Authors: Hana Bělíková & Lauren Bridges
I have never really explained how I came up with the name Aromapologist.
While I do have a background in anthropology as has been pointed out before, Aromapologist is actually a play on apologetics and combining it with aromatherapy. The fact that it looks like it loops anthropology in with it is just a fun bonus for me and a coincidental shout out to good times past. But, before Indigo Aromatics Services, LLC (now Aromapologie, LLC) was established, I created The Aromapologist as a platform to discuss matters within the aromatherapy community and our craft that may be considered a bit more controversial in many cases.
That all being said, in the spirit of this blog’s creation, I am going to bring up a few subjects that are going to be polemic, not because I want to or like it, but because in this particular case it is very necessary. Those subjects are plagiarism and copyright infringement.
These are not enjoyable subjects to write about, so let us establish that fact right now. I hate this. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are ugly, distressing words that immediately instill a sinking tension that no amount of lavender is going to resolve, especially if you are on the receiving side of things. We all remember the gut-wrenching feeling of someone parading our ideas as their own, from a classmate copying our science project, to our BFF wearing the same dress to the prom. Some are a bit more serious than others.
In professional terms, these subjects force us to address concerns that are of both an ethical and legal nature. As such, we are unceremoniously dumped into territory that requires an honest examination of the aspect of our psyche that puts us on edge as well as compels our conscience to moral reasoning. We are required to fight for ourselves. In other words, it is a raw, hackles-raised position in which to find oneself, and this is especially true when the subject matter involves friends and colleagues where there is more than just matters of professionalism at stake.
Such is the nature of community.
But in a community of healers and individuals dedicated to helping those who are already hurting, these matters cross over into a more sacred territory: the relationship between teachers and students and the trust between a practitioner and their client. These relationships require trust.
We are a voracious gathering of people craving information – information that establishes the foundation we have to best understand the art behind aromatherapy so we may care for our families and ourselves. This goes for both professionals and enthusiasts alike. But when that trust is violated through the false establishment of expertise at the moral and legal expense of work that belongs to our colleagues, the positive intention that is rooted in the effort of so many is tainted.
Plagiarism and copyright infringement are both examples of intellectual property theft. Theft. Let that sink in for a minute. It is quite literally as serious as it sounds, and there can also be legal ramifications in certain instances just as there can be with other examples of theft. These two topics are similar yet different, but they both contribute to one very large elephant in the room that cannot be ignored.
Time we flat out name that elephant Not Okay.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THEFT
The National Crime Prevention Council defines intellectual property theft as follows:
“Intellectual property is any innovation, commercial or artistic; any new method or formula with economic value; or any unique name, symbol, or logo that is used commercially. Intellectual property is protected by patents on inventions; trademarks on branded devices; copyrights on music, videos, patterns, and other forms of expression; and state and federal laws” (Ncpc.org, 2017).
In regard to what we see in the aromatherapy community, this means that anything you write (of which any original content is automatically copyrighted), any memes or infographics you create, etc. is intellectual property. Piracy of intellectual property is a crime. Literally. It is not a harmless act and the cost to the original owners of the intellectual property can be great. It is the theft of hard work and time spent, and depending on how that theft is used, it can also rob the creators of income. This in particular can land the individual stealing material in legal hot water.
Simply put, copyright infringement is a legal matter in which copyrighted work has been reproduced, publicly performed or displayed, distributed, or has had derivative work created from it without appropriate crediting or permission (Lib.purdue.edu, 2017).
I want to highlight derivative work for a minute. The right to create derivative works belongs the copyright owner (Anon, 2017). Period. Without permission from the copyright owner to expound on or reproduce their original idea or restructure it into an alternate form, one setting forth to create a work based on a portion of or the entire content of another work that is original copyright is guilty of copyright infringement. Now, with appropriate citation, Fair Use may protect someone from infringing on the copyright of published work (Jones, 2017), but this is not the case concerning unpublished work (Digital Information Law, 2017). According to the Archive of American Archivists, unpublished work is defined as work “not intended for public distribution or if only a few copies were created and distribution was limited” (www2.archivists.org, 2017).
