‘Intellectual Property Theft’, ‘Plagiarism’ and ‘Aromatherapy’. What do these things have in common? On the surface, it may appear to be almost nothing. By digging a little deeper, however, we discover that as Aromatherapy becomes increasingly popular there is a concomitant public demand for “more information”, “more recipes” and “make it all free, too!”
While the burgeoning popularity of our craft is a welcome trend for those of us who promote the use of aromatics for health and wellness, it can have an equally dark side. The ever-increasing demand for new and interesting things to learn about regarding essential oils leads more authors to simply recycle material they have read elsewhere, parrot others’ ideas, and generally play the old game of ‘telephone’ with facts.
In stark contrast to the healing benefits of Aromatherapy we wish to provide to others, there is an opposite harm–the harm of intellectual property theft and plagiarism, which comes in several forms. First, the original author’s written intent is lost. Reliable information that was well-researched and written may become something entirely different when co-opted by others who may have less of an understanding (or worse, no understanding at all) of the material at hand. You can think of plagiarism as a newly popular term and call it “Fake News”. Second and perhaps more important is the loss of income, success, or recognition on the original author’s part. When someone plagiarizes your ideas, words or artwork, it can be a bitter pill indeed to swallow. Aromatherapist Lauren Bridges recently discussed this in her blog post “Plagiarism & Copyright Infringement in the Aromatherapy Community”:
“Copying each other is neither empowering nor beneficial in the grand scheme of things, and it certainly does not help the chatter behind the scenes. As a matter of fact, these two issues can almost paralyze the will to act and address the elephant in the room simply because the heart gets caught in the crossfires of right and wrong.”
–Lauren Bridges, The Aromapologist
Now that we’ve addressed the personal and professional impacts of plagiarism, we can move to the actual meanings of the words ‘Intellectual Property Theft’ and ‘Plagiarism’ as they seem nebulous and misunderstood.
Intellectual Property Theft
A so-called ‘white collar crime’, Intellectual Property Theft is usually synonymous with advanced technology–like the newest iPhone or latest software for your computer. We don’t often think of things we create on a daily basis as targets for theft. Items like blog posts, artwork, those catchy memes that everyone loves, and conversations about business plans with friends are all subject to theft. When others get hold of our good ideas and use them for their own gain it can be a frustrating blow, which sometimes translates into a loss of income, professional recognition, and more.
There is an entire branch of the FBI devoted to Intellectual Property Theft. Their website is here: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime/piracy-ip-theft . As well, the United States Department of Homeland Security has information dedicated to Intellectual Property Rights. While their information is most relevant to anti-terrorism, it does speak to the gravity of information theft. https://www.dhs.gov/topic/intellectual-property-rights .
Crimes mentioned by our federal government are far more serious than the simple copying of thoughts from a blog post or stealing a business model idea from a friend. However, the fact remains that stealing someone else’s work is not only bad form, but it’s also actually illegal!
Unlike Intellectual Property Theft, Plagiarism is not illegal in the United States . However, it still carries serious professional and personal ramifications, especially in academic circles. Many people think that plagiarism is very simple: just avoid directly copying and pasting someone else’s words and you’ll be fine. In reality, this is untrue and a case of simplified reasoning. That copy/paste we’ve been taught to avoid since high school is only the tip of the iceberg.
There are several varieties of plagiarism, which makes it more difficult to identify when it occurs. Penn State College of Liberal Arts has an extensive PDF outlining diverse types of plagiarism and tips on how to avoid them.
1. Word-for-word copying is obvious and the most recognized of plagiarism types. Often this is a simple copy and paste done for the sake of time savings or the lack of personal creativity. Penn State suggests using quotation marks and proper parenthetical citation to ensure that credit is given to the source.
2. Paraphrasing is slightly ‘sneakier’, as words from the original idea are changed just enough so that at first glance it’s not apparent that any wrongdoing occurred. Ideas are simply rewritten using new words. The document from Penn State recommends introducing the topic with credit given to the original author and following with a citation of page number, etc.
3. The Penn State PDF refers to the sneakiest, most insidious type of plagiarism as “Mosaic Plagiarism”. This occurs when the original words and/or phrases are merged with new content to form a new paragraph. It’s always best to use proper introductions and parenthetical citations to ensure that proper credit is given. 
How to spot plagiarism
Let’s say you’ve found a blog post online that looks strikingly similar to one you recently wrote. Was it stolen? Maybe, or maybe not. You are the one most familiar with your own work, so things to watch for are:
- Similar structure and style to your own. We each have a unique way of communicating. When content drastically changes on a blog, question ‘why’ and investigate.
- Coming across unique information that you believe came from one source but that source isn’t listed. Again, it’s time to start questioning.
- Technological tools like Google alerts can be helpful here. Using a unique key phrase, you can set up an alert when it shows up elsewhere online. (More on this below in “Protecting yourself”.)
