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Plagiarism is a form of academic malpractice specifically referring to the use of another's information, language, or writing, when done without proper acknowledgment of the original source. Plagiarism is not necessarily the same as copyright infringement, which occurs when one violates copyright law.


Plagiarism is the use of another person’s work (this could be his or her words, products or ideas) for personal advantage, without proper acknowledgement of the original work. Most often the phrase is used to denote deliberate intent of passing it off as one's own work. Plagiarism may occur deliberately (with the intention to deceive) or accidentally (due to poor referencing). It encompasses copying material from a book, copying and pasting information from the World Wide Web, receiving help from unauthorized sources on coursework, and copying answers from a fellow student during an examination (presuming the copied work isn’t attributed). Plagiarism and cheating are not the same; cheating takes many forms, including but not limited to deliberate plagiarism.

Plagiarism is neither a criminal nor civil offense. In fact, plagiarism is not a legal term and is not legally recognised. However, breach of copyright or intellectual property rights (IPR) is illegal; acts of plagiarism that breach either of the former are illegal acts.

Plagiarising work that has no copyright (such as material that is out of copyright) constitute a breach of moral rights in jurisdictions where such rights are perpetual. In other jurisdictions, plagiarism becomes legal as soon as moral rights expire.

Referencing and attribution

There is some difference of opinion over how much credit must be given when preparing a newspaper article or historical account. Generally, reference is made to original source material as much as possible, and writers avoid taking credit for others' work. The use of mere facts, rather than works of creative expression, does not constitute plagiarism. For the latter, the issue of public domain works versus copyrighted works is irrelevant to the concept of plagiarism. For instance, it is legal for a student to copy several paragraphs (or even pages) of text from a public domain book, such as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and then directly add this text to his or her own paper. However, if this text were not clearly identified as to his or her source, then the student would be guilty of plagiarism, using another writer's work as if it were his or her own. High schools, colleges and universities are especially sensitive to plagiarism, and as a result, they implement academic codes of ethics (honor codes) which prohibit plagiarism in all its forms.

Similarly, it is considered plagiarism to take the specifics of someone else's novel idea, and then present it as one's own work. This type of plagiarism frequently occurs in high schools, colleges and universities, when, for example, students use the analyses in "CliffsNotes" and falsely present them as being their own original analysis. A small market has emerged of web sites offering essays and papers for sale to students, while a counter-industry has developed companies offering services for instructors to compare a student's papers to a database of sources and search for potential plagiarism.

Moreover, just as there can be plagiarism without lawbreaking, it is possible to violate copyright law without plagiarizing. For example, one could distribute the full text of a current bestseller on the Internet while giving clear credit for it to the original author, financially damaging the author and publisher.

According to some academic ethics codes and criminal laws, a complaint of plagiarism may be initiated or proven by any person. The person originating the complaint need not be the owner of the plagiarized content, nor need there be any active or passive communication from a content owner directing that any investigation or discipline process be initiated in response to the plagiarism.

It is not considered plagiarism when two (or more) people independently come up with the same idea or analysis. This is commonly termed simultaneous inspiration, and comes about as the logical result of people exposed to the same source material and interpreting it similarly.

There is also accidental plagiarism. One case involved a boy whose mother had repeatedly read to him a story as a very small child. Later in life he was writing a story for an assignment, and a story 'came to him', but the story turned out to be exactly that which his mother had read to him as a small child, though he had no recollection of her reading it to him.

However, due to their fear of litigation, many editors refuse to recognize any difference between either simultaneous or accidental inspiration and true plagiarism. In many academic settings intent does not even enter into consideration. Princeton dismisses intent as "irrelevant", and Doug Johnson says that intent is "not necessary for a work to be considered plagiaristic, and as one respondent put it, 'ignorance of the law is no excuse.' (Of course, this is a fallacy, as plagiarism is not even legally recognised as an offence.) Some universities will even revoke a degree retroactively if an alumnus' plagiarism comes to light within a year after graduation.

