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What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a growing problem in today’s world, thanks, no doubt, to the growing number of sources available to be plagiarized from. Now, we not only have books and magazines, television and movies, we also have the wide world of the internet. There is an unbelievable amount of stuff to be plagiarized, and many people are building entire websites, books and college theses entirely out of others thoughts. With that in mind, I thought I would answer some common questions about this:

  • How close is too close for plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the use of style or ideas that belong to others. Thus, if you take information from another source, even if it’s common knowledge, it is a very good idea to cite it. If you cannot remember or find the original source of information, then you should not use it in your work. The introduction of the term “language” into the definition makes for an even more complex idea. Quoting is acceptable as long as you include quotes, and paraphrasing is also acceptable, but taking any single section of two words together from a single source is probably not a good idea.

  • Is it still considered plagiarism if I purchase the work from someone else (such as hiring an article writer for your blog, or purchasing a college thesis from a writer)?

If the article comes with rights to you, then it is not plagiarism to use it. If it does not include rights, you absolutely cannot use it. More often than not, it will come with rights, but it is always best to ask exactly what you can and cannot do with it, since it may come back to haunt you. Also note that almost every college and high school will consider the same punishment for plagiarism as if they find you had your papers written for you, so make sure you know it back to front. Finally, it should stand to reason that you should always check the final document for plagiarism by looking through some of the sources that were chosen for the work.

  • What are the punishments for being caught as a plagiarizer?

If you’re plagiarizing in a college level course and caught, you will almost certainly fail the course, and you could be kicked out of the university all together. Degrees have also been revoked in cases of extreme plagiarism. If you are caught plagiarizing online, the punishment can include a lawsuit, but unfortunately, until now, only a small portion of the plagiarism is actually punished. Some cases are more complicated than others, particularly thanks to the development of RSS feeds, which by their nature, help to encourage people to reuse other content. Sometimes this is allowed by the authors, but most of the time it is not. To report online plagiarism, contact the ISP or Hosting company of the offender, and be prepared to offer significant amounts of proof that you are the original author.

  • Is plagiarism the same thing as copyright infringement?

No.  While they’re both bad, copyright infringement only overlaps plagiarism in rare circumstances where you plagiarize a copyrighted phrase.  The major difference between these two crimes (yes, crimes) is that plagiarism is where you take other’s content and claim that it’s your own.  Copyright infringement recognizes that it’s the work of others that you are attempting to use or profit from.

  • Is it still plagiarism if I don’t intend it to be?

Yes. Even if you don’t mean to, it’s still plagiarism. If someone finds your work to be too similar to their own, or a collection of others’ works, it can be considered plagiarism, and you can get in trouble for it. My best advice is to cite everything you possibly can, and to check your work with a sentence matching tool that compares your document to everything available online. While Copyscape is probably the #1 name on the internet, it’s a paid service, and I’ve always found Article Checker to be just as good, and perhaps a bit more flexible.

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