Am I Wrong To Shame People Who Plagiarize My Work?

I recently called out a PR professional who appeared to steal my work.

It’s not the first time I’ve done that. Unfortunately, a surprising number of people think little about lifting someone else’s work, and I regularly come across instances in which someone has claimed my work as their own.

But after the last incident, a person on Twitter expressed her disappointment with me, comparing the act of publicly shaming a plagiarizer to the primitive punishment some countries dispense by cutting off the hands of a shoplifter.  

Shaming One

That’s a fair philosophical argument, one I’ve been thinking about for a while. But her next tweet surprised me: 

Shaming Two

If I’m reading her tweet correctly (and given the context of the conversation, I believe I am), this tweeter believes that the person being shamed is the victim. In her view, the “victim” is not the person who worked hard to develop an original idea, share it with the world, and have it stolen—but rather the person who steals the idea and then pays a price for having done so. I strongly disagree with that view.

Why I Shame Plagiarizers

First, let me be clear: Accusing someone of committing plagiarism is a serious option that can badly damage someone’s reputation. I don’t use it lightly. For cases that are on the fence, I send a private email. I would only accuse someone of plagiarism publicly if the facts supporting my claim point overwhelmingly in that direction. In the case above, the PR pro was quoted using an entire paragraph I had published on my blog, in my newsletter, and in my book.

A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article called “Spite Is Good. Spite Works.” The article had a few passages that are relevant to this discussion:

“Human decency and cooperation require a certain degree of so-called altruistic punishment: the willingness of some individuals to punish rule breakers.”

“’It’s probably not spiteful when you’re looking at the long term,’ Dr. Marlowe said. ‘If you get the reputation as someone not to mess with and nobody messes with you going forward, then it was well worth the cost.’”

For me, publicly calling someone out for plagiarism isn’t an act of spite. The quotes above capture my thinking well: More globally, I do it because it’s about maintaining social norms; more personally, I do it to serve as a future deterrent to both the offender and those who might become offenders.

That’s my view. I’d love to hear yours. You can vote below or leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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