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Plagiarism is the act of improperly incorporating existing work either without authorization or without documentation, or both.[1]. The use of another’s words, images, videos, or music without appropriate citation or acknowledgment is considered plagiarism. If caught, the punishment for plagiarism is commonly a copyright infringement, a legally punishable offense. [2]There is said to have been an alarming rise in plagiarism caused by the onset of the digital age. The increase in access to data and other people's publications has made it easier for people to plagiarize. Although the vast majority of plagiarism cases are found in school and university academia, there are still many instances of it in other fields such as in writing, designing and programming. Academic and industrial institutions consider plagiarism a serious ethical violation that often ends in punishment deemed appropriate by said institutions. [3]


The first instance of plagiarism was a case of ‘literary theft’ in 40 AD when the Roman poet Martial used the Latin word plagiarus, literally meaning ‘kidnapper,’ in one of his poems to describe someone who was stealing his work. It was not until 1601, during the Age of Enlightenment, that playwright Ben Johnson introduced a derivative of the word, plagiary, in English. [4] During this era, original works increased in value also increasing the occurrence and acknowledgement of plagiarism.

The first copyright law in existence was the Statute of Anne in England in 1710, recognizing copyright as an author’s right. Author’s could register their work to be protected by the government for a limited period of time. [5] The United States followed suit in 1790, passing their own copyright law, known as the copyright clause modeled off the Statute of Anne, protecting maps, charts, and books for a fourteen year period. The copyright clause located in Article 1, section 8 of the American constitution intent was to "promote the progress of science and the useful arts". [6]

Overtime, because of inconsistent interpretation of the copyright clause, many amendments were made to the act, broadening the range of works that were protected and for how long. [7] extension of the copyright law's valid time frame was requested by the Disney Corperation to extend the copyright law time frame to 100 years, 25 years longer than the previous time frame stated by Article 1, section 8 which allowed a time frame of legal copyright for 75 years.[6] The Copyright Act of 1976, still employed today, provides copyright protection to all published and unpublished works so long as they are in tangible form[8]. These acts influenced academic and industrial institutions to build their own standards for recognizing and addressing acts of plagiarism overtime.

The introduction of the World Wide Web has drastically changed the way information is received and perceived. With these changes, a large gray area has formed over the use of this information and the modes in which it is transferred. In an effort to govern online infringement, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998.[9] This act “makes it illegal to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to or copying of copyrighted works, particularly books, movies, videos, video games, and computer programs.” [10] Filing a DMCA takedown notice can help remove infringing material online, but there are currently no regulations regarding the sharing of online content as policies are still evolving in response to new technologies.[11][12]


Plagiarism in most contexts is not a criminal or civil offense, but in certain instances can be considered fraud or a civil offense. [13] Legal consequences can occur if it infringes on an author’s intellectual property rights, which are outlined by the United States Constitution - “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."[14] In addition to this, some states may have specific laws addressing plagiarism. The following is Florida's statute on plagiarism:

  1. It shall be unlawful for any person or business entity to sell, offer to sell, or advertise for sale any term paper, thesis, dissertation, essay, or report or any written, recorded, pictorial, artistic, or other assignment which the seller or advertiser knew or reasonably should have known was intended for submission by a student, unaltered to any substantial degree, in fulfillment of the requirements for a degree, diploma, certificate, or course of study at a university, college, academy, school, or other educational institution in the state.
  2. This section shall not prevent any person or educational institution from providing tutorial assistance, research material, information, or courses in research or writing unless this service includes the preparation, research, or writing of a report or paper as outlined in subsection (1). No person shall be prevented by this section from selling or offering to sell services which include the typing, assembling, transcription, reproduction, or editing of a manuscript or other assignment prepared by the purchaser.
  3. Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

Among academic institutions, acts of plagiarism are very commonly punished severely. Enforced rules within these institutions can lead students to punishments consisting of everything between reduced grade values all the way to expulsion. Despite these harsh punishments, plagiarism is extremely common in academic settings, not only among students attempting to take the easy way out or accomplish something they themselves are not individually capable of, but also among professors within the field who utilize the work of students to further their own careers.[15]

Types of Plagiarism

Intentional or not, plagiarism occurs in a variety instances and in numerous forms.

  • Written Work: representing someone else’s work as your own, copying another’s thoughts and words without appropriate citation, forgetting to use quotation marks, giving false information about the source, using the same sentence structure but altering words.[16]
  • Music: using another’s copyrighted music in your own work, playing a cover using copyrighted music, creating music that borrows heavily from copyrighted work. [16]
  • Images/Videos: using videos and images in one’s own work without proper citation, recreating images or videos in the same likeliness of another’s work, altering another’s videos or images without citation.[16]
  • Self-plagiarism: reusing one’s own words or ideas that were previously published in another context without proper citation.[17]

Plagiarism can be avoided through the proper use of citations[16].

