Most adults and even children understand that it is wrong to steal. We don’t take something that does not belong to us without asking permission or paying for it.
Plagiarism is theft. I find it amazing that so many real estate professionals steal. We are supposed to be held to a higher standard. Entire articles from this site are lifted and posted on blogs. The blogger usually gives attribution and links back to this site, but it is still plagiarism because so many words have been copied that they make up the majority of the post.
Some real estate professionals take entire posts or photos without giving any attribution at all and pass them off as their own work. I recently found some photos that a friend of mine took — they were on another Realtor’s Web site. Photo theft is rampant. Posting them on the Internet seems to make people think they are public domain.
When it comes to content theft, if it is another agent who is taking my content it is fairly easy to stop. Many real estate agent Web sites and blogs have contact information on them, and if they don’t I can look the agent up and get the contact information if I know which state they are licensed in.
If the agent cannot be contacted or will not cooperate, it is usually easy to find the broker or manager or at least the company that they work for.
So far I have found that real estate brokers, managers and real estate companies are very cooperative when I call them and let them know that one of their agents is taking my content. Perhaps information about plagiarism should be included as part of agent training programs. Ignorance of the rules is the number one excuse I hear from agents who steal.
Some real estate professionals plagiarize by taking entire posts and articles and giving the author credit. When I send them a cease-and-desist e-mail or call them, they are often surprised that I am accusing them of plagiarism. Publishing my work word for word and crediting it to me is still plagiarism.
I am not a lawyer, but I know there are laws against plagiarism. And like most other laws, ignorance of the law isn’t a defense. There are a couple of Web sites that contain great information about plagiarism and creative commons licensing: Plagiarism.org and CreativeCommons.org.
The idea of creative commons seems to be widely misunderstood. There are levels of creative commons. With photos I like to use creative commons with attribution, which means you can use my photo but you must give me credit for the work in a way that I agree with. For example, I require a link to where the photo is published. Putting my name in as the author without the link is not acceptable to me, and because they are my photos I get to make the rules about how and when they are used.
Under U.S. law the expression of original ideas are protected just like inventions are. The author of a blog post does not need to do anything special to get a copyright. Simply having a computer file with the original content is enough.
It is the same with photos. The copyright is automatic. The photographer should be able to prove that they took the picture, but nothing more than that is needed.
Before starting a blog or a Web site please learn a little about copyright law and creative commons licensing. Plagiarism is theft, and real estate professionals should not steal.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.
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