First and foremost, know your recourses
A few days prior, I posted what I thought would be a fun little article on the Purito SPF scandal.
But with 24 hours, I’d gotten thousand hits and my article was third on Google when you typed “Purito Scandal.” Humblebrag? Of course.
You can see this spike in my popularity on the below graph:
And what that spike really means is that my article was getting noticed. Fine. This is known to happen to Medium writers once in a while. But, yesterday, I received private comments telling me to check out a very similar article posted on News Break, sourced from a feminist site, Womanly Live, posted under their Beauty & Fashion section.
So, I decided to look at this second article, posted only days after mine, on the exactly the same topic.
And then I wondered if I was a little day drunk, because I sure seemed to be seeing double.
But before I begin, what’s plagiarism, you ask?
The Definition of Plagiarism
The Oxford Dictionary defines plagiarism as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”
And plagiarsim.org further extrapolates the above by stating that the act can follow 1 of the below 4 pillars:
1. To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
2. To use (another’s production) without crediting the source
3. To commit literary theft
4. To present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source
So, it appeared that my original article’s format, including the parts that made it original & represented my own writing style, and the research (as well as the sources I carefully tried to link), were all stolen then refurnished, without credit, by a writer at an online publication.
Now, keep in mind, many articles covered the Purito SPF scandal; I was never the first nor best. But out of the 20 or so I read, only Womanlylive.com had an article that was both 1) published after mine had been published and 2) used my writing (and research) for their very skeleton and 3) multiple readers recognized as my own. No other article even came close.
So, what do you do when your Medium article gets stolen? I’ve worked to clarify the steps below.
1) Confirm The Similarities Between The Pieces
There were a lot of similarities between this new article and my own that I couldn’t put down to simply writing in a niche space; where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
While the new article took a more objective and professional stance, it still kept watered down versions of my jokes, along with entire sections of my article, at the exact intersections where I’d placed my own. Reading top to bottom, my plagiarist managed to copy my “2020 sucks” joke, my “take a…” jokes, and the general introduction to my article.
See for yourself.
The taglines were similar:
And so were the opening jokes:
And my whole introduction to what, exactly, SPF is, while diluted, was, at times, nearly copied word for word.
See Elizabeth via Medium:
What, Exactly, is That Term I Know I’ve Heard Before?
SPF, the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor, is oft thrown around the skincare community as a pre-qualifier for good skin. In short, it’s a measure of how successful a sunscreen is in protecting the user from UVB rays. For context, Q Sun estimates sun damage can be up to 90% responsible for skin aging, even when its pitted against alcohol, smoking, and, inevitably, actual aging. Another suggested that people under 55 who apply sunscreen on the regular have 24 percent less of a change of developing signs of aging on their skin.
And the higher the SPF number is, the longer the user can go without reapplying sunscreen. So, an SPF of 40 means that the user would take 40 times longer to burn than if nothing was applied.
Higher SPFs also let less UVA rays in than lower ones; the trick here is to not be lured into a false sense of skin security and to reapply your SPF 50 as frequently as you would an SPF 15 to not nullify any added benefits. Normally, this translates into applying a tablespoon of sunscreen every half an hour. This rule remains pretty static across all levels of SPF.
And with the constant depletion of our ozone, the threat of sun damage is only increasing: for years, popular theory was never to wear an SPF below 15; now doctors suggest twice that SPF, saying to aim for an SPF of, at least, 30.
And the same section written by the plagiarist at Womanly Live:
What Is SPF Exactly?
SPF is the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor. The Sun Protection Factor measures how successfully a product shields skin from UVB rays. Sun protection is essential for healthy skin and avoiding sun damage.
Sun damage is one of the leading causes of damaged skin, even when pitted against aging and alcohol abuse. A high SPF product is fantastic for skin because the higher the SPF, the longer it takes to burn.
The continual damage to our ozone layer also increases sun damage threats, making SPF more vital than ever. Products that are SPF15 or less are now considered as even worse than the bare minimum.
Dermatologists recommend applying a moisturizer with a minimum SPF of thirty these days. Most brands offer up to SPF50, so the SPF50+ seemed like a fantastic miracle product for many consumers.
So, you can see the second writer’s article closely references my article’s five key points about SPF. If you only consider my bolded language, it’s a nearly direct match.
Now, if I kept going point by point through this article, at the end I’d have essentially written three articles and I don’t want to do that to you. So, dear reader, please compare at the sources and come to your own conclusions.
2. Reach Out
When I was informed Newsbreak.com was posting an article that closely mimicked my own, I immediately reached out to their online contact with my suspicions.
I also reached out to Womanlylive.com via the holy trinity: email, Instagram and Facebook, where the mimicry article had been featured, days before.
I’ve yet to hear back from the smaller publication. But News Break replied stating they’d taken the stolen article off of their rotation and contacted the third party site regarding the matter: exactly how you should reply when dealing with the subject.
And all in all, these experience did make me wonder about this contributor, who was working with multiple online platforms: if I was being plagiarized with little restraint, what other writers were having their work stolen, then tweaked, for paid writer’s gain across the internet?
3. Consult With Experts/Research
Well, in this case, “experts” meant my college writing forum. But, as fate would have it, this was a strong group to ask, not in the least because it contained multiple lawyers.
Their advice (which was backed up by multiple sites) was truthful, if not the most heartwarming.
If a publication makes money off your ideas and research, you’re likely entitled to compensation. And for an online publication who employs a writer copying your work, I’d recommend looking for any contact information for upper management to have them at hand if you want to escalate.
Adding to the above cognitive dissonance of the writer who took my work, it’s in the mission statement of Womanly Live that they are a “reliable source with a commitment to integrity, authenticity, and quality. (The) writers take pride in creating original, well-researched content in a respectful, honest, and fair tone.”
In theory, plagiarizing goes directly against their policy, likely extending to the Amomama publishing family who spots them. So, what happened should be shut down or, at the very least, looked into closely.
4. Decide How Far You Want To Go
It’s sad that paid publications often push unpaid writers to the point of deciding whether or not they need to spend their savings on legal fees.
The fact is that writers at websites, like Buzzfeed, often steal content and ideas from other sites without payment or acknowledgement. Hey, it’s hard to generate new content!
But the ball isn’t in your court, as an unprotected online writer. After all, it’s incredibly hard to prove plagiarism, even if the article captures your own word by word. Even then, the best you might get is a credit on the “copying” site.
So, all in all, it’s choosing to copy the work of online writers is both legally & morally wrong. However, it’s not mass murder. Likely, if you’re a writer who has had your work stolen or copied, you won’t have “justice” or, even, credit. But no matter, writer! Write on!