According to Diana Hacker, the citation criteria as specified by the MLA (Modern Language Association) (115), APA (American Psychological Association) (157-158), Chicago-Style (186), and others (228-230): "Three different acts are considered plagiarism: (1) failing to cite quotations and borrowed ideas, (2) failing to enclose borrowed language in quotation marks, and (3) failing to put summaries and paraphrases in your own words." A Pocket Style Manual, 4h ed., 2004 Bedford/St. Martin's.

Why plagiarism occurs

Students cite many reasons for plagiarising, including:

  1. being unaware that they’re plagiarising
  2. lacking knowledge and understanding of the subject
  3. poor time management skills
  4. feeling that the subject is unimportant
  5. believing that plagiarism isn’t serious
  6. feeling pressured due to over-assessment
  7. poor teaching
  8. they've done it before and not been caught

The most common reason given by students is ignorance about plagiarism – that they were unclear about the plagiarism policy and, therefore, unaware that they were doing anything wrong. Many school districts have a plagarism policy, which punishes students in increasing severity the more times that they're caught. A common misunderstanding among students relates to paraphrased material. Many students do not realise that paraphrased material should be attributed to the original author in the same manner as a direct quotation.

Some students do not consider plagiarism a serious offence since it does not (in their view) harm other students. Research has shown that students consider cheating in an examination to be much more serious than plagiarising coursework – even if both contribute to final grades.

Frequency of plagiarism

There is no definitive research into the frequency of plagiarism. Any research that has taken place has focussed on the Higher Education (university) sector. There are no published statistics for the school or college sectors; awarding bodies do not maintain statistics specifically on plagiarism. However, of all the different forms of cheating (including plagiarism, inventing data and cheating during an exam), students admit to plagiarism more than any other. Research findings range from 25% to 90% of students admitting to some form of plagiarism. However, this figure reduces considerably when students are asked about the frequency of “serious” plagiarism (such as copying most of an assignment or purchasing a complete paper from a website – more typically 20% and 10% respectively). Although research findings vary, a recurring theme is that students estimate the occurrence of plagiarism (in all its forms) higher than teaching staffs, which estimate its frequency higher than Academic Standards Committees. No reliable statistics exist for the school and college sectors; awarding bodies report low occurrences of plagiarism.

Plagiarism and the Internet

The widespread use of the Internet has increased the incidence of plagiarism. Students are able to use search engines to locate information on a wide range of topics. Once located, this information can be copied and pasted into students’ documents with minimal effort. Some sites provide free documents because they receive monetary support from sponsors. Other websites offer complete essays for students to download. These websites provide a database of subject-specific topics or custom-made essays on any topic (for a fee).

The Internet can also be used to combat plagiarism. Teachers can also use search engines to search for parts of suspicious essays. Using search engines to check papers for plagiarism, however, is neither practical nor effective since teachers lack the time necessary to check each paper by hand using an online search engine. For this reason, many teachers have turned to plagiarism prevention services like Turnitin that automate the search process and check essays for plagiarised material by comparing each paper against millions of online sources. The techniques used in such engines are often based on variants of the Rabin-Karp string search algorithm. Despite these counteractions, some empirical evidence suggests that the overall effect of the Internet is to increase plagiarism.

Internet plagiarism is not limited to academic dishonesty. Perhaps the most visible example occurred in late 2005 and early 2006 when the web site was accused of stealing and otherwise plagiarising a wide variety of various Flash animations from such web sites as, sister site and


Some define self-plagiarism as the act of copying one's own writing (or products or ideas) without due attribution of the source, i.e., oneself. For example, in academic assignments, self-plagiarism would be to submit the same assignment more than once in different contexts without publicising this fact. Many college professors regard this kind of plagarism as identical to a failure to cite an external source; in this view, plagiarism involves two principles: proper citation of sources, and originality of the work.

