Using someone else’s words to make a point is all too easy these days, when all you have to do is run a quick search on a topic and pull a few sentences off a stranger’s website. So when is it okay to use someone else’s content to enhance your own point? And when is it okay for someone else to quote you?

First of all, it’s never acceptable to quote someone without indicating that you’re quoting. Writing someone else’s words as if they were your own is plagiarism. College professors hate it, other writers hate it, I hate it, and you should hate it too. Even if you’re not using the quote to make money, even if no one reads your site, even if it’s just a few sentences, it’s still not okay.

But most of us know that already. The real problem for us is the issue of other people stealing our work. One barrier to this is copyrighting your content clearly. I think the best option is to use Creative Commons, which allows you to craft your own copyright. For example, you can choose a level of copyright that allows anyone to use your content for any purpose as long as they credit you. Or you can let people use your words for non-profit purposes with credit. And so on. Poke around the site and craft a protection you feel comfortable with, then display the copyright prominently on your blog.

Even with a copyright icon on your site, people will still crib from you. There are several ways to tell when this is happening, which are covered in detail at this excellent website.

If you find a site using your content, you’ve got options. First, try contacting the site and asking them to either credit you or remove your content. If that doesn’t work, you can try sending a cease and desist order (you can find a template here), or you can request a search engine ban of the site in question.

Don’t forget that images can be plagiarized as well as words. Have you ever pulled an image off a random website and used it to support your post? But who took that picture of Yosemite Valley? Who does this image belong to? If you’re using the image on a personal site, email the original site and ask for permission to use their work on a non-commercial post. If you’re professionally blogging, things get more complicated because the site you’re writing for will be making money off that image. In that case it’s vital to get permission in written form to use the image, and you should abide by the artist’s decision if they refuse permission.

Do you have other suggestions for what to do about plagiarism, or how to tell when you’ve crossed the line? Feel free to discuss it in the comments.