Plagiarism in Politics

An Example of Plagiarism - Political Commentator, Monica Crowley, caught for plagiarizing large portions of her book from numerous sources. [18]

While plagiarism comes in many different forms, one area that has been the focus of plagiarism lately has been politics and history writing. Plagiarism in politics and history writing is often easily identified due to the fact that politicians are constantly under scrutiny of the public. Everything that politicians say or historians write will be analyzed by news groups and reporters and any plagiarism in those works will be identified. Even works from the politician's past will be scrutinized as it is extremely important that everything that they say and write is their own work or properly cited.[19] In American politics we have seen candidates plagiarise speeches, books, and reports. Plagiarism also exists in other countries politics including Russia and Hungary.

Ghostwriting in American History

Ghostwriting, defined as writing for or in the name of another person[20], has been commonly practiced throughout U.S. history. In the early 1800s, ghostwriting was originally seen as a form of forgery. By the 1900s, however, its perception changed to one of collaboration and authorship — the work of a ghostwriter was no longer commonly accepted as plagiarized writing.[21] Speeches and statements of early American politicians who acted without ghostwriters can be analyzed in an effort to reconstruct their thought processes. This form of analysis is not able to be replicated on politicians who employed ghostwriters because what the politician presented as their own work actually represented the words of one or more members on a ghostwriting team. While ghostwriting was originally seen as plagiarism, after the 1900s it became so normalized that most of the public stopped questioning it. One of the most common objections was that ghost-written speeches could depict politicians inaccurately and inauthentically. This view shifted, though, to consider ghostwriting as a social benefit in which more jobs were created for stenographers, archivists, mailmen, etc.[21]

Melania Trump Plagiarism Controversy

The current First Lady of the United States of America Melania Trump gave a speech during the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 that incorporated themes of inclusivity, honesty, and hard work.[22] Even though her speech immediately resonated with the audience at the convention, later skepticisms raised arguments that Melania’s speech bore strong resemblance to the speech given by previous First Lady Michelle Obama back in 2003.

According to one investigation done by news channel MSNBC, one passage from Melania Trump’s speech was 84% similar to the parallel passage in Michelle Obama’s speech.[23] From a report generated by an internet-based plagiarism detection service, a piece of work that is above 25% similar to a source material is deemed highly probable of plagiarism.[24] Sources stated that Melania received help from Trump campaign's speechwriter while drafting the speech. Despite the controversies, Melania still received support from her husband - current U.S. President Donald Trump - and no one from Trump's presidential campaign team was fired or received disciplinary action in the aftermath.[25]

John Walsh Plagiarism Controversy

Montana Senator John Walsh was exposed for plagiarizing his graduate school papers at the United States Army War College. [26] It was found that Senator Walsh had copied large portions of his final paper about the case for democracy from multiple documents without properly attributing them or attributing them incorrectly. [27] Some of these documents included a Harvard Paper and a paper from the Carnegie Endowment for National Peace. There were entire pages which were plagiarized from these documents including Senator Walsh's entire conclusion.[27]

Following these events, Senator Walsh withdrew from his reelection campaign.[26]

Plagiarism in the Infosphere

Online Journalism

As the speed of news spreading increases through the internet, journalists are under more and more pressure to quickly and accurately report on stories. Though journalists are taught to not plagiarize outright, the gray line between plagiarism and attribution has created the phenomenon of "patch writing," or "small changes to language that mask theft of larger ideas."[28] Work of all quality, from those of high-profile journalist Fareed Zakaria,[28] to BuzzFeed listicles[29] have been discovered to be patch written.

Though not as egregious as outright plagiarism, patch writing discredits the originator of ideas, and prevents the originator from profiting from ideas that would have rightfully been theirs. In this way, patchwriting is very similar to idea theft a term used to describe copyright infringement occurring when two works "the idea, structure and execution of the final piece is similar enough to the original that people who have read one piece will instantly see similarities upon reading the other."[30] Though crediting the idea originator reduces the offense, the internet has undoubtedly exacerbated the patchwriting (and plagiarism) problem.

