This Flowchart Will Save You From PlagiarizingBy Dillon Baker February 16th, 2016
Sometimes plagiarism is obvious. Take this famous French YouTuber, who copied the videos of several American and British YouTubers:
Even if you don’t speak French, the plagiarism here is pretty easy to spot—he copied the script and editing frame by frame. But the plagiarism may not have been so obvious to Mathieu Richard, the YouTuber in question. He defended himself in an interview, saying, “I’ve loved making videos since I was young, but there is something I cannot do, which is write. I had the great idea of watching the Americans and reproducing what they do.”
Though he did admit to stealing the content, his explanation suggests that he fundamentally doesn’t understand the concept of plagiarism. Or, at the very least, he doesn’t understand its seriousness.
Plagiarism cases are usually less black and white. With all the noise surrounding Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, you might have missed that she was recently accused of plagiarism. Malcom Gladwell has been too. Famous CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria has been accused of plagiarism multiple times, and was suspended by the channel and Time after he admitted his wrongdoing in 2012. And former BuzzFeed political editor Benny Johnson was fired in 2014 after an internal investigation found 41 instances of plagiarism.
But while a lot of people think of plagiarism as straight copy-and-pasting, it comes in many forms, each with varying levels of consequence. The accusations toward Beyonce, for example, didn’t say claim she literally stole the content, but that the proper permissions were not attained. Gladwell used quotes and reporting without attribution, a more serious accusation, but not career-killing. Zakaria’s case was straight copy-paste plagiarism, though he managed to keep his job. Johnson’s was explicit and damaging—his career as anything resembling a serious journalist is likely over.
So how have all these situations ended up with the same label of plagiarism? Likely, it’s because there’s still plenty of confusion surrounding what exactly is—and what isn’t—plagiarism. For freelancers without the support of an editorial team or legal counsel, trying to figure out the difference between what is frowned upon, what is a serious offense, and what is career-ending and illegal can be particularly confusing.
Luckily, Poynter, a publication that covers journalism and the media industry, has put together an infographic to try and solidify these blurred lines. Study it, and take the Society of Professional Journalists’ unambiguous rule to heart: “Never plagiarize.”
Infographic courtesy of Poynter.