Avoiding Plagiarism

by | May 31, 2021 | Fiction, Non-fiction, Publishing, Writing

As I’m heading towards the end of my trimester at university, I have a few final assignments due. One thing we’re often reminded of is the need to avoid plagiarism.

It’s such a problem that the platform we submit our assignments with has a built-in plagiarism checker. Plagiarism is also a problem in the creative world, so I wanted to address it.

Plagiarism is where you pass off someone else’s concepts or work for your own benefit. Yes, you may have a similar idea to someone, which is fine. However, it will still be different if it’s your work as it’s written through your own perspective, experience, and imagination. Think of all the books in your favourite genre.

Plagiarising an idea involves taking an author’s story or plot, which is the core of a book, and maybe changing the character names or another minor detail, giving it a new title and adding your name as the author.

There have been some big names involved in some plagiarism cases. American romance writer Nora Roberts has sued several people for plagiarising her novels.

They also believed Australian author Colleen McCullough to have a plagiarised a book from a lesser-known author. Either way, the reputation of the accused plagiariser is forever tainted, often negatively affecting their sales and opportunities.

Protecting Yourself

So how can you protect yourself and your work, especially if you don’t have the budget to hire a legal team? Since March 1, 1989, copyright is automatically provided for unique creative works.

However, if you’re sued, you’ll need to prove your work is both different from the one you’re accused of plagiarising and that you wrote it first. This can be tricky.

One way around this is to store your work on another site (other than the computer you’re using to write it) as soon as you write it. Dropbox, One Drive, or iCloud Drive are some excellent options and provide date and time stamps. Also, date any ideas on paper as it’s evident from the vibrancy of the ink if it’s recently written or not.

Another simple step is to register your work with the copyright agency in your country. If the copyright doesn’t extend internationally, register it in the countries where your main readers are as a minimum. Reedsy has an article about how to do this.

An internet search of “registering copyright” will give you a list of agencies around the world. There is a cost involved.

Thankfully, modern technology and the world’s interconnectedness make it easier for plagiarisers to be found out. Encourage your fans or community to reach out if they feel someone has plagiarised your work.

If this happens, speak to the copyright agency in your country or seek legal advice about what you can do. If you feel like your work is bordering on plagiarism, also seek legal advice before you publish.

Some writing programs, such as Grammarly, also have built-in plagiarism checkers. These are helpful but are limited to online works.

Cheers to writing success!

Leonie