Good excuses for plagiarists

“I found it on the internet.”

“My researcher found it for me.”

“My coauthor write that part.”

“My ghostwriter wrote that part.”

[For ghostwriters] “My client wrote that part.”

“I thought it was in the public domain.”

“The author is dead.”

“It had a Creative Commons license.”

“I changed a bunch of words in it.”

“I got confused about where it came from.”

“My notes are a mess.”

“I’m quoting someone else, I guess they plagiarized it.”

“It’s only a blog post.” (Or tweet. Or Instagram post. Or . . .)

“The writer is a fascist pig, so I don’t feel bad about ripping them off.”

“The writer is a socialist wimp, so I don’t feel bad about ripping them off.”

“The owner is a big media company, so I don’t feel bad about ripping them off.”

“It’s just a song lyric that everyone knows.”

“I don’t know who wrote it.”

“The media company that published it is out of business.”

“I wrote it myself when I used to work somewhere else.”

“I didn’t see a copyright notice.”

“Footnotes are a pain and no one cares”

“I clearly recall coming up with that idea myself.”

“My memory is poor.”

“I never read the book that you say it’s from.”

“It was in a movie.” (Or TV show. Or song. Or YouTube video. Or TikTok. Or . . . )

“It was only one sentence.”

“It’s not like I’m a professional writer or something.”

“Writers do things like that all the time.”

“Give me a freakin’ break.”

“My memory is poor” 😉

None of these excuses matter

If you steal, you steal. Whether you had malice in your heart at the time you did it, or knowledge of your theft, is irrelevant.

If it’s short, footnote it.

If it’s long enough or is a graphic, get permission.

Sooner or later you’ll be the one stolen from. If you wouldn’t accept those excuses, why should you think you can use them on someone else?

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  1. Years ago, I was hired as a marketing writer for a private college. My boss said she hired me so her favorite editor would have someone equally fascinated by trivia for company. One day I quoted Lobachevsky regarding plaigiarism and the editor looked stunned. He had studied mathematics from Tom Lehrer and was thrilled to learn I was a fellow fan.

  2. Our family-owned company once had an employee who didn’t work out and was let go. He then set up business for himself and plagiarized most of our website. When we requested he take it down, he responded, “Why? It’s just words!” (Thunk – head hitting desk.)

  3. The fiction writer’s worst nightmare – accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s words. The internet – and SOMEONE – will find you out. Best reason for not reading while writing.

    And documenting every single thing you copy, whether you plan to use it or not.