Plagiarism Defined

Author: Chris Loring

Chris Loring is a mentor, writer, photographer, and an instructor for Birth Becomes Her. Chris believes in opening champagne on weekdays, because life is too short to save it for special occasions.  Someday she dreams of attending flight school so that she can help transport rescue animals for Pilots N’ Paws. Her approach to life and business is down to Earth, natural, and full of curiosity.


I’ve spent the last 6 months volunteering in a Kindergarten classroom.

Even at a young age, it seems natural for humans to want to copy ideas and writing from each other.

The world is full of beautiful and unique inspiration, produced thoughtfully by the people sitting directly next to us.

While copying may be a normal result of young children finding their place in the world, it is consistently baffling to me how much of a problem plagiarism is among professionals.

Plagiarism is using words, images, content, or ideas from another creative, and passing it off as your own.

Even with modifications to the wording, image, or idea, it is a serious ethical issue and in many cases it may actually be illegal.  

From the dictionary:


ˈplājəˌrizəm/ noun

  1. the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

Plagiarism is violating to the original writer

It is a gut punch to see your personal writing being used for the benefit of another, presented to unsuspecting readers as truthful, original statements.

Following a home invasion robbery, people talk about how violated they feel. How much it hurts to know that somebody was inside their personal space, touching their personal things, and taking things that matter to them.

Plagiarism is a violation of content that for many creatives is intensely personal.  

I have experienced this. In my case, it was biography statements that I had spent a lifetime developing, used by another as though they were her own.

For others, it’s images, stories, ideas, and concepts. . .all content that takes hard work, and that often comes from a very personal place.

Plagiarism is false representation

When you steal words and images from somebody, you are misrepresenting yourself, your talents, your integrity, and your beliefs.

While you may very well deeply connect with the content shared by others, it is important that you find your own unique way to express your creativity, using your own voice.  

Misrepresenting who you are to readers and to potential clients will set you up for failure; even if what you have copied and are sharing represents who you believe you are or who you wish to be, the content isn’t original to you and it can quickly become an endless circuit of lies.

When I have spoken to people who have fallen into the plagiarism trap, many expressed that they felt ok doing it, because they felt as though the writer had ‘spoken their language’ and written things that they deeply connected with.

Almost as if the writer had ‘ripped off’ their ideas and beliefs, and so they felt justified in using the language as their own. Others felt it was a shared experience, and that the person they were stealing from was being silently honored when their words were used.

Every person has a unique experience in this world.

We all have these beautiful and vulnerable things to share; don’t waste space copying others when you can quite honestly just be yourself.

Your clients want to know who YOU are, how YOU write, and how YOU approach the world.

It doesn’t matter if the person you copied is everything you want to be, and offers up everything you wish to say. . .you must speak with your own voice.

The awesome part here is that your voice is unique, you just have to be comfortable expressing it.


Plagiarism is misleading to potential clients who read both sites

Imagine how a potential client feels when they happen upon the same words or images between two websites.

In this situation, who is that client left to believe is the more authentic and original professional?

How is this client supposed to trust either professional, moving forward?

When you plagiarize, you hurt not only yourself, but also the photographer whose writing, images, or content you chose to claim as your own.

They lose clients, you lose clients. . .shall we continue?


Plagiarism is bad for SEO

Search engines penalize duplicate content.

When you steal writing, even if you modify it to ‘make it yours’, search engines see it.

Google takes plagiarism very seriously, and may then penalize BOTH websites because the robot may not be able to assess which content is the original version.

Depending on the severity of the plagiarism, your website and the website that you stole from may be blacklisted (that is, removed entirely and blocked) from search engine results.

Stealing words doesn’t just affect you.


You will lose credibility in the industry

People talk. Names get around, and if you plagiarise words or images from your peers, even if you do so innocently, even if you are the nicest person in the world. . .you will lose credibility in the industry.

It’s that simple. Nobody wants to refer, work with, or respect people who steal.

Even doing this just once or ‘while you are starting out’ can literally destroy your business.


Common forms of Plagiarism examples

Here are some other common form of plagiarism in the photography industry, none of which are ok.

A: a photographer setting up a mini session wants to do a fireman themed set for toddlers. She doesn’t have any fireman themed childrens images in her portfolio, so she finds some online and uses them in her ad, thinking it’s ok because she’s using them to represent her ‘idea’ rather than her work.

B: a photographer purchases a creative item; posing cards, presets, educational materials, etc. and the makes slight modifications to them. He then shares or sells them as his own content.

C: a photographer sees a colleague run a wildly successful ad on Facebook, and chooses to run an ad using the same or similar words.

D: a photographer copies text either word for word or slightly modified from another photographer or mentor and uses them on her website.

To keep things simple, I have created a list of common reasons that people plagiarize.


Do not use content as your own even if:

You are inspired by it.

You need a ‘placeholder’.

It’s ‘only temporary’.

You modified the content a bit.

The writer shares your beliefs.

The creator shares your aesthetic.

You feel the writer ripped off your own personal ideas.

You would have written or created the same thing.

The writer doesn’t have a copyright or trademark listed.

The person you are stealing from is out of business.

The person you are stealing from is in another Country or State.

The person you are stealing from is ill or deceased.

The content has already been stolen and shared before.

You believe the content is free and fair use.

You’ve seen other people reuse content this way.

You feel that you will be honoring the creator of the original content.

You believe that Google Images are free to use (for clarity, they aren’t).

You take words from print, rather than the web.

You are struggling to find your own unique voice and are hoping to bridge the gap.

You feel too lazy to come up with your own words.

You would provide credit for the content if somebody asked.

The writer/photographer didn’t have copy/right click control installed.

You feel the writer has better grammar/language/spelling than you.

You didn’t have the portfolio for an ad campaign and ‘borrow’ images.

Your colleague ran a successful ad so you felt copying the words would work for you as well.

You are building your business and don’t have the content yet.

You are sure you won’t get caught.

Your mentor/teacher wrote it as an example.

You don’t have time to do your own work.

You want others to see you as a professional and don’t feel that your own content is up to par.

Your ‘web designer’ put it there.

Your ‘web designer’ said it was ok.  

Your computer crashed and you needed to put something up ASAP while you fixed things.

Your friend did it and it helped her build her business.

You don’t think it’s ‘that big of a deal’.

Never, ever steal writing, ideas, images, or content.

You must write and create from your own authentic and unique voice 100% of the time.
Every piece of content you produce and share with the world may be inspired by another, but must be otherwise built from the ground up, no exceptions. Making minor modifications to existing content and claiming it as your own is just as bad as stealing the full original version.

If you have stolen words, images, or content, even if you have modified them, please take them down now.

Don’t wait until you are caught, don’t wait until ‘your web designer is around’.

Don’t wait for better inspiration, or for time to write or photograph your own content.

Stealing words, images, and other creative content is selfish, unprofessional, and harmful to others. It can result in poor SEO rankings, poor credibility, job loss, hefty fines, and removal of your professional credentials. It’s just not worth it.

If you wish to share the work of another, use proper quotes, credit, and perhaps even ask for permission.


Have your words or images been stolen? How did it make you feel? Without dropping names, leave a comment below!

If you want to check up on your words, check out this handy-dandy tool: