I want to extend a special thank you to Jane Smith, a former reporter and current background check specialist, for sharing this valuable information with my readers.
You might’ve heard the horror stories: An amateur author works diligently for months on end on a piece sure to revolutionize the way people see and think—an instant bestseller. Anxious to get some feedback, the author publishes the entire novel on his or her blog. The audience loves it. One individual loves it so much he decides to steal it. Character names get switched around a bit, cities change, but the thief knows the truth: The story belongs to someone else. Regardless, he self-publishes it as an ebook and manages to make a profit on stolen work. The author has no idea.
Are you scared yet?
Stories like these rarely happen in life. If fear of someone stealing your material is the reason you refuse to publish excerpts online or to even submit your work to editors and publishers, then you need to learn how to shake it off soon: Promoting your work through all mediums and/or trying to contact as many publishers and editors as possible is essential to your publishing process. Plagiarism is a valid concern, but as long as you know how to protect yourself and how to monitor your work in cyberspace, you should be fine. Here are a few simple ways to help safeguard your work from plagiarism.
Save and Date all Original Work
The first thing you want to do is make sure that you save, date, and make copies of all of your original work. There are several different ways that you can go about this: you can print out your work and get it notarized; you can mail your work to yourself so that it has a post mark date (also known as the “poor man’s copyright”); or you can make sure that you save the most original version properly on your computer. These actions will help you if you ever do need to take someone to court, but on their own they will not likely be enough. That’s because officially registering for a copyright is the only way to have enough evidence to stand in a court of law.
Register with the U.S. Copyright Office
Technically, according to U.S. law, the second you create a piece of work it belongs to you; therefore, if someone else takes it, that’s copyright infringement. However, extra protection is also needed. There are several different non-official sites that claim to grant copyright to your work. Avoid these and register directly with the U.S. Copyright Office. It costs $45 per submission.
Add Copyright Notices to Blogs
Once you’ve registered your work, it’s best to use copyright notices on your websites or blogs—anywhere that you may publish your work. Similar to alarm system warnings, these notices won’t scare all thieves, but will deter a majority of them.
Use Plagiarizer-Catching Tools
The only way you’ll know if someone plagiarized your work is if you see it floating around (on another site, for example) without your permission. The faster you catch wind of this, the better. That’s why it’s important that you regularly check to see if your material pops up anywhere else. Below are some tools that can help you:
- Smart Google Search: Simply typing in a random sentence or two from your work may be all you need to catch a thief. If you do find one, take action right away. Try contacting the person directly and request that he or she take it down, but if the person refuses to cooperate then it’s best to contact and alert Google. Google has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to plagiarism. Other search engines have similar policies.
- Copyscape: Copyscape is a free checker that allows users to plug in a sentence or a domain name to see if specific material comes up anywhere else on the Web. However, in my experience sometimes the results can be misleading. For example, once an editor told me my article was 60 % plagiarized according to Copyscape results. When I submitted it personally, it read 30%. Certain that it should read 100% plagiarism-free, I submitted it again. It read 23% plagiarized. Still, the site does catch some bad guys; just make sure to thoroughly investigate before you cry, “Plagiarism!”
- Plagiarism.org: Similar to the service above, Plagiarism.org allows users to check more thoroughly for plagiarized work and get extensive reports in the mail regularly for a small fee. Results aren’t as skittish as Copyscape.
While these tips are designed to help you protect your work, it’s always important to keep in mind that sometimes another author is going to have the same idea as you. If a theme or story sounds very similar to yours, the brutal truth is that your work may not be as original as you thought. So thoroughly investigate and compare works before you say that yours was stolen—you can end up wasting a lot of time and money arguing a case that a judge will ultimately rule against or even throw out.
About the Author:
With more than 10 years of reporting under her belt, Jane Smith now uses her skills in journalism and internet research to help consumers better understand the purposes and uses of free background checks. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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