What to do next? A plan for the future
In our personal lives we plan meals; we create elaborate bullet journals and other calendars; we set reminders on our phone for important appointments. It’s always good to have a solid plan in place for life’s contingencies. We hope that dealing with plagiarism is something you’ll never experience, but if you are a writer it’s probably best to be prepared. What steps should you take in the event you discover that your intellectual property has been used elsewhere? Attorney Sarah Hawkins has some great advice (link to her original post is here):
1. Breathe. Don’t let emotion rule the day. It’s easy to be angry, distressed or even sad, but don’t allow those feelings to overcome you in such a way that you end up regretting your own actions later.
2. Investigate. Track down the website URL, owner of said website and their contact information.
3. Contact. Get in touch with the page owner and request that your material be removed from their site. A polite but firm email can often get the results you’re looking for. Sarah Hawkins has a wealth of knowledge which she shares on her blog. Her DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown template is available for your use .
4. More contact. Does the individual belong to a professional organization? Most have a code of ethics that their members must abide by. Contact those organizations. This may bring results or it may not – but at least you’ve done your due diligence in alerting people that something fishy is going on!
5. Go Pro! If the above actions end with you still unsatisfied that your work is protected, you may have to contact an attorney. The amount of material, the energy you spent creating it, and the monetary value you place on your work all factor into how far you are willing to go to protect your property.
There are several things you can do proactively in order to avoid dealing with plagiarism in the future.
1. Aromatherapy is an ever expanding field. While quite a bit of research, blog posts, books and journals have been published on the broad subject, there are multiple smaller points to research and discover new information. Has inspiration struck and you have a great topic? Take a few seconds to make sure it is, in fact, a new topic. The art and practice of aromatherapy only grows when we bring new things to the table! There is nothing wrong with re-visiting topics, but be sure to give credit due to those who have come before.
2. Be sure to save copies of all your work. Most writing now occurs in documents like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages or Google docs. While many automatically save copies, it’s important that you back these files up onto a separate hard drive. Having this “proof” that YOU are the original author may make all the difference later .
3. Using a “statistically improbable phrase” (SIP) while writing is a great way to be able to search for any infractions upon that work later, using Google or another anti-plagiarism site .
4. A digital ‘fingerprint’ which places a digital signature into a blog post can help you track down your information later. This fingerprint shows up within the blog itself, but is chosen to not look too out of place . It works by being an identifier with which you can search plagiarism tools and find your content, should you suspect it’s been used without permission.
5. Using online tools to “catch” plagiarism can be helpful as well. An article entitled “How to Protect Your Work from Plagiarism” lists the following sites as tools to find out if your work is being used without your permission: Smart Google Search, Copyscape and Plagiarism.org .
6. If you haven’t planned ahead or didn’t even realize that your ideas belonged to you – then the use of http://www.archive.org may be your best bet to recover older documents or previous versions of material should they suddenly look different. This ‘web crawling bot’ visits and caches websites every so often creating an archive that is searchable. Once you find the content you’re looking for, simply export it as a PDF and save to your system. Having this proof may be the only way you’ll be able to make a case in the event you need to seek legal counsel .
Despite taking proactive measures, you may still fall victim to intellectual property theft. Perhaps even scarier, you find that you yourself are actually guilty of plagiarism or intellectual property theft! If that happens, don’t panic. Most individuals simply want to be credited for their original work. Removing the work and/or editing it so as to identify and credit the original author is acceptable, as well as offering a public apology to soothe ruffled feelings. Having clear and open lines of communication is the best way to handle situations like these. It is important going forward to admit a mistake, change the behavior, and then move on.
• Read more on different kinds of plagiarism at TurnItIn here: http://www.turnitin.com/assets/en_us/media/plagiarism_spectrum.php
• If you wish to learn more about plagiarism in depth, check out this website which has wonderful tools, articles and videos: http://www.plagiarism.org
• Download a plagiarism checklist here from the Academic Skills Center: http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/ASCsuccess/ASCplagiarismchecklist
 How to Find Plagiarism. Plagiarism Today. Retrieved September 11, 2017 from
 The difference Between Copyright Infringement & Plagiarism. Sarah F Hawkins,
Attorney at Law. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from
 How to File a DMCA Takedown Notice. Sarah F Hawkins, Attorney at Law. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from https://sarafhawkins.com/how-to-file-dmca-takedown/
 Types of Plagiarism. Penn State University College of the Liberal Arts. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from http://www.la.psu.edu/currentstudents/documents/TypesofPlagiarism.pdf
 Digital Fingerprints Help Track Blog Content Theft. Lorelle on WordPress. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from https://lorelle.wordpress.com/2006/09/30/digital-fingerprints-help-track-blog-content-theft/
 How to Protect Your Work from Plagiarism. Ally Machate. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from http://www.allymachate.com/2012/06/how-to-protect-your-work-from-plagiarism/
 Plagiarism & Copyright Infringement in the Aromatherapy Community. Indigo Aromatic Services, The Aromapologist. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from http://indigoaromaticservices.com/the-aromapologist/plagiarism-copyright-infringement-in-the-aromatherapy-community
 What to do when someone copies your online content. Sarah F Hawkins,
Attorney at Law. Retrieved September 13, 2017 from https://sarafhawkins.com/blog-law-what-to-do-about-blog-copying/