Plagiarism is commonly defined as the act of passing off someone else’s work as your own, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The consequences of plagiarism depends largely on the context in which it has taken place.
The word ‘plagiarism’ is actually derived from the Latin word plagiarius, which means kidnapping or abducting. It’s a term that’s mainly used in the context of using the words,ideas or thoughts of someone else and passing them off as your own,without giving due credit to the original author. Instances of plagiarism have been observed in academia and journalism for a long time, though the rapid growth of the Internet has contributed to an increase in the plagiarism statistics considerably.
Plagiarism has been described as a ‘cheating’, ‘stealing’, and ‘sin’. All these reflect the seriousness of the offense of appropriating other person’s work, and presenting it as one’s own. It can either be deliberate or it can arise out of ignorance. Many reasons have been put forward for why people plagiarize. Some of these reasons are pressing deadlines, ignorance, sloppiness, laziness, inexperience, or may be the conviction that one would never be caught.
What Constitutes Plagiarism?
Many practices fall into the purview of plagiarism. Some infractions that are clearly considered plagiarism are:
■ Copying someone’s work, word for word or very closely, is the most obvious type of plagiarism. It is usually referred as full plagiarism and is a very serious ethical, moral, and legal offense.
■ The practice of taking a few sentences and changing some words, but retaining the original structure and flow is also an appropriation of someone’s work.
■ Copying sentences from more than one sources and patching them together is also considered as plagiarism.
■ Taking exact sentences and giving credit to the original author, but failing to put quotation marks around those sentences is another instance of plagiarism.
■ Taking ideas from others’ work and structuring them in one’s own words is yet another common practice that falls into the purview of plagiarism.
■ Presenting almost exact copies of other person’s artwork as one’s own is the type of plagiarism that can have serious legal consequences.
■ Buying an assignment or paying someone else to do your work/assignment is also regarded as plagiarism.
■ Copying one’s own previous work, is termed as self-plagiarism.
■ Using other people’s images, pictures, video clips, diagrams, and even tables and charts without giving due credit is a kind of plagiarism.
Consequences of Plagiarism
The growing problem of plagiarism in schools, colleges, and universities have compelled the concerned authorities to take this issue quite seriously. Plagiarism consequences in the academic field depend on the nature of the mistake, and the number of times one commits it. Disciplinary action is taken against the students who submit plagiarized papers. Teachers and/or the administration of the institution have various ways of doing this, such as:
■ Giving a lower grade on the paper or course.
■ Giving a failing grade on the paper or course.
■ Asking the student to rewrite the paper.
■ Suspending the student for a period of time.
■ Expulsion of the student from the institution.
■ Putting the offense of plagiarism on the student’s academic record.
■ Revoking the student’s degree.
These are the usual penalties for plagiarism that a student usually has to face for this malpractice. Plagiarism can cause considerable wastage of time, money, and effort, and a student expelled from one institution can find it really hard to get admission in any other reputed educational institution. Perhaps the greatest consequence of plagiarism is the harm that students do to themselves, as this habit can impair the ability of students to acquire the essential skills required for researching and writing, which can have far-reaching effect on their life and career.
It is, obviously, considered wrong that a journalist should plagiarize, though plagiarism in this field is quite an old phenomenon. Some of the consequences of plagiarism in journalism, and arts and literature include:
■ Loss of job and professional reputation (in case of journalism).
■ The act of plagiarism can be made public by the employer, which can cast doubt on the honesty and integrity of the concerned journalist. This can result in difficulty in finding another employment.
■ Plagiarism in both arts and literature, and journalism can attract legal actions or lawsuits. The original writer/artist can sue the journalist or the writer/artist copying his or her work, which in the worst circumstances can lead to imprisonment.
■ Plagiarism in this field can also attract monetary penalties. If the act of plagiarism is proved in the court, the violator may be required to give compensation to the original author/writer/artist for his or her loss of profit.
