Crossing the Fine Line Between Originality and Plagiarism

During the Republican National Convention, viewers quickly noticed the similarities between Melania Trump’s speech and Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. The preventable blunder was the focus of many media reports in the days after, highlighting the importance of content originality in today’s digital age.

Whether you’re speaking in public or posting a piece of work on your company blog, you cannot take someone else’s words and pass them off as your own. At best, you will appear inauthentic and lazy. At worst, the problem could land you in legal hot water. During a time when billions of pieces of content are floating around online, every business must consider a strategy for generating new content on a regular basis.


Understanding Basic Digital Copyright Laws

Whenever you post something new online, current copyright laws protect you. You don’t need to display a copyright notice or file your work with any agency. The moment you upload your content to a blog, website, or other digital medium, you are the sole owner of the work – and the law protects your work.

Online copyright laws work the same as copyrights to other content including videos, music, and books. However, digital content is inherently shareable. Posting content online automatically affords consumers with the limited right to share, read, and download works for personal use. Without express consent, however, businesses do not have the right to post another’s work on a branded website.

Copyright laws are complex and continue to change as digital content creation evolves. Understanding digital copyright laws can help businesses protect their own works from plagiarizers and prevent their own plagiarism snafus. If you post white papers and other professional documents online, you may want to speak with an attorney about taking further steps to protect your digital written content.

SEO and Plagiarism: Are You Hurting Your Ranking Opportunities?

Businesses must consider more than the legal and social ramifications of allowing the publication of plagiarized works under their brand banners. Google’s algorithms have long helped content owners protect their works. If Google receives a legal copyright removal notice from an owner or organization, it can and will remove pages from search results. Furthermore, content with several copyright grievances will automatically rank lower.

As search engine algorithms become more adept at rewarding original and relevant content, content producers can expect to see additional changes to how the meat of an article affects rankings. Content that accurately reflects search queries and offers insights in a unique way will always supersede generic gimmick-filled content. Whether you’re posting copy for the services section of your website or uploading a new blog article, maintaining a certain degree of authenticity remains crucial to achieving digital strategy success.

Tips for Creating Authentic Content Without Plagiarism

Content creators don’t necessarily need to know all the copyright laws to avoid acts of plagiarism, but they should maintain a keen regard for originality. Consider these industry best practices to keep your content legal, relevant, and unique:

  1. Don’t rely on synonyms to make your content different. Most content creators have repurposed an article for a new piece of content. However, if your content has the same flow and meaning, changing a few words here and there will not make it original. Take a few different approaches to keep your content in the clear. Put borrowed content in quotations and cite the original author, cite any concepts clearly taken from another resource (even if you reworded them), and create your own conclusion based on experience.
  1. Look for your Take the HVAC industry, for example. Many heating and air companies are starting to really flesh out their websites and create blogs to attract new customers. The challenge is that most industry concepts remain the same from market to market. These companies are all competing to write the same general ideas and information in a new way.

Find what makes your company different, and use that angle to give each piece of content perspective. Perhaps offer a customer service benefit that many competitors don’t. Maybe your business focuses on a certain demographic.

  1. Use your own voice. Often, something as simple as thinking about your own voice can help you avoid plagiarism. Does your business offer a more approachable personality or a very knowledgeable one? Every voice contains a distinctive manner of writing and vocabulary range. Are your employees the folks who keep your business up and running or are they your highly trained associates? Each version offers the same information but delivers a different connotation.



  1. Invest in a plagiarism prevention tool. If you rely on an outsourced content provider, make sure the company offers a plagiarism prevention policy. For in-house projects, consider using a free or paid tool to reduce the risk of a problem. PlagScan offers a free trial and paid scanning services for individuals and businesses. Copyscape provides a free tool as well as a premium checker to keep your business in the clear. Grammarly offers proofreading and grammar checks in addition to plagiarism reporting.
  1. Avoid blind writing. Prolific content consumers occasionally incorporate other content into their own ideas. In other words, you may read something and then repeat it in your own writing without thinking. If you experience any sort of déjà vu about a turn of phrase or wonder if a sentence is too generic, search for it. Most exact matches will pop up in the search results, helping you identify accidentally copied phrases.
  1. Understand the difference between general and specific information. Many of the concepts marketers use on a daily basis are common knowledge. If you’re talking about facts, well-known ideas, or using common phrases, you’re not guilty of plagiarism. Attribute all obscure knowledge associated with a specific individual, report, or concept.

If you have any doubts about your ability to use information freely, stay on the safe side and attribute it. Focus on delivering your own insights and use a plagiarism tool to maintain originality. The last thing businesses should have to worry about in a digital campaign is facing plagiarism accusations.

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Rachel Winstead

When she isn’t writing, Rachel spends as much time as she can outside hiking or working in the yard. Kayaking and paddleboarding are two of her favorite outdoor activities, and she’s looking forward to teaching her pit bull-mix, Sawyer, how to balance on a board. She routinely goes camping in the mountains of North Georgia with friends and her boyfriend, David.

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