Plagiarising Web Content is Not Ethical

You found it on the Internet so it’s free to take and use right? Wrong. Just because you see something on the web doesn’t mean you can grab it and pass it off as your own.

Recently I was alerted to the fact that someone had taken an article of mine, changed ‘VA’ wherever it appeared to their company name, and then uploaded it as their Benefits page. This is NOT okay.

I found out because I attempted to post my article online and was told it that it could not be accepted as it did not comply with editorial guidelines, and the editors thought I had taken the content from this particular site – and provided me the URL. Does this damage my reputation with that article directory? It sure does! They now think I’ve taken content when in fact it was the other way around.

Changing it ‘just a little bit’ does NOT make it yours.

This trend is not new. VAs around the globe have found that newbies are visiting their sites and taking content to build their own sites. The excuse is invariably “Well there’s only so many ways to describe what a VA does”. Perhaps that’s true, but you should always write your own content – or at the very least ask whether you can use what you find elsewhere first and provide appropriate author acknowledgements.

With the emergence of Filipino and other Asian and English-as-a-second-language outsourcing companies, plagiarising content is on the rise.

What you find online is the intellectual property of the site owner. Everything on that site is copyright (and an annotation to that effect will be on the site). If you find information in online article directories, there are terms of use for that content. You can’t just take it and use it as if it’s your own.

Which brings me to the problem for clients. Just because it’s written on a VA’s website doesn’t make it true. If you’re looking for a VA make sure you check their credentials and what they say. Certification badges should be linked back to the organisation that provided the certification. Testimonials can be put up by anyone – legitimate testimonials will always include a link to the person who provided it – either to their email or website for contact information so you can verify it.

The particular site owner who ripped off my content has a Code of Ethics on their site which includes amongst other things:

Apply ethical business practices in administrative and financial aspects of the service.
Comply with all legal obligations to provide professional services including, but not limited to, copyright laws.

Well I guess they probably took those from another VA’s website too because they certainly didn’t comply with copyright laws when they took my article.

Now imagine you’re a client and you find this service provider online. Everything looks legit right? But do you really want to partner with them when what they’ve actually got on their site belongs to someone else because they lack the ethics, intelligence or motivation to write it themselves? What does that mean for how they’ll handle your work product and issues of confidentiality? Can you trust them?

Be careful! If you’re a client check the legitimacy of the VA you want to partner with, do your due diligence, speak to them, check their references. Don’t just believe what you see online as it may not be theirs to begin with.

If you’ve had content taken what can you do? Most industrialised nations are signatories to the Berne Convention, which forms the basis of copyright law internationally. In the US you may be covered under their Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The location of the perpetrator will be your stumbling block so seek legal advice.

If you’re starting out as a VA or are an outsourcing company, just because you find it online does NOT make it yours to take. Write your own content, or ask the author for their permission before you use something and try to pass it off as your own. You will be found out. You will be asked to remove it or face possible legal action. And you will damage your reputation before you even get started.

About the Author
Lyn Prowse-Bishop, MVA, ASO is Australia’s first certified Master Virtual Assistant (MVA), an EthicsChecked VA, VA, Accredited Secretary Online (ASO), 2007 Business Achiever’s Award winner for Professional Services, and 2006 Thomas Leonard International VA of Distinction Award Nominee – has been in private practice since February 2000 as owner/manager of Executive Stress Office Support, providing remote executive assistant, office support and admin services to independent consultants and professionals around the world.

One of Queensland’s most respected virtual assistants, Lyn is also founder of the Australian Virtual Business Network, is a founding member and served for three years on the steering committee, and speaks at, the annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention, and also serves as Australian representative on international committees looking at standards and certification for the VA industry.

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  1. says

    Thanks for sending this article to us Lyn. Plagiarism on the Internet is a very big problem! We regularly have content from this website turning up on other websites, usually it’s on blogger or one of the other free blog domains. But occasionally I’ve had to lodge a complaint with a well established website that should no better than to publish content word for word without the permission of the copyright holder.