In the age of the Internet, it is easier than ever for someone to plagiarize another’s work. Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own without giving credit. It’s not fun to find out that someone has stolen your work, and it’s even less fun when you reach out to the offending party and they ignore you.
This is an important topic for hoteliers to consider. Small to mid-sized hotel, hostel, inn, and B&B owners and managers should be publishing original content on their websites. This will increase organic traffic and improve direct bookings. Hoteliers often have local knowledge that others don’t, making their content special. It can be demoralizing to see your content and your ideas on some high-traffic travel blog, mere days after you publish it yourself. Plagiarism robs independent innkeepers of the reward for their special knowledge and hard work.
One of Cloudbeds’ blog posts was recently plagiarized and we thought it would be helpful to use this event as an opportunity to share how we believe hoteliers should respond to plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious offense and should not be taken lightly. Here, we will show you what to do when your content is plagiarized, and what options you have.
What is Plagiarism
Sometimes we see content published on other websites that is similar to our own. But just because it is similar does not mean that it is plagiarized. “Plagiarism” has a specific definition, which is important to understand before making accusations. It’s important to not “jump the gun” and start a controversy whenever you find content that looks like yours. Instead, it’s best to only speak out when you discover instances of outright, bald-faced plagiarism.
Plagiarism is more serious than just taking someone’s work and claiming it as one’s own. Under U.S. law, it’s illegal to take someone’s work without giving credit, according to Plagirism.org. Plagiarism means:
- To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
- To use (another’s production) without crediting the source
- To commit literary theft
- To present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source
The specific nuances of copyright law can get confusing. Images, videos, and music are much harder to determine plagiarism for. If you’re confused about what constitutes plagiarism, you can check out this resource. It’s also important to note the intended purpose of content as well. Under the Fair Use Act, content such as images and logos are usable, given attribution.
How to Identify Plagiarism
There are many ways to identify true plagiarism. Depending on your property and the way you research your competition, it may or may not be easy to spot plagiarism. Here at Cloudbeds, we pay close attention to the online conversations in the hospitality industry, including that of our competitors. So, we can identify plagiarism quickly as part of our regular research.
If you find a piece of content on the Internet that you think may have been plagiarized, there are several tools you can use to make sure.
Copyscape is a great resource for identifying online plagiarism. They offer many resources including a free comparison tool that allows you to plug in the URL of your content and compare it with the URL of another piece of content. It will analyze the contents and highlight plagiarized words, sentences, and even paragraphs.
Copyscape also offers other tools such as Copysentry Protection, which monitors pages on your website and checks for plagiarism across the web.
They also offer free Copyscape banners that warn potential plagiarists against stealing your content. If you’re worried about people taking your content, you should add this to your property’s website.
Here is an example of our content that was recently plagiarized. You can clearly see that entire paragraphs were lifted from our original piece, including a string of text 148 words long. This is an example of outright, clear-cut, plain-as-day plagiarism.
Wayback Machine is a tool that allows you to see cached versions of a website. This tool is useful if the plagiarizing party takes down the piece in question and pretends that it did not exist. When proving that your content has been plagiarized, it’s important to take screenshots of the plagiarizing content before reaching out to the plagiarists. If the plagiarizing party takes down the content, you will not lose your evidence. If you forgot to take screenshots, use The Wayback Machine to see if they took a snapshot of it.
Small SEO Tools also has a plagiarism checker that will allow you to compare multiple sets of copy against one another. If you believe multiple sites are copying your content, you can compare them all against one another.
Responding to Plagiarism
After you identify plagiarism, you have to decide how you want to respond. In most cases, it’s in your best interest to send a friendly letter to the offending party. In the case of hospitality, it’s usually easy to figure out how to contact the person or business who stole your content, because they typically have email addresses and phone numbers published publicly.
If you cannot find a direct line of contact through the website’s interface, you can find their information through Whois. This site will give you the registrar’s name or their server company’s contact information. Through either of those channels, you can eventually get a hold of the site’s owner.
