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:
- If you write a discussion post on a topic someone else wrote about and you forget to acknowledge them, you may have plagiarized.
- If you respond to another blogger’s post without giving them a credit, you may have plagiarized.
- If a Tweet inspires an idea, you may have plagiarized.
I think these categories are too vague and broad to necessarily constitute plagiarism. Consider:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!