Social Media

YouTube's Music Policy for the song YMCA by Village People

Social media provides a platform for any person, regardless of their status, to share information online. Previously, professional writers, newscasters, and other public figures were some of the only people who had a say online. Social media prioritizes short, casual communication through images and text, which makes it not conducive to proper citations and attributions. It is difficult to closely monitor all the content that is shared through social media for plagiarism. Twitter’s retweet feature is a way for them to prevent plagiarism and give ownership. However, on platforms where content creation has more dimensions than just text, such as Instagram and Youtube, copyright issues arise. Where the line is drawn between an original creator and a re-creator, for example, is hard to determine. Many social media platforms have created their own, fairly strict copyright policies in order to avoid legal issues.


YouTube has its own music policy that lists many songs that cannot be used and the consequences of using them in a video. For example, some countries block these videos altogether, and many songs use ad generation to appear in the videos in order to generate income to pay creator or the record label of the particular song.


Instagram also has its own copyright policies, but it also has a "fair use" policy, which recognizes that strict copyright law is not appropriate in all situations as it stifles creativity and creation on the platform. While it doesn't eliminate all copyright problems, as people have been kicked off of live Instagram stories for playing copyrighted music in the background, it allows for "small pieces" of other peoples' work to be reused.[31] After all, sharing ideas and spreading content is the intention of social media platforms in the first place.


Twitter is, perhaps, the most lenient on their plagiarism policy. They have a place to report stolen tweets, but they do not do a strong job of enforcing that policy. Time and time again, multiple people find a particular tweet clever or funny, copy it entirely, and then tweet it on their account to make it look like their own. This act usually results in a momentary surplus of retweets and favorites, possibly a few new followers and then the tweet is forgotten a few days later. Plagiarizers on Twitter are caught more often than not, for it is quite simple to trace back where the tweet idea originated, yet no severe punishments ever result from stolen tweets.


Pinterest is a site built on sharing ideas, where users will "pin" others' posts to their own profile. In their terms of service, Pinterest states that they disable or terminate the accounts of people who are found to infringe on copyrights or others intellectual property rights and will remove posts that do so[32]. It is not clear, however, how often this happens as the site seems to rely on the distribution of other's content.


Flickr offers a variety of Creative Commons licenses from which its content creators can choose[33][34]. Content creators have the ability to set the same license for all of their work, or change it from upload to upload. Flickr's licensing helps to ensure that those who use the website as creators, are protected.


One of Wikipedia's policies is that articles must not infringe on copy written material. Copy and pasting material from external sources is strictly forbidden. External sources must be cited and properly paraphrased, rather than close paraphrased. One of the jobs of the bots that help maintain the site of Wikipedia is to detect copied material. Additionally plagiarism from the site of Wikipedia is a common occurrence. All content on Wikipedia falls under Creative Commons license, which means that it is free to be used by anyone, however the content must still be properly cited. One study by Turnitin, a plagiarism detection software firm, found that Wikipedia accounted for 8% of plagiarized essay content. [35] Some factors contributing to the high frequency of plagiarism from Wikipedia are that the site covers a large scope of information and that many classes forbid any usage of Wikipedia with or without citation. Wikipedia is generally disallowed as a source due to its open editing policy, which leads to a distrust of the accuracy of its information. A recommended practice in this case is to use the sources cited in the Wikipedia article.

Plagiarism Checker

Because of the increased ease of plagiarism, many softwares and websites now help writers check their own work. Some examples include,,, etc. These websites have become increasingly popular for students. Similarly, although technology has aided in the ease of plagiarizing, citation standards have also increased. Social media, blogs, videos and more set standards for crediting the original authors of virtually anything. By providing stricter policies, platforms have inadvertently created a self-checking system of plagiarism. With the increased detection of plagiarism has also come increased loopholes. There are now websites in which people can pay others to write essays for them. While technically content is not being stolen without consent, little is done to credit the original authors since the person buying the writing is taking credit themselves. [36]

Plagiarism in Computer Science

The sudden overwhelming interest in computer science courses has coincided with the undesirable side effect of high-tech collegiate plagiarism. Across the country, students have been caught plagiarizing computer code from fellow classmates or from the internet.[37]

The statistics from elite universities across the country indicate a staggering number of allegations of academic honor code violations. At the University of California, Berkeley, approximately 100 of about 700 students in one computer science class had violated the course policy on copying code. At Brown University, out of the 49 allegations of academic code violations in 2016, more than half of them involved cheating in computer science classes. At Stanford University, as many as 20 percent of the students in a single computer science class were flagged for potential cheating in 2015. According to the Harvard Crimson, more than 60 students were sent to the Harvard's honor council for allegations of academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and violations of the honor code.[37]

Consequences of Plagiarism

An Example of the Potential Consequences of Plagiarism outlined by an Academic Institution. [38]

Academic Misconduct Consequences

The Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities states that plagiarism fits under the guidelines for academic misconduct.[38] This means that students who commit plagiarism are subject to punishment which could include a grade reduction, a failing grade, probation, suspension, or the revoking of degree of diploma.[38] Each academic institution has the right to decide the degree of punishment based on the amount of plagiarism that was committed by the student.


