Copyright Infringements and Plagiarism in the Remote Work Era
The pandemic profoundly changed the way we work and interact with one another; a large part of the workforce was forced to work remotely, either part-time or full-time. This in turn influenced productivity, and also had an impact on the mental health of the employees: 78% of the world’s largest businesses think that remote work has had a negative impact on productivity (source: World Economic Forum) while UK’s Government highlighted that during lockdown periods ‘Psychological distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms appeared to peak’ (source: COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report).
So what do these developments mean for business content and its originality? At first glance, this question seems minor and rather unimportant, especially when you consider the impact on the global economy at large. But for each and every business out there, their reputation and revenue are more at stake than ever before – if originality isn’t safeguarded during these times of crisis. To better understand this assumption, let me first explain why originality plays an important factor in business success.
Original Content in the Business World: Playing an Important Role Across Departments
Content is king in every business. It defines your business, your product, and service offerings – and in order to be different and interesting to your customers, it needs to be unique. Every business creates a huge amount of content on a daily basis, and there’s hardly any department anymore that doesn’t create content of some sort.
Take, for example, the marketing department of a company. They are constantly writing product descriptions, press releases, blog posts, advertisements, and much more on a daily basis. Given the permanent predominant need for fresh and new content in order to raise customers’ awareness, and create interest, the marketing department doesn’t only create content in-house but often outsources it to other professionals. Moving on to sales – quotes, contracts, RFPs, tenders, and presentations are content that is essential to sell a product and generate revenue. When you look at R&D, a plethora of content can be found here too: research papers, patent filings, source codes, studies, manuals – you name it – are commonly produced here. Moving on to business administration, HR, finance, legal, and management: think of all the financial statements, reports, policies, market research, contracts, litigations, and so on that are worked on every day. Looking at the sheer size of data being created and captured worldwide, researchers counted a staggering 64.4 zettabytes of content that was produced in 2020 (source: Statista).
Dangers of Copied or Plagiarised Content
Nowadays, the digitized world with its almost unlimited resources of online knowledge has its advantages – and pitfalls. Content is available at your fingertips, to you as well as to your employees and competitors. Even if you did cite every source, and never copied any template, phrases or text passages, can you be sure that your co-workers, employees, and competitors did as well? Herein lies a huge risk for businesses.
If the original source gets duly quoted or cited in a content piece, referencing content is not only allowed in most cases but might also help in positioning the company as a thought leader that is open to sharing and echoing the opinions of others.
However, given the demand for vast amounts of content from businesses every day, chances are high that someone might be tempted to take a shortcut and copy/paste publicly available content. Huge problems may arise, if there is no reference to the original source, or if there are visible attempts to obfuscate the initial creator of that content. Not all cases get discovered, but if the initial creator discovers the theft, it can result in persecution in federal court leading to hefty penalties and reputational damage for the plagiarising company.
Adding Remote Work During the Pandemic to the Equation
During home office and remote work phases, many tended to be more stressed, anxious, and under pressure (source: National Institute of Mental Health). The pandemic turned entire industries into either winners or losers from an economical perspective. Many businesses faced closures, while others suddenly experienced immense growth. Both scenarios often resulted in more work for individual employees.
In addition, during lockdown phases, office workers mostly sat at home alone for weeks with no one to talk to regularly but their co-workers. Or the other extreme: Parents had to manage to work remotely, while also coping with their children’s homeschooling sessions.
It is understandable that in these times of pressure, the originality of content might not have been the focus of everyone’s job. The reasons for copying content might be the same as for students: not enough time, or peer pressure to deliver something substantial. Also, the lack of knowledge and understanding on the topic was a huge factor, combined with budget restrictions that made it impossible to outsource content creation to professionals. Additionally, environments missing an enforced ethical codex are more prone to immoral behavior or cheating.
Did the Pandemic Influence the Perception of Original Business Content and What Can We Expect in the Future?
Summarizing the discussion: Copied content could severely damage a company’s reputation if discovered, and result in financial loss due to public persecution and fines. During the pandemic, remote workers have been under a lot of additional pressure, which might have resulted in more copied content.
Nevertheless, a study from Ouriginal suggests that both education and businesses were aware of the lurking dangers of unoriginal content – as the number of scanned documents for text similarities in order to avoid or detect plagiarism increased immensely in 2020 over 2019 (source: Ouriginal 2020 Study).
This might just be a snapshot, but nevertheless, it shows that also the awareness for preserving and creating original content has increased. It will be interesting to see how sustainable this mindset is in the upcoming months, in a new normal.