mettle of things unsaid
    and strike the nail upon the head

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ned View Post
    great interview Fanta - an insight into an aspect of writing on the net I never considered before.

    it makes you wonder - Jonathan had 700 plagiarists to deal with!

    and, we will miss your thoughtful input Fanta....
    Ned
    Thank you Ned! Yes, I know that the thought that someone could steal one's hard work is a hard one for many writers it is an all to real and sad part of the world we live in and something that all of us in the creative art field need to be aware of; be it creative writing, art or photography. You need to always be aware of what you put out there.

    As a photographer, I know that if I put a picture out there, watermark or no, I have "lost" it. I now can no longer safely sell that photo as I am sure that at some point someone else has taken it and claimed it as their work. So while I do post online I take the loss, as for me the advertisement outranks the loss of that photo or artwork.

    The same as my writing. The writing that I am serious about, that I really want to publish one day I don't share online even on safe forums like this one as well... Rather be safe than sorry when you are trying to push your manuscript to a publisher and they find a thousand copies online somewhere!

    So I use my short stories and drabbles as... writing exercises and post those, learn from what mistakes I make in them and translate that to those projects that are "important" to me.

    Ok long ramble over... It is just a bit of a bug bear to me that people steal others work like they do. It is just.... beyond words. There are plenty of people out in the world that I wish I could draw like but I would never dream of trying to take the credit and praise away from them. Just don't/can't understand those that would and do, do that. *shakes head*
    Last edited by The Fantastical; July 13th, 2017 at 08:34 PM.
    Mildly dyslexic - Oops may occur, do occur.

    “Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
    -- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

    "Failure? There's no such thing as failure, only early attempts at success."
    -- The Love Guru

    "It's not worth doing something unless you were doing something that someone, somewere, would much rather you weren't doing."
    --Terry Pratchett

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