Plagiarism is defined as using the idea or work of someone else, claiming it as your own, and deriving an academic, material, or other benefit from having used it. In some cases, plagiarism is unintentional and involves a lack of knowledge or skill in drawing information from a source in a manner that is appropriate or legal, or that correctly attributes the creative effort of the author(s). This can take place with students or untrained employees who at times struggle with fair use of material in educational or commercial settings. In other cases, however, plagiarism is intentional and involves laziness, fear of improper interpretation, unethical behavior, a total lack of respect for the work of the author, or a complete disregard for the legal rights and protections afforded the author by U.S. and international copyright and other laws. These kinds of actions can take place when competitive pressures are high, such as in academic or business settings.
Students face regular assignments in their educational careers, and sometimes they succumb to cheating, “lifting” parts of a paper written by someone else, or even buying an entire, ready-made paper from a “paper mill” and presenting it as their own. Commercial interests often struggle to be first to reach the market with a product, and at times they can be lured by the temptation of “cutting corners” in the process and may plagiarize specific words, phrases, or entire texts to achieve their desired outcomes.
Much information lies in the public domain and is available to anyone; an example is some material printed or published many years ago, such as certain great works of literature. Some information is not in the public domain but often is made available to the public if an individual or company simply includes a specific statement or formally requests permission to use copyrighted material—documents produced by certain government entities are an example. Other information, though, is not in the public domain and is not available to anyone except authorized users. It may be extremely valuable intellectual property at the center of an organization’s structure, profit, or competitive edge. An example is the original formula or logo text for a specific cola soft drink. In any case, it is important to provide acknowledgment for the source.
Techniques that can prevent a problem with plagiarism include direct quotation with citation, changed quotation with notation (e.g., square brackets) and attribution, and correct paraphrasing. These techniques require precise application; consequently, they can be misapplied or misused quite easily. Resources for avoiding plagiarism are available from the U.S. government (e.g., the U.S. Copyright Office), libraries (e.g., the American Library Association), and most educational institutions.
Today, advances in information technology have made plagiarism detection much simpler and faster than before. Basic searches of databases (e.g., ProQuest), specific computer programs (e.g., Turnitin), internet search engines (e.g., Google), and other means have made it easy to find text that has been plagiarized.
Consequences of plagiarizing vary. They can range from a student never actually learning a subject, failing a course, being expelled, or having a degree withheld or withdrawn for academic misconduct to an employee being reprimanded or dismissed from a job for lying or dishonesty to a businessperson or firm facing a lawsuit for alleged copyright or trademark violations. In the world of high-stakes business, such violations can turn into legal battles that quickly soar into the millions of dollars. The media often report some of the more extreme or sensational instances of plagiarism. This is especially true when the work in question has been published in a major newspaper, magazine, or refereed journal, or the author has been given a major award, such as a Pulitzer Prize.
Plagiarism diminishes the integrity and image of all involved in it—be it an individual, an institution, a business, or a society. Plagiarism can and should be avoided to encourage original thought, increase learning, enhance business effectiveness, and promote public integrity.
- Vibiana Bowman, The Plagiarism Plague: A Resource Guide and CD-ROM Tutorial for Educators (Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2004);
- Caroline Eisner and Martha Vicinus, eds., Originality, Imitation, and Plagiarism: Teaching Writing in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2007);
- Ann Gaines, Don’t Steal Copyrighted Stuff! Avoiding Plagiarism and Illegal Internet Downloading (Enslow Publishers, 2008);
- Georgetown University Honor Council, What is Plagiarism? (Georgetown University Honor Council, 2006);
- Carol Peterson Haviland and Joan A. Mullin, Who Owns This Text? Plagiarism, Authorship, and Disciplinary Cultures (Utah State University Press, 2009);
- Rebecca Moore Howard and Amy E. Robillard, Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, Pedagogies (Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2008);
- Legal Writing Institute, Law School Plagiarism v. Proper Attribution (Legal Writing Institute, 2003);
- John P. Lesko, ed., Plagiary: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification (Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2006);
- Purdue Online Writing Lab, Avoiding Plagiarism, owl.english.purdue.edu (cited March 2009);
- Wendy Sutherland-Smith, Plagiarism, the Internet, and Student Learning: Improving Academic Integrity (Routledge, 2008);
- WPA, Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices (Council of Writing Program Administrators, January 2003).
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