Why Is Plagiarism Illegal? Let’s Find Out

About Plagiarism

29 Nov 2021

Accusations of plagiarism are stressful. The purpose of this guide is to help you avoid this undesirable situation.

Why Is Plagiarism Illegal

Is Plagiarism a Crime?

Plagiarism, often referred to as ‘copying’ or ‘cheating’, can occur both intentionally and unintentionally. It also involves claiming an idea, work or material is your own when it is not. It is illegal to omit the name of an author or creator when including their material in the form of their ideas, writing, graphs, tables, photos, videos, or audio recordings, etc. Plagiarism can also be the result of a writer failing to cite a source of information accurately or omitting the source entirely.

Plagiarism can result in a variety of consequences such as, punishments and penalties from universities or professional associations, but more worryingly, it can cause legal action. Whether or not the plagiarist faces legal action, depends on its nature but a common way is via copyright infringement. Copyright is given to a creator of original work. Plagiarism can violate copyright, both by copying work and distributing it, without the creator’s permission. Yet, copyright is not the only reason a plagiarist can end up in legal trouble as the submission of research grants and projects that have contracts attached (stating original work was required) breaches the contract’s conditions and the plagiarist can find themselves in court.

However, it’s not all bad news! Material, such as images, short videos, charts, etc. that are declared to be in the ‘public domain’ can be freely used as it is not subject to copyright infringement, but it will still need to be cited. You can find public domain accessible material via the use of a Creative Commons search tool within your search engine e.g., Google, Bing, etc.

To summarize, plagiarism relates to whether a work was accurately cited whereas copyright infringement is about how the original work was used. Nevertheless, most copyright infringements would remain copyright infringements, even when accurately cited.

Why is Plagiarism Illegal?

There are several reasons why many people believe plagiarism to be morally wrong and subsequently, it has been made illegal:

  1. Plagiarism equates to theft. Although plagiarizing work may not seem as severe to some people as physically stealing an object, such as a car or item of expensive jewelry, in the eyes of the law, the stealing of intellectual property is still theft.
  2. It is a form of cheating and the credit received for the work is not due. Additionally, in an educational setting, an instructor may not be able to assess and support a student appropriately because the instructor does not have the student’s actual work. Thus, the student has cheated themselves out of the education they require!
  3. Plagiarism is fraud. Qualifications earned through plagiarized work are unfair and will degrade the qualification.

If you really think about it, how infuriating would it be for you to have worked hard and created a piece of amazing work, only to have someone else claim they did it and receive praise and credit for it?

Law Regulation of Plagiarism

Law regulation as regards plagiarism is somewhat complex. The history of copyright law dates to the 1700’s and it has seen many changes, as one would expect, over a 300-year period. The last change was made in 1976 and the current law permits the suing of a plagiarist for either fraud or copyright infringement. However, the law also states that it is possible to plagiarize copyrighted material and it qualifies by law as ‘fair use’, but plagiarism of copyrighted material deemed as having been fairly used may still be considered unethical and have consequences, just not from a copyright perspective. Furthermore, the original author or creator can recover any profits made from the sales of their work.

It is the responsibility of all writers to obtain permission for the use of any form of work from others. It is sometimes even necessary to request permission to reprint your own revised published work.

The Consequences of Plagiarism

  • Non-Legal Punishments:

Being accused of plagiarism as well as being found guilty of plagiarism may result in embarrassment and loss of respect from family, peers, and professionals. If found guilty of plagiarism as a student, you may be suspended or lose your place completely at your educational establishment. It may be subsequently unsettling and difficult to find a new and suitable educational establishment that will accept you. If found guilty of plagiarism as a working adult, you could lose your job and fail to obtain positive references with which to obtain another job.

  • Legal Consequences:

Plagiarism is guarded by law and law courts can allocate various legal punishments for offenders that can range from a public apology and fines to imprisonment.

A court would likely view medical research plagiarism cases as one of the most serious forms of plagiarism as the copying of another’s medical research could lead to serious health consequences or even deaths.

Plagiarism Court Case

In the age of the Internet and fast efficient plagiarism checkers, plagiarized work is hard to get away with! One such individual was Kaavya Viswanathan. Viswanathan appeared to be a promising, young, and successful author, after releasing her first book ‘How Opal Mehta got Kissed, got Wild, and got a Life’. Sadly, Viswanathan found her book being withdrawn from bookshelves shortly after its release and her UK publicity tour cancelled by her publisher. This was due to it being discovered that there were many similarities with Viswanathan’s book and the work of several other writers, namely, Megan McCafferty (author of the Jessica Darling series). Viswanathan’s book company initially planned to release a revised version, free of plagiarism, but eventually decided not to release this or any further books by the author. Luckily, Viswanathan was able to avoid a Breach of Contract lawsuit by returning advance book earnings to the book company. Viswanathan claims she is not guilty of any form of intentional plagiarism but her reputation may now be damaged beyond repair. 

What Can be Considered as Plagiarism?

There are five main ways in which plagiarism can occur:

  • Writing the words of another writer without citation of the source or quotation marks. 
  • Writing the words of another writer without quotation marks (even though accurate footnotes state the source).
  • Paraphrasing a writer’s ideas with no reference to source.
  • Rearrangement of a writer’s exact words (even if a footnote to source is included).
  • Use of creative work, like music, songs, movies, etc. being classed as plagiarized, if deemed too comparable to another creator’s work. 

Plagiarism Prevention

Simple ways to ensure your work is unique!

  • When copying and pasting useful text or material into your document for possible use, immediately colour it red or highlight it, so you remember that it requires citation (if you use it) and leave the webpage open (from which you sourced it) on a tab.
  • Accurately cite your source within your text and in the reference list or bibliography in the required style of your educational institution (e.g., Harvard, MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.)
  • Ensure direct quotes are written within quotation marks (unless they are over 4 lines, or 40 words approx. as long quotes are written in block form). You will need to also state the person’s name or title of the document (if there is no author) and possibly the year or page number, for example, “Sociologists have increasingly taken a critical stance towards the medical profession” (Carpenter, 1981).
  • You can paraphrase but be extremely careful! The text will be rewritten in your words, but the meaning will remain the same, so you will still need to acknowledge the source, but speech marks will not be required. For instance, To Helmholtz, we experience two types of sensations. Firstly, modality which does not allow transition from one form to another and secondly, differences in quality where transitions and comparisons are possible (n.d.). 
  • Ensure to include your own ideas and work! Sounds obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in presenting the ideas and work of others, we forget to give our own. And who knows, maybe students will be quoting your ideas one day!
  • Do a final check! Try out an Online plagiarism checker! It’s quick and simple to use. The tool can identify areas of plagiarism in your paper (if any), and you can work to eliminate these until it passes our check! You can then hand in your work and rest assured that you will not receive any embarrassing accusations of plagiarism!

Final thoughts…

Plagiarism is a complicated issue that all students and professionals need to understand to avoid the potential negative consequences that getting caught plagiarizing can involve. Understanding what is classed as plagiarism and how to avoid it, is key to the production of your own original and credible material. Now you fully understand, you can relax and get on with your work!

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