Plagiarism occurs whenever you use another person’s work without crediting the original author. While plagiarism policies are common in academic environments, small businesses don’t always explain to their employees how to avoid this type of theft. An explicit policy forbidding plagiarism will help your employees understand what behaviors you will not tolerate.
Plagiarism in Academia
In academic contexts, plagiarism typically involves representing someone else’s work without indicating that you are not the original author. Plagiarism policies in academia clearly explain what sorts of actions constitute plagiarism and also show students how to properly credit the original authors with citations.
Plagiarism in Business
Businesses also have good reason to be concerned about plagiarism. If an employee steals from a copyrighted work, your business could be sued by the copyright owner. Suppose a marketing firm publishes a brochure that contains passages plagiarized from another company’s marketing materials. The victim of the infringement can sue for damages in federal court. If convicted, the offending company might also be liable for the legal and court costs of the winning party. For this reason, and for ethical reasons, it’s vital for a business to write and strictly enforce a policy banning plagiarism.
In academic contexts, citing the original author often is enough to avoid charges of plagiarism. In business contexts, however, citing a source doesn’t neutralize a copyright claim. What constitutes copyright infringement can be complex, but, essentially, copyright restrictions are less strict in academic and research settings than they are in commercial contexts. In other words, even if your business credits the original author with a citation, you can’t use someone's work without explicit permission. Your plagiarism policy must make this clear to your employees, who might be used to academic plagiarism policies.
Depending on your industry, it might make sense to hire a lawyer to help you write your company’s policy on copyright infringement and plagiarism. For example, the owner of an architectural firm should draft a policy that explains what constitutes plagiarizing ideas from other architects’ drawings, which are copyrighted works. A marketing firm, on the other hand, would need a different policy to ensure that employees don’t use copyrighted photos or text. An experienced intellectual property attorney will know the ins and outs of copyright law as it pertains to your business.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.