How Plagiarism Hurts Your E-Commerce Start-up

In the era of instant information, it is hard to know all the rules related to intellectual property. With so many ways to get information, it’s easy to plagiarize someone else’s work without realizing it. Plagiarism in eCommerce can be especially difficult for startup business owners because they could lose their company if caught red-handed.

What is plagiarism, and why does it matter?

Plagiarism occurs when someone steals words, images, or ideas from someone else and passes them off as their own. From an eCommerce perspective, this can happen in a variety of ways. For example, an eCommerce site may use images or product descriptions from other sites without crediting the original creator.
Lack of attribution is not always intentional plagiarism, and eCommerce managers need to be aware that unintentional plagiarism could lead to copyright infringement or misappropriation, both with severe consequences.
While some people might think they may give credit somewhere else on their web page, for example, the footer, and get away with it. However, with so many dangers following the disrespect of intellectual property rights, content managers are cautious every time a piece of new content goes on the live website.

So, what happens if you unknowingly copy someone’s work? You risk violating copyright laws and being sued by whoever owns those copyrights.
For example, if you were to copy a product description and image from another site without attributing the source, that other website’s owner could sue you for copyright infringement. Not only does violating these rights hurt your wallet, but it can also harm your reputation as an eCommerce manager.

Types of plagiarism in eCommerce

Plagiarism can occur in many different forms, some more obvious than others. The most common one occurs when someone uses text initially published by another party without crediting them. This type of plagiarism is typically easy to detect because the plagiarized copy contains phrases identical to those used in the source material. Should you use external sources and quote them ‘by the word’, it is also essential you cite your source. Even a sentence or two borrowed from an article or book in a blog post is enough to get you in a legal ruckus.
Another less obvious type of copyright infringement involves “borrowing” images created by another artist (without permission) while neglecting to mention the place these images originated. Contrary to a pervading myth, images found through Google Image Search are not necessarily free for you to use. To be sure you are on the safe side, you must check the copyright status of any image you wish to use. In almost every case, you will need the original owner’s permission to use their intellectual property.

Due to the many different types of plagiarism, it can be tricky to determine whenever an author crosses the line into a violation. Plagiarism comes in various forms such as:

  • Copying content word for word, whether it is just a sentence fragment or multiple paragraphs
  • Quoting too much by using phrases like “As was mentioned earlier” without citing that part explicitly in the text where you mention it
  • Summarising what someone wrote instead of writing your thoughts about an issue with attribution to others when necessary to avoid misunderstanding; this is also called summarising another person’s work
  • Copying image materials without the proper rights and references
  • Copying design elements (such as layouts and fonts) without permission
  • Not crediting a contributing third party

Intentional eCommerce plagiarism found on a website is cheating and taking shortcuts. Copying content will lead nowhere but down, and the recovery could be extended and close to impossible. Not only is it unethical to plagiarize, but companies may find it extremely difficult to regain the trust of their clients. Copyright infringements are usually about how someone else did all the hard work while you tried to feed it to your audience as a genuine piece.

Why is plagiarism in eCommerce an issue?

Recent news of Google’s algorithm update to combat online plagiarism has many business owners and leaders concerned about the future of their marketing efforts. The well-known “Google Pigeon” was released on 26 September 2014 to improve search engine results for websites with original content. Sites with duplicated or near-duplicated content will be penalized in search rankings.
Original content could prove detrimental for eCommerce businesses that rely heavily on SEO techniques such as keyword-stuffing and spinning articles from other sites to rank higher in search engine result pages (SERPs). Regardless of your opinion on this new initiative, you must be aware of these changes and how they might affect your site ranking moving forward.

How to avoid plagiarism in eCommerce

For eCommerce, a significant contributor to plagiarism is using someone else’s product description without giving credit. Plagiarism can have severe consequences for the company and the person with legal ownership over the stolen intellectual property. Using content from another website will hurt your SEO ranking. Give credit where credit is due, and in return, you may receive credit for your original contribution.
“Lifting” means copying content word for word from another author without acknowledgment. This type of plagiarism includes reproducing other authors’ text (including accompanying images) with no changes made whatsoever, including retaining references to the original author(s). While this may seem like an innocent form of plagiarism at first glance, publishers frequently act against the offending party.

For an eCommerce website, this could be a violation of intellectual property rights and law.
To define a copyright infringement, a couple of factors enter the assessment:

  1. The similarity between the copied text and the original material in terms of both its content and expression
  2. Substantiality”, which means the amount of content taken from the copyrighted work relative to what remains after deletion (for example, if 75% of a book were reproduced verbatim with no omissions)

How do you avoid being accused of plagiarism?

Be aware of all the content that resides on your website. Please refrain from doing a copy/paste without checking the source’s existing conditions and making sure the material is free and non-exclusive.

Just because there are no copyright notices does not mean you are free to duplicate the material.

Make sure that you author all your published content. If the article already appears elsewhere, cite the source at the bottom of each page. It will help you avoid plagiarism accusations from arising. Make a habit of using a plagiarism checker to check for unintentional plagiarism and a grammar checker for cleaning spelling mistakes or typos. Your readers must experience refined content, free from unforced errors or distractions.

Why is it not a good idea to buy a premade website template?

A website template is just a framework for your website. Using a pre-made template isn’t plagiarism, and many templates are of high quality. However, if you buy them but decide not to customize them, your site may suffer a ranking penalty. It is like the plagiarism penalty because, again, there is a lack of uniqueness. Customizing your website to meet your needs will help your eCommerce business not only thrive, but avoid being destroyed by possible infringement consequences.

