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Online Writing Communities – Is It Safe to Post Your Work?

It’s frequently said that there’s no such thing as an original idea. Especially in writing, that sentiment isn’t so far off base. Ideas – like a villain’s evil lair or a superhero’s average love interest – can’t be copyrighted, and they’re done and redone time and again. Each time, however, they’re done differently.

Photo courtesy of Z33 art centre, Hasselt under the Creative Commons license

Plagiarism occurs not when someone uses a similar or even identical idea, but when they take someone else’s exact words and claim them as their own. Plagiarism is blatant copying of someone’s work, and the Internet has made it a much more common occurrence.

Writing Forums and Networks

Writers of all genres come together in writing communities online, in which they can share their work with other writers. Sometimes they’re seeking constructive criticism, and sometimes they just want to express themselves in a public forum. Either way, perhaps the cardinal rule of these communities is that plagiarism is a grave sin that’s strictly forbidden. If a writer uses someone else’s words, they absolutely must provide proper attribution. Writers who are caught plagiarizing lose credibility and respect, which is ironically what they were trying to earn in the first place.

Copy and Paste

Copying and pasting is so easy. It happens all the time. With email, social networks, websites, and blogs, countless pieces of content are plagiarized in part or in full every day. Most of the time it’s done innocently. If you’re a writer, do you need to fear that another writer will steal your work? It’s a fear that all writers do have, and it’s not so ridiculous. When you’ve worked so hard on something, and you want to share it with others, is it even safe to do so?

Protecting Your Work

If you are concerned about your work being plagiarized, there are a few different approaches you can take toward protecting it. For one, you can avoid posting it altogether. If you do post it, you might consider posting only a portion of it. You could write a stern warning threatening legal action if anyone is caught plagiarizing your work. You could just post it and hope for the best.

Plagiarism Detectors

Plagiarism detectors are the Internet’s answer to copy-and-paste abuse. While they’re not foolproof, they have helped ensure the integrity of academic work primarily, and they can be used to check the originality of anything. If you fear your work has been copied, a quick run through an efficient plagiarism detector can help you find the culprit.

Is potential plagiarism enough of a reason not to post your work in online writing communities? Probably not. With millions of works by amateur authors online, the chances of yours being stolen are relatively slim. The purpose of the writing community itself is to provide support to fellow writers, so the vast majority of participants are honest and only interested in improving or sharing their own work, not stealing yours. As an author it’s up to you to decide whether the benefits of an online writing community outweigh the slim risk of plagiarism.

Steven Peters is a writing and grammar teacher. He encourages his students to research before writing but also warns them about plagiarism and the consequences of being caught.
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