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Plagiarism refers to the use of another's information, language, or writing, when done without proper acknowledgment of the original source. Essential to an act of plagiarism is an element of dishonesty in attempting to pass off the plagiarised work as original. Plagiarism is not necessarily the same as copyright infringement, which occurs when one violates copyright law. Like most terms from the area of intellectual property, plagiarism is a concept of the modern age and not really applicable to medieval or ancient works. An example of plagiarism would be copying this definition and pasting straight into a report.



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 these quotations to his or her own paper. However if these quotations 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 have 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 of 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's 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. In this respect, the mere fact that a piece of text is not plagiarized may not suffice to justify its use.

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 plagiarism when two (or more) people independently come up with the same idea or analysis. This is commonly termed simultaneous inspiration, or colloquially "great minds think alike", and comes about as the logical result of people essentially 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 it. 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.' Many 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

Famous examples 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 cut-and-pasted into their own documents with minimal effort. The size of the Internet makes it difficult for teachers to trace the source of plagiarised material.

There are also websites which provide complete essays for students to download. These websites provide a database of subject-specific topics; some provide custom-made essays on any topic (for a fee). Some of the largest fee-based term paper sites are: *, Valedictorian Essays, Tailored Essays, Go2Essay, Fast Papers, AcaDemon, Custom Research Papers, EssayToday, Essay Town and Research Assistance, Custom Essay Writing Service.

The Internet can also be used to combat plagiarism. Teachers can 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. Oddly enough, offers a free online essay scanning utility to detect plagiarism in essays available on the Internet.

Old maxim

It is sometimes humorously said that "copying from one source is plagiarism, copying from several sources is research". Of course, this is not literally true, because all good researchers do cite their sources. Regardless, the old maxim/joke is part of this self-defining example of this topic, having been cribbed from Tom Lehrer's 1953 song Lobachevsky:

Let no one else's work evade your eyes!
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes!
So don't shade your eyes
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize!
Only be sure always to call it, please, "research"!

See also

External links

  • A new scholarly journal on the topic is "Plagiary: Cross-disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification."
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