Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Plagiarism - What Is It? (Part 1)

Plagiarism is difficult to define.  In many ways, it defies any specific definition.

Royalty free image from Open Clip Art Library
Generally, it is though of as copying someone else's work. But not all copying is plagiarism.

But how about copying yourself?  In some quarters, copying your own work can be considered self-plagiarism.

Plagiarism cannot be fully addressed in one post - or maybe even a dozen.  So like David Copperfield, I shall be begin at the beginning  -- but is that plagiarizing Dickens?

Plagiarism is not illegal.

There is no law against plagiarism.  One cannot be sued for the tort of plagiarism or charged with a crime for plagiarism. Those offenses don't exist.

Plagiarism is both broader and more narrow than copyright or trademark infringement.  Those who plagiarize are not liable for damages.  They do not spend time in jail. The legal system becomes involved only where the act of plagiarism also constitutes some other type of violation: copyright infringement, trademark violation, fraud or breach of contract, for example.

Plagiarism is largely a matter of ethics, honor and codes of conduct.  Journalists, authors and those in academia can lose jobs, suffer damaged reputations or have careers destroyed by accusations of plagiarism.

In a way, it is like honesty and lying.  It can impact your reputation.  You can even lose your job if you lie to your boss.  But unless you are making a false report to the police, or the IRS, or while testifying in court, the government generally takes no interest in your prevarications.  

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