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Dr. Paul Levinson on Plagiarism

Plagiarism is damaging to your website. It can make you look like a rank amateur and also violates copyright laws. However, if your business has started growing, you likely have hired at least one or two writers to help with your blog and content on your site.

How do you know you can trust your writers to provide you with unique content that can’t be found anywhere else?

Dr. Paul Levinson, Communications Professor

paul levinsonDr. Paul Levinson, Communications Professor at Fordham University in NYC and popular blogger was kind enough to share some thoughts on plagiarism with us.

History of Plagiarism

Plagiarism has been with us throughout human history – the word originates with Latin plagium (a kidnapping) from the Greek plagion. Online communication makes plagiarism easier, because it is so easy to copy, cut, and past, but also easier to discover, because it is so easy to search online. Anyone who publishes anything online needs to recognize that there are people in the world who satisfy their need to be published and be known as a writer not by writing original material, but by taking the works that others have written and publishing as their own. Plagiarism, like thievery and parasites which attack our bodies, is an unfortunate part of the writerly life.

What Can Writers Do?

Given the ease of plagiarizing, there’s nothing an author can do to stop the plagiarism from happening in the first place. But if an author or blogger discovers that her or his work has been plagiarized, there are many options available, ranging from contacting Amazon to spotlighting the plagiarism on social media. Ironically, talking about the plagiarism on social media can help the original author’s work, by bringing publicity to it.

Any Recommended Tools?

I don’t want to single out any specific tool, because I don’t use all of them, and therefore have no fair way to compare them. But I would recommend not only using these tools, but being as active as possible online, in places where your work and similar work might be discussed. In my case, as an author of science fiction, and scholarly books and articles about media, that means being active on forums and sites where science fiction is discussed, and other places where media theory is the main focus.

Why Do So Many Think Plagiarism Is Perfectly Acceptable?

I don’t think that our culture as a whole thinks plagiarism is perfectly acceptable, or acceptable at all. Certainly every bona fide writer that I know thinks plagiarism is outrageous and unacceptable. Real writers have nothing but contempt and pity for fake writers, which is what plagiarists are. Plagiarists may think plagiarism is acceptable, but they’re a small sliver of our [population]. As for everyone else, the general public, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t like plagiarism, either – readers want the real thing.

Any Instances of Personal Experience with Plagiarism?

paul levinsonMany times, but the worst example actually happened right before the rise of the Internet.  In the 1980s, I sent an unpublished manuscript, Deuce of a Time – a time-travel novel – to a big producer in Hollywood who asked to see it. I never heard back from him, but a few years later, I saw a book reviewed on the exact same topic. I bought the book, and discovered the book had plagiarized Deuce of a Time – not just the general story but many specific scenes. I discovered that the producer and the author were friends and had a long professional relationship.

After contacting them, and receiving no reply, I contacted a lawyer, who began to put together a lawsuit.  But the author died before we could launch the suit (the producer is also no longer with us), so we dropped the suit. Instead, a few years later, I published “Loose Ends,” based on my Deuce of a Time novel, in Analog Magazine, where it was nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon awards, the three major awards in science fiction. That story has been reprinted, and it appears with sequel stories, in The Loose Ends Saga. I think the lesson in this is: the best revenge against plagiarism is to work even harder to succeed as an author. Success of the original author is the best answer to the plagiarist.

The takeaway from Dr. Levinson’s vast experience on the topic is this: “Try to not get too damaged, upset, tied up, or diverted if you’re plagiarized. Devote most of your attention, instead, to writing as much great material as you can.  Don’t ignore the plagiarism, but don’t let it dominate your life. The fact that you’ve been plagiarized shows you have something on the ball as a writer. Go out and do more of your writing.”

Check out one of Dr. Levinson’s novels:


Lori Soard has worked online designing websites, writing, editing and promoting clients since 1997. Through Promo Warriors, she's consulted with over 100 clients to help them figure out what online presence works best for them. In addition to helping people learn how to start their own businesses, she writes feel-good books about the way love and the world should be.