"They ripped my words right off the page." Firefly's Claire Walker discusses how a recent case of plagiarism affected her

Picture yourself at work. You get an email from a journalist accusing you of plagiarising someone else’s work – basically stealing.

This happened to me recently. I had submitted an opinion piece – just like this. I couldn’t believe the accusation – I’ve even blogged about the harm that plagiarism causes.

Rip-off journalism
It turns out that someone had copied paragraphs I’d created previously, ‘reproduced’ it as their own, and their work was already published. The only way of proving my innocence was evidence that I originated the piece, and when and where the original piece was published.

Is this no big deal, bruised egos or a more serious matter of tarnished reputations and damaged relationships?

Having been accused, I vigorously defended my case. I had a reputation to repair. But how much time and attention would the media give to a bleating PR about their work being plagiarised? Thankfully, I was taken seriously.

Ruined relationships
It tarnished the relationship and eroded trust between the journalist, myself and our agency, though temporarily. It affected the relationship and trust between the journalist and the editor who thought the journalist was sloppy for attempting to get plagiarised content published.

And what happened to the real plagiariser? I won’t name them, but it was an HR consultant who wrongly thought no one would notice. I hope they now understand what grammarly.com does. It rumbles the cheats.

We resolved the situation quickly but it did serve as a stark reminder that plagiarism is still rife although rarely discussed. How many conversations about plagiarism have you been involved in?

What can you do?
The challenge to eradicate this malpractice falls to senior management. “Just don’t do it” is not adequate. Communications teams must be educated on why exactly they shouldn’t do it. To do this, senior managers should seek to understand why it happens in the first place.

The main reasons are:

  • Lack of time – not having enough time to create original content
  • Lack of effort – cutting corners and reproducing someone else’s work for the sake of ease
  • Lack of confidence – not having the self-assurance that starting from scratch will be good enough, interesting or correct
  • Lack of expertise – failing to put in a place a specialist within the business that can support the communications team with messaging, technical details and insight

The person/people at fault always ‘lacks’ something. Let’s make sure that teams understand the risks of plagiarising existing materials and always have what they need to create unique, insightful content and you wipe risk of plagiarism.

If you’re in any doubt that plagiarism, however innocently, might be occurring in your workplace, here are my plagiarism catcher golden rules. From the do’s and don’ts to the tools you can use to spot plagiarised work, you’ll find everything you need on how to stamp out plagiarism and protect your company from its consequences. Click here to read my golden rules.

Written by Claire Walker, group CEO at Firefly Communications Group