Example of derivative work: Person X writes a unique article about why putting cinnamon bark oil in your baby’s ear is a bad idea. All of a sudden, Person Y decides to produce a meme, video, webinar, etc. taking the content from the original work. They never cite the author of the original article talking about why cinnamon bark oil in babies’ ears is bad even though they are taking the information presented in the original piece. This is an example of derivative work. The original idea and article has been used and perhaps even expounded on, but without the permission of the owner of the copyright, it is copyright infringement. The lack of appropriate citation does not offer them any protection through Fair Use.
Could they get in legal trouble for this? Absolutely.
It does not help that copyright infringement is everywhere. If you are on the internet, you have come across it at some point. Most people are likely so accustomed to seeing it that the fact they are looking at it does not even consciously enter their mind.
Copyright infringement can also be done accidentally, believe it or not, and this is why educational institutions stress so firmly the need to be able to cite and establish the research used in writing. It must be differentiated from what constitutes original ideas, and the need for originality being within the research framework cannot be neglected.
Research is necessary to back up the reasons for ideas and hypotheses, and it should be used to help substantiate any ideas being put forth. But what is key here is supporting an original point. If all one does is set out to beat a horse that is dead and (has been) done, it becomes startlingly easy to cross into the territory of copyright violations.
A good rule of thumb: if you must paraphrase something, cite it. If you do not, you may find yourself dealing with matters of copyright infringement or plagiarism.
Quoting Robert Tisserand: “Plagiarism isn’t taking someone else’s idea and improving it, it’s taking someone else’s idea and pretending it’s yours” (obtained via personal communication, August 23, 2017).
Everyone take a minute and recognize the beauty of that citation; you can cite what people said to you without stealing their words when you write an article, create a meme, teach a class, etc.
Now, plagiarism is often thought of as word-for-word copying of a work. But plagiarism goes beyond exactly copying the words of another. Paraphrasing can also be plagiarism. You cannot merely artfully rearrange and substitute the words of an original author and call it your own work. That is actually referred to as “paraphrasing plagiarism.” This example from Indiana University Bloomington does a good job in explaining and providing an example of what paraphrasing plagiarism may look like. It explains clearly the need for both citation and referencing in order to avoid committing plagiarism (Indiana.edu, 2017).
What if I told you plagiarism is not illegal? Interestingly, in and of itself it is not; however, while plagiarism itself does not violate any laws, it is a moral and ethical issue and is still wrong per accepted values within professional and academic paradigms (Hawkins, 2017). Plagiarism can also cross the line into copyright infringement, which is a legal issue, so it is best to avoid all together.
Can it happen accidentally? Of course. And it can be easily remedied in most cases when it is done if it was truly not intentional. But plagiarism is also something that occurs frequently and with awareness, and that is the reason why we are having this conversation to begin with.
It seems that people have misunderstood what actually can constitute plagiarism and intellectual property theft and think that just because an offender has not produced an exact copy of someone else’s work that there’s not enough to call foul.
Let me reiterate: word-for-word copying is just the tip of the iceberg. And like that tip, it is also most easily seen. But there is a whole mess of other issues that lurk beneath the surface that still lead to problems in professional writing and material development. Quick writing tip? Do not rely on online plagiarism detectors to determine if you’ve committed any offenses in this matter. They will not catch issues with paraphrasing plagiarism and then they are also notoriously neglectful in catching word-for-word plagiarism at times. It is always necessary to ask if an original point is being made and if the research backs that point up has been cited appropriately.
At first glance, common knowledge appears like it would be easily and obviously understood, but like most things involving intellectual property this is not the case. In simple terms, common knowledge refers to information that can be assumed to be understood by most people, and in these cases there is not a need for citation (Laney.libguides.com, 2018). Where common knowledge becomes more complicated is that it can often be defined by the audience. What may be considered common knowledge in a disciplinary field, for example, would not necessarily qualify as common knowledge if the audience were instead intended to be the general public (Integrity.mit.edu, 2018).
As well, common knowledge can still be plagiarized. The cumulative expression of common knowledge if paraphrased without appropriate acknowledgement can be an example of plagiarism or copyright infringement. Examples of this would be duplicating a whole work, whether in identical or derivative form, by paraphrasing the entirety of its context. The overall impression a work gives when compared to another is considered when there is a question of copied work (Scholarship.law.berkeley.edu, 2018).
