Yvette Pistorio

Four Tips for Dealing with a Plagiarism Accusation

By: Yvette Pistorio | May 20, 2013 | 

Four Tips for Dealing with a Plagiarism AccusationThe last few weeks have definitely been interesting, but enough ink – and enough angst – has been spilled about what happened, so let’s move on.

That said, I did learn some valuable lessons from the suggestion I had plagiarized someone’s work.

In today’s digital day and age, these social plagiarism accusations are fairly common, and there’s a chance it could happen to you, if it hasn’t already.

So, here’s what I learned from being publicly accused of plagiarism.

Hopefully they’ll be valuable to you as well.

Don’t Ignore the Accusation

As soon as I saw the comment, I went to my team for guidance and support. Right away we began analyzing both posts to see if the accuser had a valid argument – because, as I mention below, we’re all only human – and sometimes humans make mistakes. There are several tools you can use to run these checks – we used Grammarly – and the post in question never came up.

Always, Always, Always Attribute

In today’s world of non-stop information, we seem to be forever reading. You might have read posts and forgotten you’ve even seen them! Then, you sit down to write, and accidentally craft a sentence you’ve seen somewhere else without even realizing it. If you have the time to take a step back, you’ll usually notice, and think: Wait a second, did I read this somewhere?

In my case, I wasn’t careful. I was in a rush to turn in my next post on time, and I didn’t credit the article I drew my original inspiration from. Although, ironically, it still wasn’t the post that was cited as the plagiarized work. In fact, it was from a huge publication, and most likely would never have been noticed – but still – this is a HUGE no-no. I know that.

I studied journalism in college so I’m very familiar with the ethics of writing. Will I ever make that mistake again? NO, absolutely not! In fact, if anything, I’m over cautious now that this has happened.

Trolls Don’t Stop

They never stop. They write and share posts about the perceived ‘incident.’ They’ll call you out very publicly and most of the time will not be convinced you didn’t lift their work. You will never get an apology, so don’t dwell on it. Stand behind your work, and keep on writing.

Move On

It’s a lot easier said than done, but once you do everything you can, there’s nothing left to do but move forward. I stopped responding to comments. I’ve said what I had to say and now I’m done. I have nothing more to add to the conversation (maybe that’s the introvert in me?)

Having said all of that, I just want to publicly thank the Spin Sucks community. I was overwhelmed by how you all stood behind me and supported me. You came to my rescue, as Gini Dietrich stated in last week’s post (see how I’m attributing Gini here?!), and I will never forget that. So thank you from the bottom of my heart.

About Yvette Pistorio

Yvette Pistorio is the shared media manager for Arment Dietrich. She is a lover of pop culture, cupcakes, and HGTV, and enjoys a good laugh. There are a gazillion ways you can find her online.

  • Attack squirrels and killer dolphins, plus bird eating spiders are always useful tools for dealing with trolls, or so I once heard Gini say.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Lol!!! I heard the same about squirrels but not killer dolphins or bird eating spiders.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Brat.

  • Alan Brocious

    by my 9th grade teacher, she had no proof but said I wasn’t smart enough to right like that. Although she had a very valid point, regardless that isn’t proof….. 😉

  • Carolyn Dunn

    Very early in my career, I did a “Saturday” story that featured a gaggle of Elvis impersonators. I pulled out the usual “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on” and “Blue suede shoes” cliches. That same story ran on a week in review show on Sunday night. On Monday morning, a print reporter phoned my boss FURIOUS that I had plagiarized, word for word, HIS Sunday story. He was pretty sheepish to learn that my TV story had run a good 12 hours before his print story (pre-widespread internet), had plopped on everyone’s doorstep. So, no I did not plagiarized his story, but perhaps he had plagiarized mine? The short answer is neither of us plagiarized. We were both, sadly, just relying on well worn cliches. Oh, and he was just an arrogant moron.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    I dislike arrogant morons very very much. Thanks for sharing your story Carolyn 🙂 ^yp

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    Ha!! Your 9th grade teacher huh?! ^yp

  • iCopyright

    We came late to this kerfuffle but just wanted to weigh in with one final thought.  
    In our experience — and we have lots of experience in this area, — bloggers feel outrage when posts are scraped word for word, without attribution.  Unfortunately, this happens a lot in the blogosphere, and there is no question that the folks who do that kind of scraping lack integrity.
    Where one blogger’s inspiration begins and another’s blogpost ends, is yet another thing entirely.  We bloggers are constantly getting inspiration from one another. Most bloggers are happy to play a role in that.
    So yes, by all means, give attribution … but let’s be real.  You did not deprive another blogger of income … or steal their SERP’s by virtue of duplicate content, or lift content word for word.   Nothing remotely like that happened.
    Now, off to get us one of those attack squirrels.  We have our own trolls to deal with:)

    • iCopyright I agree, if someone is inspired by my post, that’s awesome. I get inspiration from a lot of other bloggers and attribute them. Even DannyBrown inspired a post of mine! Thanks for the comment too 🙂 
      Good luck finding one of those attack squirrels. I’m off to find a bird eating spiders 😉

  • I appreciate your candor on the subject and on your experience.
    It is so difficult these days with so much content floating around, to differentiate between your using an idea or being inspired by something, which cannot be copyrighted, and actual plagiarism. This is particularly true in the blogosphere where originality, frankly, is in short supply.
    If I were to write my own post about dealing with the accusation of plagiarism, there are some who would think I plagiarized, even if my work were original.
    The bigger issue is for someone in communications, an accusation of plagiarism or copyright infringement can be career ending. Unfortunately, the social media world is filled with idiots who don’t actually know what they are talking about and throw accusations around like they know somebody. Fortunately, you have an employer who knows better.