Most people who sell pre-made websites won’t customize them to fit client’s exact needs. They might sell you the layout they also peddled to every single other customer. That is a vivid example of bad customer value management since when people search for something online, chances are they won’t find it on your website unless you are lucky. When you pick a template for your website, it is best to ensure the choice is unique. Otherwise, your eCommerce business will be as generic as every other template user who failed to personalize it, and consequently, suffer in the SERPs.

Why is avoiding the accusation of plagiarism important for your business?

If your business thrives online, you may not see the importance of plagiarism prevention. You might be thinking that even if your website has unoriginal content, no one will find out. This notion cannot be far from reality - plagiarism can hurt your business in various ways; here are a few:

  • Accusations of plagiarism can show up in your reviews, and it can harm your sales records - customers are turned off by bad reviews or word of mouth; Great sales methodologies avoid plagiarism – use them
  • Businesses cannot sell counterfeit goods without infringing on someone’s intellectual property rights, which would lead to fines and loss of customer trust
  • Certain pieces of software have been developed to detect plagiarism. Without such tools, your website might be excluded from the search engine index. When Google itself concludes a website has dubious content, reversing the consequences can be mind-boggling and lengthy
  • Plagiarism is unethical behavior, and once your customers get to know about such faults, they may lose trust in your company and the products it represents

Selling products that breach copyrights by plagiarizing from other sources is a type of intellectual property theft with harsh repercussions for both the party that manufactured the plagiarized product and the party that sells it. The main consequences are damage to the personal reputation of those who commit these types of violations and financial liability from losses incurred over copying another’s work without permission and not attributing it to its rightful owner(s).

The severity levels vary depending on the specific circumstances under which someone commits an act of eCommerce piracy, such as copying words from one website onto their own.
Companies have added clauses about copyright infringement to protect themselves from lawsuits when they buy products wholesale and sell them retail. However, these clauses do not always prevent pirated goods from being resold. Out of convenience (or ignorance) many distributors may fail to research every supplier beforehand.

Strategies for combating plagiarism

Never use data from the word of the same sources ‘for a word.’ You don’t need to cut and paste words from another site. Instead, try to paraphrase them, adding your own spin or insight.
It always helps if you use extra caution when using product information online because there is a high risk of plagiarism in eCommerce websites. Make sure to follow all the rules that apply to copyrights before publishing anything on your store. If a supplier submits a product description, run it through your plagiarism checker before posting it on your website.

How to spot potential signs of plagiarism on your eCommerce site?

While you need to be careful not to plagiarize on your website, you still might become the victim of someone else plagiarising your content. You can find out if your site has been plagiarized by putting your text through a plagiarism checker. It will show you if a bit of your content appears elsewhere on the web and —if it does—pinpoint the location (URL).
Check to see if your website has been hacked and prevent potential security leaks by having good code. You can look at your website’s source code or check for changes that seem outside of what you would do on your site. But if there is no proof other than the content being copied verbatim, then it could be challenging to tell with certainty whether someone else copied your work without getting approval first. Plagiarism checkers can help determine this by comparing two text pieces and the degree to which they overlap in terms of words and phrases used per sentence.

You can also take preventative measures like using a watermark on your work that reads “© Your Company Name” or including the website URL. Such a method will warn potential thieves that you are taking steps to prevent theft, and the fear of getting caught will deter most perpetrators from tampering with your content.

What to do when your site is plagiarized?

It is always disturbing to find that someone plagiarized your website. You might not know how to get rid of the offending content or who is responsible for posting it in the first place. Here are four basic steps you can follow when this happens:

Step one: Contact Google and ask them if they have a form for copyright infringement claims (they will likely say yes). If so, follow the instructions. Otherwise, create an email address with “plagiarism” as part of it and send all your information along with any related screenshots/images.

Step two: Contact the webmaster of the offending site. Let them know that they have plagiarized your content, and you will need it removed immediately. If the plagiarism were unintentional — or even intentional — they would likely resolve it right away.

Step three: Contact any other sites where their copied material is found to let them know about what has happened to remove it as well. Some good places to start are Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Pinterest, or Google+.

Step four: Make sure you preventatively backup all your information in case of reoccurrence. For example, make a spreadsheet with links to each violation. If nothing else works out and no one responds promptly to remove the infringing content from their website, then at least you still have everything saved on an external drive for future reference!

Conclusion

Plagiarism is not going away, and naturally, it will always be a threat to online business. With an advanced eCommerce approach to content, where commerce and content merge to form the unique experience that customers seek, there is no place for plagiarism.
Online shoppers are always on the look for unique products and relentlessly avoid and expose copycats. Since unoriginal content is by default unattractive, dropping from the search results pages (SERPS) due to plagiarized content could be one of your lesser problems. You ultimately risk losing the image you built so far and struggle to regain it indefinitely.
With robust tools that scan the web, checking for duplicated text, your best bet is always to trust them and permanently negate any chances to let your company enter into the world of copyright infringement.

Like this article? Please rate it!

Author

Andreas Maier | CEO

Andreas is a result-oriented CEO who brings nearly 30 years of experience gained in the high-tech industry. His experience ranges up to leading positions in Fortune 100 companies such as rentalcars.com (PCLN) or Intrasoft International, a leading EU based R&D software vendor. He holds a Ph.D. in Neural Networks from the University of Cologne, Germany.
In the past Andreas has successfully founded and co-founded several startups among others XXL Cloud Inc., eShopLeasing Ltd, and WDS Consulting SA. His expertise is strongly focused on modern headless Commerce and the optimization of processes in IT ecosystems.