Have You Plagiarized Another Blogger?

Plagiarism stars

What is plagiarism?

Generally speaking, we all know what plagiarism is.  The OED provides the following definition:

The action or practice of taking someone else’s work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one’s own; literary theft.

In academia, plagiarism can take various forms from getting a friend to write all or portions of an essay, copying and pasting passages from the Internet without citing the source, or even sprinkling sentences or phrases from an uncited source throughout the paper and pretending you wrote them. You can also self-plagiarize if you turn in the same paper for more than one class.

Plagiarism in the Book Blogosphere

In the book blogosphere, however, people have different definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and often these definitions are stricter than they might be in academia.  For example, in her post about “inspiration” vs. “copying,” Paper Fury suggests that:

  1. If you write a discussion post on a topic someone else wrote about and you forget to acknowledge them, you may have plagiarized.
  2. If you respond to another blogger’s post without giving them a credit, you may  have plagiarized.
  3. If a Tweet inspires an idea, you may have plagiarized.

I think these categories are too vague and broad to necessarily constitute plagiarism.  Consider:

  1. You write a post about how to gain followers or how often to comment or how to create a blog layout.  Everyone addresses topics like these.  Whom did you plagiarize if all the ideas in the post are yours?  Yes, it’s nice to leave a link back to other posts (if you’ve even read any) about commenting that got you thinking, but I don’t think you’re required to.
  2. Someone wrote about hating Twilight.  You think that’s unfair so you write a post in which you gush about your love for Twilight.  If you aren’t responding directly to the points made in the original post, but simply talking about how much you love a book, you have not plagiarized the other person’s work. You can leave a friendly link back if you want, but, again, you’re not required to.
  3. You see a Tweet about someone eating cake and reading a book and you begin a feature where you pair cakes and books.  The author of the Tweet really has nothing to do with your idea.   You may have seen a picture of a cake next to a book online.  Should you credit the photographer for your idea?  What if your Mom said she likes to eat cake and read?  Is your Mom the original creator of the cakes and books meme?  If the person wrote a Tweet talking about a new feature they are going to start about cakes and books, then you have plagiarized.  Otherwise, you may have to make a judgment call about how much they inspired you.  If in doubt, link back.

Of course, there is a line you can cross where you might read someone’s post and then basically paraphrase it in your “own” discussion post.  Or where you might write a response clearly directed at another article, then not cite the article.  These cases are not acceptable behavior.  However, the fact that you wrote a discussion post about a topic other people discussed earlier does not automatically make you a plagiarist.

Other Instances of potential plagiarism

Memes and features are a touchy subject for book bloggers.  Someone who makes a popular meme does not want someone else starting the same meme with a different name and taking away their followers.  However, sometimes bloggers have similar features and it’s not a case of plagiarism.  Consider:

  • In 2011, we started a feature called “If You Like, Then Read” where we recommend books based on other books you like.  Other bloggers may also recommend books in various features.  The idea of recommending books is not one that one blogger can claim as “their” idea.  (But if you copied our recommendation lists and claimed you wrote them, then you are plagiarizing.)
  • In 2012, we began featuring personality quizzes on our blog, beginning with our L.M. Montgomery character quiz.  Since then, other blogs have also begun featuring personality quizzes.  This is not plagiarism.  Personality quizzes are a type of post that exists, like book reviews exist, and cannot be said to one person’s intellectual property, as a broad category.  (Of course, if you take our questions and claim they are yours, then you are plagiarizing.)

But other ideas may be more original or more specific.  For instance:

  • In Aug. 2015, we hosted a Wizarding School Adventure where participants could go shopping, get Sorted, attend classes, and select a wizarding career.  If another book blogger hosted a Wizarding Adventure, they would be be copying our idea.
  • Some memes are very specific, like Top Ten Tuesday.  Someone who started a meme where bloggers wrote ten book suggestions based on a question would be copying.

Final Thoughts

The line between plagiarizing and not plagiarizing can be difficult to discern.  And some bloggers feel more proprietary about their material than others.  You may think that their meme is general enough for you to do your own version, but they may not feel the same way.  So, if in doubt, ask the blogger or link back!

Krysta 64

25 thoughts on “Have You Plagiarized Another Blogger?

  1. anhdara13 says:

    ‘So if in doubt, ask the blogger or link back!’ is definitely the way I approach things. Love the way you’ve phrased all of this. It’s a very important conversation we should all be having and be aware of.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jimrada says:

    What are your thoughts on self-plagiarism since you mention it? Is it wrong to, say, use part of a blog post that you write and include it in an article? Or the reverse? Cut an article down to be a blog post or series of posts? They are your words and ideas either way.


    • Krysta says:

      Do you mean an article published on another site or for another publication? They might ask for only original submissions. Otherwise, I would talk with the publisher and ask if they’re okay with you using some material from your blog. Sometimes articles or books have notes that they contain material that was previously published elsewhere.