Plagiarism can have devastating consequences for those who commit it, whether it be a student or professional. Students guilty of plagiarism can face a permanent notation on their academic record, suspension, or expulsion from their school[39]. Such consequences can impact a student’s ability to find a career because employer’s may question their integrity and trust [39].

Professionals face losing their job or having their reputation damaged. Ownership of ideas is an important value to protect in the professional world. Obtaining another job will be difficult if accused of a plagiarizing offense [39]. Plagiarizing can be as detrimental to a person’s career as any other crime.

Plagiarism Pandemic

An issue with plagiarism is that there is often a fine line between plagiarism and paraphrasing. There are often specific measures one can take[40] to avoid plagiarism like properly quoting and attributing ideas to their original authors, however there is often a large grey area as to what counts as plagiarism in the first place. There is no real set point that must be crossed for an idea to be considered plagiarism, and because of this, plagiarism is often a case by case basis. Besides blatant copying of words, ideas, and media that can be easily identified as plagiarism, what is the distinction between an original idea and a stolen one? Is citing a simple fact about the world in a paper an act of plagiarism if you do not specifically credit the idea to another author? At what point do ideas become more common knowledge than the intellectual property of someone else? It is questions like these that can make it hard to distinguish between what actually is plagiarism and what is not.[41]

The concept of paraphrasing is another tricky angle to consider in this discussion. Ideas are often recycled in one’s own unique words, yet still serving to establish the same point. While it is highly recommended to still cite original sources of these ideas, often times these paraphrasing pieces can make it essentially impossible to detect plagiarism, if they are different enough in form. This can often be seen in fields like computer science, where programmers can find solutions to tough problems on the internet, change the code up sufficiently while maintaining the general effectiveness, and pass that code as their own. Even highly advanced code plagiarism detection algorithms[42] are not perfect, and can often be fooled by clever tricks. Additionally, many ideas are simply reused by accident, as the infringer may have no idea that they are actually copying one’s ideas. With billions of people worldwide and new concepts developed every day, it is likely that an idea will not always be completely original. These issues make it extremely difficult to detect what is actually plagiarism, and whether it is intentional or not.

Ethics of Plagiarism

Plagiarism in academic and corporate institutions is not a matter that is taken lightly and most often results in penalty, suspension, or expulsion. It is considered theft and strips the rightful author of any accolade for their work. Not only does plagiarized work give a false representation of the knowledge and abilities of the plagiarizer, [43] it also has the potential to misrepresent expressions of the original author, resulting a level of harm similar to slander which injures a person's reputation.[44] Garnering achievements and promotions for ideas that aren’t your own could be a risk to others in educational or corporate environments, thus the reason for the serious consequence. The Internet has introduced a large gray area causing confusion about what is ethical when accessing content online.[45] The increasing volume of unauthorized content so easily available has decreased the level of regard for copyright and intellectual property. The lack of tangibility increases the ease of reproducibility, making information hard to safeguard and keep to one’s self.[46] The accessibility of information via a computer screen makes it easier for users to subside feelings of empathy for the actions they take.[11] Streaming, sharing, and downloading has become a Digital Age norm, where users don’t think twice about the owner of the content.[11] As data is shared and circulated among many devices, the original source is difficult to track down as the web of file sharing grows and the digital property exists in multiple forms. There is little to no repercussion or regulation of the sharing of online content at this point in time as policies are still evolving in response to new technologies.[11] This does not change the ethical violation that this act causes as it still involves using content created by someone else.

Regarding the ethics of self plagiarism, people often question whether or not self plagiarism is also unethical since it doesn't consist of stealing another person's ideas. However, self plagiarism is can be categorized as unethical because of a misrepresentation of previously published work as brand new. [47] Thus self plagiarism can be considered a dishonest act. According to Frankfort, a society thrives more easily when it contains a large amount of true knowledge and deception interferes with this. [48] On an individual basis, lies damage an individual's sense of reality. Beyond the inherent value of truth to a society, deception is additionally a violation of trust. [49]