There isn’t that much scope for plagiarism in politics; in most of the revelations so far, politicians’ dissertations (for educational qualification such as the doctorate), have been found to contain large chunks of material copied from someone else. In a case involving a prime minister of a country, it was found that a considerable part of his speech was copied from the speech given by the prime minister of another country. Some of the consequences that politicians accused of plagiarism can face are:
■ He/she may have to resign from his position.
■ He/she may lose the trust of the people.
■ In future, any work that he/she produces may be excessively scrutinized.
Tips to Avoid Plagiarism
Considering the grave implications of plagiarism, it needs to be avoided by all means. It has been noticed that a large number of people plagiarize out of ignorance, but ignorance is not considered as an excuse for escaping its consequences. Here are a few measures that can help you to avoid plagiarism.
■ The first step to avoid plagiarism is to understand what it is. A thorough understanding about plagiarism can help to avoid this practice.
■ Do extensive research on the topic you are writing. Acquire all possible information available on the topic, understand the topic and its scope, and then only start writing.
■ If you are using other person’s exact sentences or phrases, do not forget to put the quotation marks around those sentences.
■ Give credit to the original writer, if you use his or her idea in your work.
■ Proper time management is also important to avoid plagiarism, as many people resort to it due to the lack of time or pressing deadlines. Planning ahead, and using your time accordingly can help you to do better research, and understand the key concepts to write on your own without copying.
■ Do not forget to cite and give credit whenever you use other people’s pictures, images, video clips, diagrams, and charts.
A Few Famous Instances
One of the most famous plagiarism scandals is about the book, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany. It was written by the popular historian and writer Stephen Ambrose, and he was widely criticized for plagiarizing passages from the book, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, written by Thomas Childers who is a history professor in the University of Pennsylvania.
Stephen Ambrose apologized and promised to put quotation mark in the text taken from Childers’ book, and as a result, legal action was taken against the author. But, Ambrose had to face huge criticism when a Forbes investigation found additional cases of possible plagiarism in his other books as well.
Kaavya Viswanathan, a second-year undergraduate student in Harvard University, was highly acclaimed for her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, which was later found to have heavily copied portions from the books, Sloppy Firsts (2001) and Second Helpings (2003), written by Megan McCafferty.
Later, all shelf copies of the book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life was recalled and destroyed by the publisher ‘Little Brown’. Kaavya Viswanathan also lost contract for a second book.
Britney Spears was also sued for plagiarism. This plagiarism scandal came to light in 2005, when songwriter Steve Wallace filed a lawsuit against Spears and Sony/BMG Music Publishing, Inc., by claiming that the song, Sometimes was actually written by him and not Britney Spears.
However, Wallace did not copyright the song formally, however he mailed a copy of the song to himself a few weeks after composing it. This method is commonly known as ‘poor man’s copyright’. He got a formal copyright for the song only in 2003, whereas Spears copyrighted her song in 1999. Wallace lost the case, as the judge dismissed it, without any settlement in favor of him.
George Harrison, the famous musician, singer, songwriter, and the lead guitarist of the Beatles was also sued by the Chiffons for plagiarizing one of their song . Harrison’s song My Sweet Lord was found to have striking similarity with the song He’s So Fine, released in 1962. Harrison had to pay $587,000 to the Chiffons, though the judges concluded that this was not a case of intentional plagiarism.
Singer Michael Bolton also had to face serious lawsuit for plagiarizing. His famous song, Love Is a Wonderful Thing was found to bore striking resemblance with Isley Brothers’ song, bearing the same name. The jury ordered Bolton, his co-author, Andrew Goldmark, and their record company, Sony Music Entertainment to pay an amount of $5.4 million for copyright infringement.
It is quite natural to get influenced by others’ ideas and thoughts, but, what is important is to give due credit to the particular source of information, or the concerned person for their ideas and work. So, copying them without acknowledging is actually a violation of that person’s right over his/her intellectual property. Everyone must be on their guard when working on something that is likely to come under somebody’s scrutiny for its content, as being caught for plagiarism have far-reaching consequences on one’s life.