      • jimrada says:

        Yes, it would be previously published material. I was just curious whether you saw anything wrong with it since you are plagiarizing your own material.


        • Krysta says:

          Yes, I understand the blog posts would have been something you already published on your blog. I’m asking if the question is whether a blogger could reuse a post on another website or publication. In this case, I would suggest asking the publisher if they expect you to 1) write totally new content, 2) rework some of your own previously published material, or, 3) use some of your old content but with a note saying it had been previously published and where.

          If you’re writing for your own hobby blog, I don’t think it’s a problem to rework your own material. We’ve posted about plagiarism before. I have another post on plagiarism set for later this year. The plagiarism discussion is always relevant.

          When I post again about plagiarism, I will probably say some things I said here, like the fact that in college you cannot turn in the same paper for two different classes. Some people have not been taught that. I think it bears repeating. I do try to rework the material, though, and add new elements.


            • Krysta says:

              Sure! I think the main difference with reworking things on your own blog is that you retain full creative control over your words there vs. submitting to a publication that might be trying to make money off selling people original content. I do some bloggers rework and reuse material on their blog. Sometimes they note that it’s being reworked or updated, so you could also go that route.


  3. jubilare says:

    The origin of ideas/inspiration can be really tricky, I think. As we are constantly taking in information from various sources and are unable to stop and catalog it all, no one is able to say, for sure, what things came together to give them a particular idea. Sometimes two people come up with the same idea at the same time. And really, there is nothing that is absolutely new.

    I seriously doubt I tread any really special ground on my blog. No doubt a lot of people, unbeknownst to me, are saying the same things. Granted that it is just a wandering personal blog, not competing with anyone and therefore unlikely to step on toes, but I do wonder what I would do if I was accused of plagiarism.

    But what I find most worrying is where the line exists in art and fiction.
    If I know that a certain post or book or video game has inspired a thought on my blog, I will refer to it. But there is a point at which the evolution of the thought in my own mind, combined with other things, has changed the initial idea to the point where I no longer think it necessary to refer back. This happens a lot in terms of my fiction and my art.

    For instance, I can trace the acorn of certain inspirations for my stories to certain video games or books. But the acorn has become a full grown tree, without even a passing resemblance to what inspired it. And if that is plagiarism, then I think the entirety of the arts are nothing more than a sea of plagiarism.
    And yet, ideas being what they are, it’s possible for me to be accused of plagiarism, not by what inspired me, but by others who have had similar ideas, or by mere accident. Just recently I had to rename a character in my WIP. The reason is that I had a pair of characters named Finley and Rey. …they were named that for a long time. Then the new Star Wars came out.😄
    After being rather stunned, I had a good laugh. I also have a wizard whose first name is Harry (because that is a common name in my family, actually) and he was named Harry long before Mr. Potter showed up on the scene. Now, if I ever publish… all I can say is that it is a weird world we live in.

    I’m all for being very careful about not stealing other people’s ideas. But I am also very sure that there is a nebulous area, and not a clear line, between inspiration and theft.😉


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, plagiarism can be a nebulous area in some cases. Even in academic articles, I see authors talking about the same ideas without attribution. But at what point in the conversation does an idea become so well-known or just turn into some sort of “given” that people decide it no longer needs attribution? I’d rather cite another source talking about said idea just to be safe.

      However, I like to think that people will have some common sense. All literature is in some way non-original, but I think there’s a line you can cross. Like, it’s okay to have a wizard school, but when your wizard school has a groundskeeper who likes dangerous beasts, a Sorting Scarf, and a mysterious headmaster who likes candy…it’s looking shaky. In a way, it’s often about the combination of elements.

      I agree, though, that the possibility of looking like a copycat worries me. Sometimes I have what I think is an original idea for a story and then I read a book and the premise is the same! Then I have to start over. But what if I had never read that book and never knew the premise was the same! Eek!

      Liked by 1 person

      • jubilare says:

        In academia, it is always a good idea to cite a source for everything. I was trained to look for sources for ideas I thought were my own just to avoid the appearance of plagiarism. Laborious, but necessary. ^_^

        “Then I have to start over.” But why? There are many books that have the same premise and yet are original books. The biggest problem I have is that it is easy for people to legitimately draw the plagiarism line in different places, and for them to be able to support their position. Which means there isn’t an entirely safe place to stand. One has to make one’s choices and hope they’re acceptable. >_<

        "In a way, it’s often about the combination of elements."
        Most of the time, aye. But then again, looking at fairy tales and Shakespeare plays, both arising before plagiarism took on its modern meanings, there are combinations of elements that are almost ubiquitous. And these same elements have been combined in many stories ever since. Is it because the stories are plagiarized, or is it that fairy tales and Shakespeare have permeated society? Or is there something fundamental and common to humanity that causes these elements to come together? I don't know.
        One thing that worries me (as evidenced by my naming woes) is what you mention: "plagiarizing" something I have never encountered.


