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Online has become “copy” crazy. Someone comes up with an idea and three people immediately copy it. Twitter is a huge offender, of course – snapping up apps and ideas left and right and putting little guys out of business. But guess what? Little guys can be jerks too, particularly when it comes to copying copy they don’t own. And your interns are often the worst offenders.

It’s not that interns MEAN to do this, but in the past few months, I’ve caught more than one of them copying content to populate blog posts, without properly crediting the author. They provided links (mostly), but didn’t quote appropriately and merely changed a few words in many sentences thinking that was enough. A fictional example follows, demonstrating how this looks:

Original copy from source – “There are many ways to find free images online, but only one way that won’t result in a lawsuit.”

Intern Copy – “Although there are quite a few ways to find free images online, there’s only one way that won’t cause a lawsuit.”

Have you told them this isn’t okay? Have you asked for sources when they write posts on topics that you know they have little understanding of? And have you read those sources to see if this has happened? Probably not. Who has time to do that?

And I’m guessing you didn’t think to tell them a few other things too. Like how professionally damaging plagiarism can be, and how you’ll look like a jerk twice over if they copy ‘copy’ on a post they’re ghostwriting for you – or worse, for your CEO. And then you’ll be forced to kill them. Slowly.

Well, fear not. I’m here to help. Pass the info that follows along to next year’s interns (and say a quick prayer no one catches all the stuff the ones you had this year screwed up!):

Dear Intern,

We’re thrilled to have you join us! You’ll learn lots from us this summer – and the first lesson is about plagiarism. Before publishing ANYTHING on our blog, we need to be sure you understand some pretty important content and image considerations. Please read through and ask any questions if something isn’t clear, as you will be held responsible for any copyright violations you create.

  1. Introduce your source before using material from the source, e.g., “according to X publication,” or “as reported by Y” with link on those words – and the quoted content should follow.
  2. Put quoted material in quotes. This is very important and often misunderstood. Rephrasing something instead of quoting the original source is not acceptable. You MUST quote the part you’re using, and you may then expand on the idea using your own thoughts/words.
  3. When unsure of any of above, the safest route is to reference the source and use quotes regardless. An editor can remove unnecessary quotes, but may not catch an omission.
  4. Do not summarize or restate someone’s entire blog post or article. Use a portion of it (one third, tops), properly quoted, and refer the reader back to the original post to read the rest. Why? That writer, much like you, put thought and effort into his words and wrote intending to direct traffic back to his site. We do not seek to benefit from someone else’s uncompensated work and we expect that you won’t either.
  5. When searching for an image to accompany blog posts, either use our paid login [enter info] or consult Flickr’s Creative Commons imagery, and be sure to pay attention to attribution options. Screenshotting an image from Google or elsewhere is not allowed and being “unable to find the source” is equally unacceptable. Find a new image.

Most of the Internet’s worst “copy copying” offenders must merely be misinformed and mean no ill will toward those they steal from, but as someone who has had content stolen, I know hell hath no fury like a creative scorned. So don’t risk the headache, particularly when you can so easily avoid it by sharing some simple guidelines ahead of time.

Image by BettyX1138