August 3, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

As science blogger, how to handle plagiarism & other text reuse issues

plagiarism as a blogger
Free use image from Wikipedia

If you write about science on the web such as a blogger (e.g. me here on The Niche), chances are that your work has been used by someone else without your permission.

What can you or should you do about that if anything?

This re-use can range from what turn out to be appropriate occurrences to outright, harmful plagiarism. Just in the past few weeks I have had to deal with multiple, different instances of other websites using text from my blog posts without permission.

For example, when someone re-posts an entire post of yours without permission that’s not a good thing. That happened to me recently as it has many times in the past. Has that happened to you? What did you do?

Even if they cite you as the author of the work, such full-scale re-use of material without permission is not cool in my view. Some have argued that this kind of re-use (even without permission) of an entire piece constitutes “fair use“, but that’s a big stretch. Instead, it is likely a violation of copyright. Keep in mind that whatever original writing that someone does on the web is protected by copyright.

Of course things often get even more serious. So-called “scrapers” regularly troll the Internet for content to steal. They re-use it without attribution.

Individual websites also can take words from others without attribution and post it as if it were their own original content, sometimes with tiny changes to mask things. Yeah, that’s plagiarism and it is fairly rampant. This also happened recently to me.

What do to in such instances?

It depends.

If someone is appropriately quoting or excerpting relatively small parts of your work and especially if they link back to you, it’s positive. There’s a communal nature to the online science community and linking to each other is healthy. Permission isn’t an issue.

If someone posts an entire piece of yours without permission, even if they attribute it to you, my suggestion would be to contact them and ask them politely to only use an excerpt and to include a link to the original work. Doing those things is just being considerate and fair. Unfortunately, re-use of entire pieces without permission can happen so often that it might not be possible to follow up on every case.

On the other hand if someone has taken part of your writing such as a blog post and presented it as their own, then that is more serious. You should contact them, ask for a correction, and indicate that you don’t want to see it happening again. In theory such re-use could have been by mistake. Make them aware. You might get a positive response and an apology, but more likely you’ll get no reply or even a hostile reaction.

What to do in the latter case with a bad or no response? It’s really a matter of personal choice at that point. Ignore it? Talk to a lawyer? Blog about it?

If you are a scientist, for context how would you feel if someone took your words from an article that you published and republished it without attribution in their own article? What would you do? In principle, your words on the web are just as protected.

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