Famous examples of plagiarism

  • British pop group 'Nowaysis', a tribute band to the Gallagher Brothers, released a one off single in 1996 which heavily borrowed from the hit Shakermaker. The advert for the song read 'Hear 'Nowaysis' plagarising Oasis plagarising The New Seekers plagarising The Beatles.
  • Atari's video game Pong was accused by Magnavox of being a rip-off of the Odyssey's tennis game.
  • Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism as a young girl for a school composition. Mortified, she determined to have all future compositions screened by her friends before submission.
  • According to a Boston University investigation into academic misconduct, Martin Luther King, Jr. plagiarized over one third of the chapter of his doctoral thesis that summarizes the concepts of God expressed by Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman. It has been charged that for his "I Have A Dream" speech King plagiarized the 1952 address of Archibald Carey to the Republican National Convention, the similarities being in the reference to the Samuel Francis Smith patriotic hymn "America" in the peroration followed by a listing of geographical locations from which the orator exhorts his audience to "let freedom ring."
  • George Harrison was successfully sued for plagiarizing the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" for the melody of his own "My Sweet Lord." [1]
    • Harrison later wrote a bitter-lyric song on the subject. Interestingly, he also "plagiarized" himself at least once, as the introductory chord for The Beatles' I'm Looking Through You is nearly identical to the introductory chord from End of the Line by his later group, the Traveling Wilburys.
  • Senator Joseph Biden was forced to withdraw from the 1988 Democratic Presidential nominations when it was revealed that he had failed a course in law school due to plagiarism. It was also shown that he had copied several campaign speeches, notably those of British Labour leader Neil Kinnock and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Popular historian Stephen Ambrose has been criticized for incorporating passages from the works of other authors into many of his books.
  • Psychology professor René Diekstra, also well known as an author of popular books, left Leiden University in 1997 after accusations of plagiarism. Proceedings continued as of 2003, with Diekstra contesting a report about him on this matter.
  • Alex Haley was permitted to settle out-of-court for $650,000, having admitted that he copied large passages of his novel Roots from The African by Harold Courlander.
  • Eres tú, Spanish song at the Eurovision Song Contest 1973 was a plagiarism of a Slovenian (then Yugoslav) song from ESC 1966 (Berta Ambrož: Brez Besed) but due to political reasons (the Cold War) it wasn't disqualified.
  • Jayson Blair, then a reporter for the New York Times, plagiarized many articles and faked quotes in high-profile stories, including the Jessica Lynch and Beltway sniper attacks cases. He and several high-ranking editors from the Times resigned in June 2003.
  • Moorestown Township, New Jersey, high-school student Blair Hornstine had her admission to Harvard University revoked in July 2003 after she was found to have passed off speeches and writings by famous figures, including Bill Clinton, as her own original prose in articles she wrote as a student journalist for a local newspaper.
  • In 2003, the United Kingdom Government was accused [2] of copying some text from the work of a CSU Monterey Bay post-graduate student for its security dossier on Iraq, dubbed by the media the 'dodgy dossier'.
  • Long-time Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker resigned on January 4, 2006, after being accused of plagiarizing other journalists' articles in his own columns.
  • The doctoral thesis written by Kimberly Lanegran at the University of Florida was copied nearly verbatim by Marks Chabedi and submitted at The New School. When Lanegran discovered this, she launched an investigation into Chabedi, and he was fired from a professorship at University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and The New School revoked his Ph.D.
  • The 1922 film Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Stoker's widow sued the producers of Nosferatu, and had many of the film's copies destroyed (although some exist to this day).
  • Science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued and won in a case against James Cameron, claiming that his film The Terminator plagiarized the two episodes he wrote for the television show The Outer Limits: "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand".
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin (2002 scandal)
  • Writer and television commentator Monica Crowley was accused of plagiarism for a 1999 Slate Magazine article on Richard Nixon.
  • Ethnic Studies professor and activist Ward Churchill is currently being investigated on charges of plagiarism, falsifying research.
  • Volodymyr Lytvyn, speaker (2002-present) of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) in a 2001 article in a popular daily newspaper plagiarized (in fact, translated and attributed to himself) an article by Thomas Carothers "Civil Society" (published in 1999).

See also

External links

  • The Assessment in Higher Education web site's plagiarism page contains links to a variety of resources (articles, books, cheat sites, etc) on plagiarism.
  • A new scholarly journal on the topic is "Plagiary: Cross-disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification."

Anti-plagiarism software

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