    • ClayMorgan Lol! I wouldn’t think you plagiarized!! I’m very lucky to have a boss and team who knows better. And the community too, everyone was amazing and supportive. I love it!

  • susancellura

    It’s hard but one has to remember that with a global population on the Internet, many people will have similar ideas and positions regarding topics and discussions. Just like supporting the same sports team, 2,000  people may think about writing a post on the same topic during the same timeframe. I’d like to think that the trolls didn’t exist and deride happiness from searching out such “opportunities”. However, I can remember that they may not have as fulfilling a life as I do, and that I’m not embarrassed when I look in the mirror.  The tips everyone has given, including @http://www.livefyre.com/profile/2697978/’s in this post, have been great.

    • susancellura Thanks Susan 🙂 I agree too, there are only so many topics to write on. I don’t know how many more “How to Use [insert social media network here]” I can handle. And you’ll even notice when one topic is the “hot topic” because EVERYONE writes about it.

      • susancellura

        yvettepistorio Exactly!

        • susancellura It’s why I never wrote about Facebook Graph Search. I was about to, then I said, “nah, I leave it up to the million other bloggers to take care of that topic.”

  • Love this and happy to see you writing again yvettepistorio 🙂 I agree with what others have already said: There is a big difference between word-for-word copying and inspiration. (See — I can give attribution too!)

    • TaraGeissinger yvettepistorio Lol! Thanks Tara 🙂

  • I had an excellent point about storytelling that I’ve used numerous times. Then I saw a YouTube video of Seth McFarlane making the exact same point. I did not accuse him of plagiarism (like that would happen anyway), and I resisted beating myself up for lack of originality. Instead I applaud myself for tapping into a universal principle that’s sure to resonate with audiences.
    Then I later realized we both probably lifted it from David Mamet.
    So, you know, “no new ideas under the sun,” and all that …

    • RobBiesenbach Lol! So you’re telling me you didn’t go after Seth McFarlane?!

      • yvettepistorio Oh, I’m biding my time, building my case, google-earthing his house …
        Actually it gave me new respect for this work — smart guy!

        • RobBiesenbach Hahaha!! Google earthing his house…love it!

  • I missed this somehow (which just goes to show how little this guy matters in the grand scheme of things, a fairly regular reader managed to totally not even see this despite reading that post and enjoying it)… but stay strong! I have noticed that sometimes people honestly don’t know the difference between “plagiarism” and “having a similar thought.” This goes both ways — people plagiarize outright without realizing they’re doing something different from just having the same opinion as the original author. 
    I saw it in my CSU classes. People would actually plagiarize discussion board posts! I thought it was just pure “I’m invincible” outright laziness, but I realized some of these people didn’t understand that they couldn’t just follow the creative process of “decide how I feel, Google to find someone who put my opinion in words already, use their words.” It seems unfathomable, right? But it happens!
    And on the other side of it, there are people so aggressively protective of their words that they think a vaguely similar thought is necessarily stolen from them, and they simply form a mental block to any suggestion that they’re wrong–or that THEY weren’t the first to have that idea, either! In their minds, they put the thought so well that anyone else who has it must have read their blog (book/article/site…) and must have stolen from them.

    • jelenawoehr Lol! Thank you 🙂 This post was cathartic for me really, and everyone has given me such great advice (including you!) It does happen, more often than I ever realized. Oh how naive I am!

  • Lindsay Bell-Wheeler

    Hey Carolyn, great story – imagine, a TV person plagiarizing a lowly print reporter. 😉

  • I was there! I saw the whole thing! It was crazy! And the kids at Spin Sucks nailed it with their response!

  • Gini Dietrich

    Wow Carolyn. Wow.

  • The move on piece is really hard. It’s difficult to know when you reach that line but crucial to recognize it.

    • And I totally commend you and everyone on the SS team for being gracious about the whole thing, but fair and firm. Takes real integrity to go that route.

      • JoeCardillo I”m way late in responding, but thank you Joe! The community really stepped up. The move on piece was hard…I was still emotional about it, but nothing I can do but move on.

        • yvettepistorio JoeCardillo No doubt, who among us hasn’t revisited something like that over and over

  • photo chris

    I have no idea how I EVER missed this, I read everything daily. Oh, all right, at the VERY least I skim heartily. I think you were all more than gracious in your responses. AND you linked him… very very big of you..

    • photo chris Thank you – I tried to appease him, but it didn’t happen. All I can do is move forward.

  • Great post! This situation was even frustrating for me to watch from the outside. But if there is anything the interwebz have taught me, someone else has already thunk every thought I can possibly have.

    • RebeccaTodd You were awesome 🙂 The entire community was amazing. And I agree, someone has already thought of everything I could possibly think of!

  • PattiRoseKnight1

    I am catching up on the blog posts during my week off and applaud you Yvette! You handled the situation like the true professional you are.  You did nothing wrong and in fact set an example of what others might do if they experience the same situation. You go girl!

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