The Etiquette of Citing and Sharing Someone’s Work (i.e. How Not to Plagiarize)

I’m having a hard time writing this week. I was horribly discouraged after I discovered several websites and blogs that had unauthorized copies of one of my posts. Although most of the people I’ve contacted about the material have been very understanding and have taken down the unauthorized material in order to share my post in a way that doesn’t violate my copyright, it still shook me to think that out here on the Internet is probably where the most content-stealing happens.

It’s sad because it’s also the most open (and therefore most valuable) forum available today. It’s the great equalizer in the world of writing, but an equalizer that apparently comes with the unfortunate assumption that everything on the Internet is free.

Even though I was upset, I also empathized. I know that most people don’t intend to plagiarize or steal other people’s work. I’ve been there and done that, to my own mortification. When I started blogging, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. No one teaches you how to use images or how to find the original source of something that has gone viral on the Internet.

You learn as you go . . . which seems ridiculous since the only way you’ll learn is by making mistakes.

So today, I want to talk about sharing the work of others. Since I’m most familiar with written work, I’ll focus mostly on that. I’m sure the rules around images is similar, but I encourage someone who knows the legalities around image sharing to do a similar post about how to share images in a way that respects rather than violates someone’s copyright. (And please send the link to me when you do, because I want to double check that I’m above the board on everything!)

QUOTES:

Quotations should be used as a springboard for your own thoughts. Your post should not consist of only quotes, nor should the quotations outnumber your own words. When using a quote, identify whom you are quoting. If you have a range of quotes from multiple people, put the person’s name either directly before or after the quote.

Diane over at her blog said, “I was horribly discouraged after I discovered several websites and blogs that had unauthorized copies of one of my posts.”

I know that most people don’t intend to plagiarize or steal other people’s work. —Diane from Sometimes Magical

In a literature class, you might have to pay attention to rules regarding when to use quotation marks and when to use a block quote, but generally on the Internet, as long as you show that it’s a quote and who is saying it, your grade won’t be docked.  😉

But this is important: Even if you have quotation marks around something, it’s still plagiarism if you don’t identify the speaker.

If you are responding to a specific piece by someone else, it’s probably okay to mention them at the beginning of the post and use quotes from there with the understanding that all the quotes are from the same author. However, if there seems to be any doubt, throw in an identifier.

CITATIONS

Notice how I named both the speaker and where they said it? In addition to naming the author when you quote someone, you also need to provide a source.

For a written book, the title of the book, page, and the author’s name should be enough to allow others to find the book. For more academic posts, it may not hurt to do a more formal citation with a full bibliographic listing at the bottom of the post (General format: Author’s name last, first; Title; publication place; publisher; publication year).

For an online source, provide a link that clearly identifies what it goes back to. You can embed a link in a word, like this:

Diane, in her blog, says . . . (blog embedded with a link back to this post)

You can also name the source and embed the link in the name of the source: This article over at SometimesMagical 
(blog embedded into Sometimes Magical)

But it needs to be obvious. Especially if you are using quotations and not just referencing that you read the article. The quote needs to be next to the source, or the source needs to come well before the quote and be identified unmistakably as the source (as in the name of the author or blog needs to be used in your post, not just something that says “link” or “source”).

LINKING

What if you just want to share the link and aren’t trying to write a post of your own?

If you are going to quote anything from the post as a preface to the link, you still need to make sure that you don’t violate copyright. Anything you post with the link should be something to inspire others to go read the entire article to which you linked.

I go by a rule of thumb that you shouldn’t quote more than a few sentences (never more than a paragraph) as a preface to a link unless you have permission from the author to do more. And when you quote, make sure you make it clear that it’s from the article and you want others to go read the article. Your sourcing shouldn’t be underneath your own comments. It should be with the quote itself.

PARAPHRASING

This is probably the trickiest bugger of them all. Paraphrasing means you are taking someone else’s words and “translating” them into your own words but still identifying the original author as the source of the idea.

If I were to paraphrase my quotes above, I might say:

Diane over at Sometimes Magical thinks that most cases of plagiarism are committed out of ignorance.

Notice that I still credit Diane for the ideas, but instead of quoting directly, I’m giving the general gist of what was said in my own words, sentence structure, and phrasing. Also notice that I don’t put anything in quotation marks because I’m not quoting the exact words, but I still have to credit the source of the idea.

PERMISSION

Copyright can be a complicated motherfucker to try to understand. The best thing to do if you’re unclear as to whether you’re giving proper credit is to just ask the author or artist. It’s better to get permission than to find your blog suspended and your host serving you with a copyright violation notice. I try to assume that people mean the best and go through the personalized method first, but not everyone is going to do that . . . or can’t if you don’t have a means of contact available on your website.

You can also get books that tell you the proper way to cite. Anything geared towards writing academic papers should have something covering plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Happy and responsible blogging, dear friends!

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3 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Citing and Sharing Someone’s Work (i.e. How Not to Plagiarize)

  1. Steve Sparks says:

    Thanks for the reminders. I try to follow the rules with discipline.

  2. Mandy says:

    This is an excellent post. I just recently put something in my sidebar to the same effect–“please credit my name/blog if you share something you read here.” THANK YOU for making a writing a whole post about it! 🙂

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