See Also


  1. Snapper, John., 2008. "The Matter of Plagiarism: What, Why, and If", The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, pg. 533
  2. Wikipedia: Copyright Infringement. (2002).
  3. Imran, N. (2010). Electronic media, creativity and plagiarism. ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, 40(4), pp.25-44.
  4. Bailey, J. (2011). The World's First Plagiarism Case. Plagiarism Today.
  5. Statute of Anne. (n.d.). Encyclopædia Britannica.
  6. 6.0 6.1 “The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics - The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics.” Wiley Online Library, (Snapper)
  7. Congress Passes the First Copyright Act. (n.d). U.S. Copyright Office.
  8. Congress Passes the Current Copyright Act. (n.d.). U.S. Copyright Office.
  9. Wikipedia: Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (2002).
  10. Congress Passes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (n.d.). U.S. Copyright Office.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Ethics and Intellectual Property. MediaSmarts, 2014.
  12. What is a DMCA Takedown? (2019). Digital Millennium Copyright Act Services Ltd.
  13. Morrow, S. (n.d.). Plagiarism: What is it, Exactly?
  14. U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8. (n.d.).
  15. academic, Anonymous. “Plagiarism Is Rife in Academia, so Why Is It Rarely Acknowledged? | Anonymous Academic.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Oct. 2017,
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 What is Plagiarism? (2017). Turnitin, LLC.
  17. Mudrak, B. (2019). Self-Plagiarism: How to Define it and Why You Should Avoid It. American Journal Experts.
  18. Kaczynski, A. (2017). Trump national security pick Monica Crowley plagiarized multiple sources in 2012 book. CNN Money.
  19. Wiener, Jon. Historians in Trouble Plagiarism, Fraud and Politics in the Ivory Tower. New Press, 2007.
  20. "ghostwriting." (10 April, 2019)
  21. 21.0 21.1 May, E., "Ghost Writing and History", The American Scholar, p. 459-465
  22. 2016, July 19. US election: Melania Trump 'plagiarised' Michelle Obama. BBC News.
  23. MSNBC. (2016, July 19). Lawrence: Melania Trump's Passage 'Pure Plagiarism' of Michelle Obama. Retrieved from:
  24. (2013, September). Interpreting Turnitin Originality Reports. Retrieved from:
  25. Krieg, Gregory., 2016, July 19. No one to be fired after Melania Trump speech plagiarism episode. CNN News.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Fawxy, F(2016). From speeches to Ph.D.'s: Politicians called out for copying. CNN.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Martin, Jonathon. How Senator John Walsh Plagiarized a Final Paper. New York Times, 23 July 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  28. 28.0 28.1 [1], Uberti, D. (2014, November 18). Journalism has a plagiarism problem. But it's not the one you'd expect. Retrieved from
  29. [2] Meyrink, M. (2018, August 13). Journalistic ethics violation stems from plagiarism. Retrieved from
  30. [4]
  31. Copyright on Pinterest, Pinterest, Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  32. Flickr, Yahoo!,
  33. “Flickr.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Mar. 2019,
  34. Turnitin "Plagiarism and the Web: A Comparison of Internet Sources for Secondary and Higher Education Students"
  35. News. “AI Is Not a Simple Fix for Plagiarism.” Mind Matters, 6 Apr. 2019,
  36. 37.0 37.1 Bidgood, J., & Jeremy. (2017, May 29). As Computer Coding Classes Swell, So Does Cheating. Retrieved from
  37. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Plagiarism: Consequences of plagiarism. (n.d.). Code of Academic Misconduct. University of Utah
  38. 39.0 39.1 39.2 “6 Consequences of Plagiarism.” Plagiarism Detection Software,
  39. “Quoting and Paraphrasing.” The Writing Center,
  40. “Research Guides: Preventing Plagiarism: What Constitutes Plagiarism?” What Constitutes Plagiarism? - Preventing Plagiarism - Research Guides at City University of Hong Kong,
  41. “Moss: A System for Detecting Software Similarity.” Plagiarism Detection,
  42. What Makes Plagiarism a Serious Offense? (2016). MLA Handbook, 8th ed.
  43. Snapper, John., 2008. "The Matter of Plagiarism: What, Why, and If", The Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, pg. 542
  44. Steeves, Valerie. Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Experts or Amateurs? Gauging Young Canadians’ Digital Literacy Skills. MediaSmarts, 2014.
  45. Mason, Richard. (1986). Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age. MIS Quarterly. Vol. 10. No.1.
  46. “Scholar.” AJE,
  47. Erik J. Olsson (2008) "Knowledge, Truth, and Bullshit: Reflections on Frankfurt" Chapter 6
  48. Harry Frankfurt (2009) The Philosophy of Deception "On Truth Lies and Bullshit"