When you find the correct contact information, message them in a polite and calm manner. Let them know what’s going on and include links to both your content and their content. In some cases, the company may not even know that their employee has stolen your work and passed it off as their own. People are busy and aren’t always watching the moving parts of their businesses. Especially when employing freelancers, employers aren’t always involved in the content creation process. This inevitably increases the risk of plagiarism.
After you’ve reached out, wait a while and see what action the offending party takes. Here are some common actions:
- Some may deny the accusation. This is when Copyscape screenshots come in handy.
- Others will alter the original post to either credit you or delete the copied content. If they credit you by name, including a link, this is a great response. We advise that you allow anyone to republish your own content if they ask for it and credit you correctly with a link. This only increases your exposure.
- They may delete the entire post and pretend it never happened. That’s when screenshots of the content and links to the Wayback Machine become useful evidence. If they don’t do any of these things and simply ignore you, you may need to move on to more drastic measures such as cease-and-desist-letters. We will explore more options in the next section.
What to Do If They Don’t Respond
If the offending party does not respond, we think that you have four options. You can publicly announce the copyright infringement and make an example of them. You can report the plagiarism to Google and other search engines. You can involve your lawyer, or you can ignore it.
Publicly Call-out the Plagiarism:
Sometimes the only way to get a reaction is to go public. If another company or individual steals your work and they won’t respond, the world may need to know about it. In the case of Cloudbeds, we were recently plagiarized by a competitor, Frontdesk Anywhere. After waiting over a week and sending a message to their CEO (getting only a brief response back), the plagiarizing piece of content still exists on their site, unchanged. You can view our original post here, and compare the two using Copyscape, here.
In the past, we have noticed that they largely cover the same topics we do, following our rhythm of content. We talk about revenue management one month, and then the next month they cover revenue management. We publish a piece on how to upsell one week, and the next week they publish a piece on how to upsell. We’ve been flattered, but kept it to ourselves, because mimicking our editorial calendar is not plagiarism. When, however, we discovered outright plagiarism, we felt that they had crossed a professional line. Our customers need to know that honesty, hard work, and originality are important to us, and that this philosophy is not shared by all of our competitors. For example, take a look at their ‘Facebook Insights’ paragraph compared to ours (see the screenshots above). It is identical–word-for-word.
With that said, if you’re going to publicly accuse a competitor of plagiarism, prepare yourself for controversy. When the offending party eventually sees it, they are likely to respond. If you’re lucky, they will respond in a professional, humble way.
If they respond in an appropriate way, then be sure to update any announcement you made about their plagiarism to explain how the issue was resolved. A happy ending is always a good way to end a blog post.
Report Plagiarism to Google
Google and other search engines have tools to report plagiarism. Consider this the “nuclear option” when dealing with plagiarism. Don’t report a plagiarizing competitor to Google unless you have exhausted all other avenues of communication. Google remembers accusations of plagiarism, and if one website gets enough of them, it can harm their search engine rankings forever.
After you report a plagiarized website to Google or another search engine, they will take some time to review the content. If they find that your allegations of copyright infringement are accurate, they will remove the offending pages from their search indexes, preventing them from ever again gaining organic traffic.
Involve Your Lawyer
You can also send a formal cease and desist letter to the company, if the copyright infringement is really serious. In our case, the copied content is only a blog post. But, if a company copied our entire website or brand, we may have taken more extreme measures.
You also have the option to ignore the copied content. When someone steals your content, you know that your competitors are watching. You can choose to be flattered by the fact that someone found your content worthy of replicating. It also validates your work, in a weird way. If the plagiarized content does not damage to your brand or your business, leaving it alone may be the best thing to do. But ultimately, it’s up to you.
In our case, we decided to use this event as an opportunity to share ideas with our readers. Unfortunately, plagiarism is a widespread issue, in both hospitality and beyond. Allowing plagiarism to continue unchecked can damage your brand and demoralize your bloggers. You may need to take immediate action to retain the integrity of your brand. Our case was not that serious. Next time, it may be. Know that you do have options to defend your work, if you become victim to theft.