Plagiarism in white papers is a topic that raises questions now and again. When people are developing white papers for their companies, they often find great source material in white papers from other companies, from competitors’ blog posts, and a quick Google search.
What plagiarism in white papers involves
It’s okay to use the materials as references to help you write your own white paper. But you can’t simply duplicate what others have written. That’s plagiarism in white papers. When you reuse something somebody else created and claim it as your own, you’re committing plagiarism.
You may face legal consequences
Plagiarism in white papers may land you in a lawsuit or other type of legal action, and you’ll probably lose. I have to interrupt here to note that I’m not an attorney nor have I ever played one on TV, so this blog post does not constitute legal advice. However, I can safely advise you if you think it’s perfectly acceptable to take another company’s content and repurpose it as your own, you’d better know a pretty good attorney.
That’s particularly true if the other company has what’s known as copyright. If you’re found to infringe on someone’s copyright, your company could face substantial financial penalties. And again, you’re going to come out on the losing side. Just don’t do it!
What if I attribute it to them?
Sometimes, companies will lift content from other companies’ materials and reprint it word-for-word in a white paper or other material. They’ll put a reference to show where it came from, so that’s not copyright infringement, right? Actually, it is. If you reprint something word-for-word without getting the copyright owner’s permission, you’ve broken the law, even if you cite the source. Why? You’ve used somebody else’s property without asking. Think of it like borrowing their car to drive to Cleveland and back, but not telling them. (That’s what’s known as Grand Theft Auto.)
Your company is unique
An even bigger reason to avoid plagiarism in white papers is your company is unique. It has its own reputation and image in the marketplace, and when you create any kind of marketing or communications material, it should reflect that reputation and image. Unless you’re secretly planning to merge with the other company, there’s no reason to want to sound exactly like them. Use your own voice and speak proudly!
From your own materials
Is it okay to use other materials from your own company in white papers? Absolutely! Those materials belong to your company, so using them does not constitute plagiarism. Nor do you usually need to attribute the source, unless there’s a real benefit to doing so (for example, your source is a report your company produces and is widely respected in your industry).