  4. Krysta says:

    I have sometimes written material, then later read a source where the author had the same idea, and then I had to cite them! But the more academic articles I read, the more it looks like 1) authors are often saying the same thing, but slightly differently and 2) they’ve arbitrarily decided some material need not be cited even though, because I am researching this topic, I have seen at least six authors all say this idea without any attribution (and thus assume the authors must have seen others saying it when they did their own research). I find it confusing. :S

    True, I don’t need to start over since a lot books do have the same premises and I could make the story original in other ways. Sometimes I just get discouraged, though, and try to move on to a different project.

    I was just thinking about Shakespeare! He took plots wholesale and then combined them with subplots taken from other works! But he didn’t have our idea of copyright law and even now there seems to be some tacit understanding that if you use material from a work out of copyright, you are not plagiarizing, but alluding or adapting or retelling. Or maybe the different is partly if people KNOW you’re working from another source. Like it’s obvious if you’re doing Romeo and Juliet, but not obvious if you took a subplot from a little-known author? So people feel cheated when they find out? And, of course, there’s the monetary aspect. You’re not taking royalties from Shakespeare because he’s dead.

    There are so many factors influencing what’s acceptable and what’s not. Because the line is hazy, I always try to err on the side of caution, but the fear you mention is real!

    And I had to laugh at your naming woes. It seems like a minor change, but once I name a character that’s who they ARE to me!


  5. Jorelene @ Page Chronicles says:

    This is a really great discussion! I was thinking about this topic myself recently. I think it’s hard to determine actual plagiarism in the book blogging community since a lot of discussion topics and ideas have been done before, but there’s posts every now and then that are fairly blatant plagiarism (especially in a given time frame). What do you do when you see someone doing something very similar to what you came up with, and they don’t ask or link back to you?


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, it can be really difficult! That’s why I think a link back is never a bad thing. However, if someone’s actually copying/rewording reviews or taking features, that’s obviously inappropriate.

      Unfortunately, aside from asking them to link back/credit you or reporting them (if possible) to their blog host, I don’t know that many bloggers have a lot of recourse to justice. Over the years I’ve seen bloggers do stuff that looks a little like stuff we’ve been doing here, but I couldn’t prove anything, so I just ignored it. However, I’m not making money from this blog, so that allows me to be more forgiving. And I suppose bigger bloggers will find it easier to ignore lifted content than others since they’re unlikely to lose traffic over it. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Geraldine @ Corralling Books says:

    Awesome post, Krysta! There’s definitely a fine line between plagiarism and…not plagiarism? And I definitely agree that Cait’s categories are pretty vague – but then again, it is hard to pinpoint what plagiarism is, because of so many reasons, a lot of which you’ve listed here :S
    I think the policy, better safe than sorry, is such an awesome way to approach things :))


    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes the definitions are vague, I guess, to make sure they encompass various cases, but it also seems to me that book bloggers tend to be stricter with their definitions of plagiarism than others. Just because someone started doing personality quizzes like we did doesn’t mean they plagiarized us!


  7. Valerie says:

    This was a great post Krysta! Sometimes we don’t even know where OR when the idea originated, and their are so many ideas that have been inspired by other things, it’s hard to see WHERE it came from. Honestly, I think that if you did see a specific post and wanted to expand on it, you should give credit to that post. But that doesn’t mean you should be giving credit to everyone that wrote about said topic. Or the same topic I suppose.

    I think people try too hard to be original. Or claim to be original. When in reality, everything comes from somewhere. Although sometimes I get really annoyed at constant/consistent trends in the blogosphere, I have to step back and realize that the trend itself isn’t original, and not owned by one person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      True! I try to link back if someone inspired me. Why not? Spreading the love around never hurt! On the other hand,it’s impossible to give credit to everyone everywhere who also talked about commenting or something like that. I think if we try to reasonable about credit and use common sense, we’ll be okay.


  8. Allison @ The Book Wheel says:

    I try to link up anything that jumps out at me and sparks an idea. I’ve also been plagiarized (as in my reviews were reposted, in full, without attribution) and a few #30Authors copycat events have popped up since I started mine, which is irritating but that’s why I have some legal protections. Those being exceptions, it can be hard to trace a thought such as “I like Twilight” or “I eat cake.”


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think linking back is courteous even in cases where it might not be strictly necessary. Sometimes, though, I get confused, like if someone links back to a post I wrote on cake but they’re talking about ice cream. I’m glad I helped spark an idea about desserts, but really the posts aren’t related, so I don’t think there’s a case of potential plagiarism involved….

      I’m sorry to hear your reviews were plagiarized! That happened to Briana and it was such a mess. It’s difficult to deal with the emotional stress when you see someone stealing your work, and then when you have to track down evidence and deal with the legalities, it turns into a time-consuming nightmare.


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