Plagiarism is the unauthorized appropriation of other people’s ideas, processes or text without crediting it with the appropriate attribution. With the advent of self-publishing, plagiarism is on now an upswing in the 21st century, for a number of reasons.
As soon as bypassing traditional publishers became an option, a new breed of authors quickly rose up. In no time, they learned how to explore digital landscapes, distribution channels and downloads, quicker than Johannes Gutenberg could set one page of moveable type.
We’ve come a long way baby, from printing press to eBook . . .
Centuries ago, publishing books took days at the hands of a sizeable staff of craftsmen. The process required loading the press, inking the type, pulling the impressions, hanging the sheets to dry — not to mention alone the stitching of the pages and the bindings for the book covers.
Stealing the plot . . .
At the speed at how fast self-publishing’s technology entered the scene, it was no surprise, our brave new world would be fraught with missteps and pitfalls.
Today even the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — can be uploaded in no time at all. Ah, but therein lies the rub. By not working with traditional publishers and the services they provide, the onus of proofreading falls squarely on the shoulders of the self-publisher. This doesn’t just mean using spell-check or correcting grammatical errors — but also the cross-checking of one’s work with that produced by others.
Here's the question: Can others copy our work and claim it as their own? Or should Kindle and other self-publishing platforms have the capability to detect duplications [plagiarism] in a manuscript and decline to publish it.
We live in a copy and paste era in which book publishing is assisted by automation and software, that not only allows writers to rip-off the headlines, but also to to claim a whole body of work as their own. Authors Beetham & Sharpe in their treatise titled, ‘Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age” described this phenomenon as a cavalier attitude toward “Internet-based information, and the cut-and-paste mentality of a generation raised on editing tools rather than pen and paper.”
Today, it’s second nature for social media users to copy another’s status updates from networks, such as Facebook and post i as their own creative content – even when they have the option to ‘share’ and provide that creator with proper attribution.
This practice has become so rampant that one of the core principles of the new social network Tsū is based on incentivising its users’ ‘original content’ versus the published work, photos and images of others.
Founder Sebastian Sobczak went so far as to install copyright infringement technology to detect those users who copied and pasted ‘all-rights-reserved’ Google images - disqualifying them from earning any royalties derived from those postings [For more information on this unique social network’s monetary model, please see: “Tsū, A New Social Network Pays Indie Authors To Promote Their Work.”]
Who’s on first?
Who's responsibility is it anyway? Should the writer or the publishing platform scan for plagiarism? In the self-publishing world, while the technology is available, it’s not extensively being used very often.
’Turnitin’ for instance is recommended software employed by university teachers and students to check for plagiarism. However, Amazon’s Create Space and Kindle Direct Publishing platforms for uploading digital content has no such detection system built in detection system.
Though not a foolproof solution, the Turnitin system cross-checks content against a database of previously published works, and then produces an ‘originality’ report highlighting instances where there is similarity to other copyrighted material.
Generally this has two purposes. First, it discourages deliberate plagiarism, and secondly it highlights accidental plagiarism, because in many cases the duplication is unintentional. I’m sure many writers have had the experience of posting a quote or phrase, which was originally written by someone else without realizing they were doing that.
Columnist Paul Breen writes in NewsHub that he thinks this type of quality control should be the responsibility of the publishing platform and not the writer. “The onus is on Amazon to ensure that there is some way of checking the quality of what's going online, because if there's not, it diminishes the reputation of those who self-publish.”
In these cases, in my humble opinion, Amazon should not be allowed to profit from plagiarized work just because it is submitted. To elevate self-publishing in general, they should provide the example and the technology to publish only original content.
On the other hand, while Smashwords does not use plagiarism technology, Marketing Manager Jim Azevedo notes that “every book that is uploaded to Smashwords is manually reviewed . . . (where) the vetting team will pull a string of text from the book in questions and run a Google search on it.”
“If our suspicions are correct, the author/publisher's account will be closed without warning. We have a zero tolerance policy for plagiarism,” adds Azevedo.
Saving what’s yours!
Technically, according to U.S. law, the moment you create original content, it belongs to you. When and if someone else were to take it, that’s copyright infringement.
So, make sure you always save and date all of your original work. Then you should print out hard copies and get them notarized. Or you can snail mail your work to yourself so that it has a postmark date (also known as the “poor man’s copyright”).
However, to protect yourself fully, you should register directly with the U.S. Copyright Office for extra protection under the law. It only costs $45 per submission, and will provide you with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve taken all steps necessary to protect what is rightfully yours.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks.com as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear bi-weekly on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of each month.
We love to keep our indie authors happy. Join BookWorks network of established and emerging self-published authors and gain exclusive insight to publishing and promoting your book. Sign up HERE.