ETHICAL AND LEGAL IMPLICATIONS IN AROMATHERAPY
Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not new issues, but they are issues that are only just now starting to get the more acknowledged attention they need. But why is that? What are the reasons behind plagiarism? And more importantly, how to make sure you don’t plagiarize?
It is a very hard thing to see and even worse to make space for the acknowledgment that people we know and trust may be doing this. None of us want to sit back and dwell on this capability when it comes to friends and colleagues. But if we cast emotions aside and simply evaluate the facts, it is what it is, and we cannot change the fact that these are large issues at the moment and ones that touch several areas in the industry.
I think perhaps that a large portion of these offenses occur organically as a response to new information as it comes forth – new information that is so very necessary for the sake of safe practice. Within our circles essential oil safety is a daily topic of conversation. Social media provides an easy platform to cater to this subject of discussion with several groups and public blogs being dedicated to helping those seeking real and safe information on using essential oils. So, the information is passed along, redistributed, used in memes, etc. Some people properly cite the resources in all these; others do not and instead treat it as public domain when it should not be. Much of the safety information that is being spread nowadays was published in 2014 in the second edition of Tisserand and Young’s Essential Oil Safety. To be clear, this work does not fall under public domain.
Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young’s book on essential oil safety does call for interpretation in some areas due to it being a heavy text with practical information interwoven into a lot of research and chemistry information. However, there is no need to re-invent the wheel or not state where the information comes from. Also, in today’s fast-paced internet society, the pressure to come up with new and intriguing content is high. It is therefore tempting to get “inspired” by a successful blog you saw a few weeks earlier.
Copying each other is neither empowering nor beneficial in the grand scheme of things, and it certainly does not help the chatter behind the scenes. As a matter of fact, these two issues can almost paralyze the will to act and address the elephant in the room simply because the heart gets caught in the crossfires of right and wrong. I have been there, and emotion is an unfortunate blinder when it comes to seeing the truth sometimes. But again, when we realize it, the emotion can be removed from the equation, and we can examine the facts that are left behind. These are ethical and legal violations, and they are very serious. Some instances are simply more glaring than others.
So, what is my point? My point is that if you are seeing this too, you are not alone. If your work has been stolen, you are not alone. If you are currently facing recovering stolen work, it is within your right to contact a copyright lawyer or reach out to DMCA to have matters resolved. It is within your right to ask or demand for your intellectual property to be removed from any site to which your work was added without your permission, be it the original copyright, derivative work, or plagiarism. If someone has profited from the distribution of your copyright and copyright infringement is determined to exist, you have the right to take further action for compensation.
We cannot as a community be complacent in these matters as hard as it is to have to address them. The negative influence does not need to bear its mark on a community dedicated to helping others. Not to mention that regurgitating the same information is not moving the field any further.
Do you suspect that you may actually be guilty of borrowing ideas from others? Here is a good article on how to avoid doing so inadvertently. Trust me, there is definitely enough new material in aromatherapy that even if every one of us focused only on one aspect of it, there would still be a lot of uncharted territory left. I have it on a good source that the research in essential oils is booming, and so are potential uses of these precious substances in clinical settings. Plus, there is nothing wrong in admitting who inspired you to write what you did – quite to the contrary.
And remember, the only victims existing in matters of copyright infringement and plagiarism are the original copyright owners or the ones who have had work stolen and expressed as belonging to someone else. The one taking the work and treating it as their own – for whatever purpose – is never the victim in these matters.
A special thanks to Hana Bělíková for her input, editing, and feedback during the process of writing this article. Hana, your guidance and wisdom are greatly appreciated!
Edited 8/25/17: There was some confusion about the example of derivative work used. I’ve gone back and tried to provide a little more clarity on the matter. Matters of illegal derivative work are not simple with whole court cases on the offense speckling legal history, so there will be some limitation in what is able to be expressed in an article. But to reiterate, derivative works are works that are are developed from an original copyright. This is illegal without the permission of the copyright owner. Fair Use doctrine may offer some protection in specific circumstances, but you need to make sure you have verified said protection in regard to what you are writing.
Edited 4/25/18: Further clarification drawn to derivative works and new section added on “common knowledge.” Minor editing and structural changes made.
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