Against article plagiarism: how to tell if we are reading content that has been copied

How to tell if a piece of content we are reading on the web has been copied from another blog, another article, or another site. Against plagiarism

The ease of management of content management platforms (those that serve, trivializing, to curate blogs, e-commerce, complex websites and so on), for several years now, has had the effect of giving considerable help to people who work in a serious way, but it has also resulted in the emergence of masnades of matriculated wafflers who, even without technical knowledge, have opened constellations of blogs and websites filled with content copied from others’ sites, without proper citations of sources. Our field, that of art history, is certainly not immune to this nefarious practice, which harms the whole environment as it takes away visibility, visitors and often even earnings from those who, instead, work honestly. It is true that the audience of serious websites is infinitely larger than that of websites that make their living from copy-paste, and in the vast majority of cases one should not worry if someone copies articles: in the long run, those who work in this way are destined to lose audience and credibility, because they are always discovered. However, there are cases of websites that have been repeatedly plundered, and when this happens, the annoyance caused is considerable: one must consider that even a single article is the result, often, of hours of work, and to see it published on unknown websites under the name of others is tantamount to feeling offended and violated.

There are many causes that lead content thieves to cannibalize others’ articles while taking credit and honors. Many do so simply because of a childish narcissism fueled by the praise of friends and family (often the only readers of the “copyists”) who believe they are reading an original piece. Others do it simply because they do not have the time to write an article of their own, or they have no ideas but are too proud to admit it, so they resort to copying. Still, there are those who make money from their blog and therefore, in order to get more readers more quickly, fill the blog with new articles copied from the most disparate sources. For all of these cases of hardened wafflers, citation of the source is a serious obstacle and is completely inadmissible: first, because it touches on advertising another website (and often the most serious wrong that can be done to copyists, is to read other sites or blogs). Second, because in many cases it is considered an injury to self-love. Third, because it is better to act in the shadows: the authors of the original articles may frown upon the practice of duplicating content, even if with links to the source, so better to copy while keeping quiet. And so on. And the proof that citing the source is such an unpalatable practice for plagiarists lies in the removal of the incriminated articles once they are discovered: yes, because when the waffler is caught red-handed, in the vast majority of cases he will not want to suffer the shame of inserting the cross-reference to the original, and will therefore prefer to make the copied content disappear from his website (or, in certain cases, radically modify the text: perhaps copying it again, but from another source). Experience has taught us this, since not a few people draw from the site you are reading.

No plagi

But, in essence, how is it possible to perceive that a piece of content we are reading has been wildly copied from another site? We’ve set up a few little tricks, which don’t pretend to be conclusive, because there are plenty of copyists out there who have gotten smart, but paying attention to these details can lead, in the vast majority of cases, to discover that the content we’re reading is nothing more than plagiarism. Of course: it takes a tiny bit of experience, and it is easier to discover copied content if you have read more than one article from the same website or blog, but that’s not to say that you can’t manage to unearth the copycat even from a single reading. Well, let’s see then the tricks we suggest:

  1. Style: perhaps the most crucial clue. Probably the most revealing way is to analyze the writer’s style, and often it is enough to do so even in a single article (indeed: a single article revealing conspicuous jumps in style is much more clarifying than analyzing multiple posts). If we are reading an article that begins with long periods of subordinates, courtly terms, high-sounding adjectives, and we see that after a few sentences it turns into a collection of paratactic sentences written in very simple Italian, the cases are two: either the author suffers from some form of schizophrenia, or he is incapable of making decent collages (like almost all serial duplicators). The same is true when analyzing multiple articles: since content thieves often copy from different sources, obviously the writing style will be different each time.
  2. In
  3. contrast, those who write original content are often inclined to endow the texts with a personal slant: something that those who copy do not do, for obvious reasons.
  4. Pay attention to graphics. Usually, the blogs of those who copy are also poorly edited graphically: the copycat does not have time to come up with an original thought, so let alone feel like putting in the effort to think of a design, or to delegate blog graphics to a designer! Of course, those who have resources (or those who are smart) will also take good care of the aesthetics of their site. But we can assure you that in most cases this is not the case. And while it is true that there is also excellent content often presented in a graphically sloppy and impersonal manner, the fact that you are faced with an unappealing layout should still begin to make you suspicious...
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  6. Frequency of posts. Writing original content is tiring and time-consuming. Hence, a serious blog run by one or two people is not likely to produce more than three or four articles a week, especially if the managers, in their everyday lives, are busy with other things. Conversely, copying is extremely easy, and copying can produce a new post in as little as five minutes (the time to steal something from the source, copy it to your own website, perhaps change one or two sentences, insert images, and publish). So, if you see a blog run by one person (or a sparse group of people) churning out more articles than a national newspaper, the cases are two: either they have plenty of time to devote to the blog, or we are in the presence of definite duplicates.
  7. Grammar and spelling. The problem of grammar and spelling is now circumvented by the better copyeditors, but the less clever ones often, drawing from multiple sources, do not bother to tune verb tenses, or to correct any spelling errors that are present in one portion of the copied text but not in another. If the article is entirely copied from a single source, this ploy will prove ineffective, but since wafflers often do not copy from a single source, a look at grammar and spelling can often give a measure of the origins of the content we are reading.
  8. References to nonexistent content. It doesn’t happen often, but it is also not uncommon to find, in a copied text, references to content that, for various reasons, the plagiarist did not include in his copy. For example: if in one period we read something like “as we will have a chance to elaborate on below,” or “as the image shown here highlights,” and then we find neither the elaboration nor the image, there will be a very good chance that we are dealing with plagiarism. Similarly, if there
  9. are
  10. technicalities
  11. in
  12. the text that are not adequately explained (and without the explanation it would be particularly difficult to understand the meaning of the text), it is likely that the explanation was originally contained in a passage of the copied text that was not reflected in the copy.
  13. Formatting of the text. Sometimes, those who copy content from multiple sources do not bother to equip the text with regular formatting. Font changes, different colors, abundance of bold in one part of the text and absence elsewhere could be clues of copied content.
  14. Against plagiarism from blogs and websites. How to tell if a piece of content has been copied
  15. Firsthand experiences. Those who read our site assiduously know that we, very often, are out and about, visiting exhibitions, attending events, and not infrequently we happen to talk about an exhibition we visited or an event we attended. Or, very simply, on our Facebook page we post photographs that we take when we’re out and about. And this happens on many other blogs and websites to which the authors impart a certain personal connotation. You can be sure that in the blogs and websites of serial copiers you will find none of this, still based on the assumption that the copier, not being endowed with personality, is unable to reframe the experiences he or she experiences firsthand (or, he or she simply does not care). At least in the vast majority of cases.
  16. Those who copy always talk about trite topics. A topic covered by very few on the Web is also harder to find (and therefore harder to copy). Let’s take an example: very few art history blogs and sites will tell you about Lorenzo di Credi’s Venus, or the Gioachimite fresco cycle in the Contrari Chapel in Vignola. You will, however, always find someone who will tell you about the usual familiar names. Copying a biography of Michelangelo, after all, is not at all difficult. Just waste a few seconds of time on Wikipedia.
  17. Advertisements everywhere! It has been said that those who copy often do so in order to have content that is always fresh so as to drive more readers to the site, and thus enjoy more advertising revenue. Many of the duplicators, however, have failed to realize that it does no good to fill the page with banners
  18. in
  19. order to earn more money: so if you happen upon a site stuffed with banners, or one that annoys you by presenting you with annoying popups complete with audio and video, there is a very good chance that the article you came to is taken from another source.
  20. Can you comment? Many times copy bloggers do not allow the public to comment on articles: otherwise someone who notices the copy might write it straight! Instead, those who produce original content have every interest in allowing public comments: because stimulating and exciting discussions arise, because opportunities for insights and ideas for new articles may arise, because someone may point out some oversight, or may give constructive criticism. So if you get to the bottom of the article and notice the words “comments closed,” or see no form to fill out to leave your impressions, start to get suspicious, and perhaps search your favorite search engine for a few sentences from the article. You should not be surprised if you discover that what you read was not an original article...

Well: given some of the tricks for finding out who is copying, we can wonder what the content thief risks when he or she is discovered. We can assure that, in almost all cases, common sense suggests an exchange of private messages, which always ends with the deletion or insertion of the citation. In the case of particularly stubborn or recidivist duplicators,Agcom (Authority for Guarantees in Communications) can intervene: on March 31, the online copyright regulation came into force, an instrument that protects content producers by avoiding long and unnecessary judicial rigmarole. According to this regulation, anyone who sees his or her content infringed can file an application with Agcom, which will make sure to contact the provider hosting the script’s website and, if traceable, the script itself. In this case, one can be almost certain that the provider will autonomously remove the content (often even the entire site or blog) of the duplicator without batting an eyelid: the alternative is to lengthen the proceedings with Agcom and risk the whole thing ending up in front of thejudicial authority. And of course the provider, who does not want any trouble, will not take the risk. Finally, in serious and repeated cases, it is possible for the aggrieved party to go directly to court.

And now we come to the last, and perhaps most important, aspect of this article: how to defend yourself against plagiarists? Unfortunately, there will always exist someone who will copy others’ articles, so there are no definitive solutions. Even in this case, however, we can deploy some tricks to raise defenses. The reader can make a selection of blogs and newspapers, preferring sites, magazines and newspapers whose quality is a sure thing. There are many ways to distinguish a quality publication: care of the content, original slant, cultural background of the authors, any awards received, interesting discussions at the bottom of the articles (whether we are reading a blog or a website), a sign that the reading public is also made up of people who have already positively evaluated the quality of the content. On the other hand, those who write on the web and want to ward off the possibility of someone stealing their texts can create disclaimers that warn potential plagiarists of the risks they face by copying content, equip themselves with technical expedients (e.g., little programs in JavaScript that disable the copy-paste function), or even frequently include cross-references to the name of the blog or website. We will never have a 100% guarantee that we will never see copied content circulating again: but at least we will be able to reduce the risk!