How to Avoid Internet Plagiarism

I’m not unbiased when it comes to Buzzfeed, the Internet-based purveyor of quizzes, listicles and sort-of-news. It’s not that I worked or wrote for them — nothing like that. Basically, I think their content is about 95% useless. How many slideshows about Beyoncé and kittens does the world need?

Hand in the Cookie Jar

In reality, clickbait is just a minor annoyance to me. The real reason I dislike Buzzfeed so much has more to do with where their content comes from.

Buzzfeed has been plagued by plagiarism complaints for years. Popular sites like Reddit, Cracked and Huffington Post, as well as multitudes of lesser-known personal blogs, have come forward with cases in which the site “borrowed” their content without permission. Their collections of pictures are particularly notorious for having been culled from existing content.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Buzzfeed’s high visibility certainly makes them one of the easiest targets for Internet plagiarism cases, but they aren’t alone in their careless theft. Proper citation of sources is weird and unwieldy online, because content travels fast. A photo can be distributed across tens of thousands of websites so quickly, keeping track of its true source is all but impossible. Even memes, the most ubiquitous and oft-shared type of web content, aren’t immune to these issues.

Because there’s little to no “official” moderation of web content, most sites that are caught stealing are asked to either:

  1. Remove the content entirely
  2. Cite the creator of the original content within the presently offending article

(In rare cases, creators have been known to bring suit against perpetrators, but this is typically reserved for creators of high-quality material — like photographers, full time writers, and musicians — who have a serious financial stake in their original material.)

Despite the inconsistency of “serious” consequences, it’s still important to cite your content’s source(s) to preserve your own credibility. Plus, think of how happy it would make all your old professors to know their lessons really stuck.

See, Mr. Fairbanks, I was paying attention in Lit 101!

See, Mr. Fairbanks, I was paying attention in Lit 101!

How to Cite Sources Online

Citing sources online is fairly simple:

Written content

  • Include an embedded link to the source material you are citing
  • Mention the author and/or website by name as well

E.g. This glassCanopy article on avoiding plagiarism gives some great tips for properly citing sources…


  • Cite the source, either as a caption beneath the photo or as a title text (a title text is the text that appears when you hover over an image)
  • Include the name and URL of the website from which you found the image, and/or the name of the photographer or artist if possible

Embedded videos

  • Include a link to the account from which the video can be found in a caption beneath the video

Purchasing Rights

Rules of citation don’t apply to material you’ve purchased, like stock videos or imagery. In this case, you’re free to use the content as your own in the formats for which you’ve purchased a license.

Now that you know the proper way to use material you find elsewhere, go forth and share on! Just be certain to always give credit where it is due. #Karma

Additional Resources

For a more in-depth discussion about Internet plagiarism, read this article at Hubspot on how to use and protect original content.


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