Consequences of Plagiarism

Why Get Cited for Not Citing?

A while ago, I came across an amusing story online. A student at the University of Texas at San Antonio was given the task of writing an honor code for the school. Unfortunately, the code was hardly original. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “even the draft document’s definition of plagiarism was plagiarized,” being almost identical to Brigham Young University’s honor code. The article says:

[T]he draft honor code at San Antonio defines: Inadvertent Plagiarism. Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but nondeliberate, use of another’s words, ideas, or data without appropriate attribution, failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from being insufficiently careful in research and writing.

Brigham Young’s honor code includes a similar definition: Inadvertent Plagiarism: Inadvertent plagiarism involves the inappropriate, but nondeliberate, use of another’s words, ideas, or data without proper attribution. Inadvertent plagiarism usually results from an ignorant failure to follow established rules for documenting sources or from simply being insufficiently careful in research and writing.

The student in charge of creating the honor code said he intended to remedy the problem. Although the irony of this story is amusing, it highlights a growing problem in modern academia.

Consequences of Plagiarism

For students who depend on Dr. Google to back up their reports, term papers, and essays, it is all too easy to copy-and-paste blocks of text into their document. As said above, some students do it by accident; others are simply lazy. Whether done on purpose or not, the consequences of plagiarism can be severe. Students sometimes think that professors won’t notice. Professors have several tools they can use to detect plagiarism in students’ work. Turnitin.com can compare essays to thousands of other papers turned in by students and different academic articles. Similar quotations are flagged by the system.

Colleges have differing policies regarding the penalties for students who plagiarize. Some professors will give you an F on the assignment; others will give you a failing grade for the class. My particular major (public relations) will boot me out of the department if they find I’ve copied from another source without citing my sources.

The workplace is often even less forgiving. At the very least, employees who fail to adequately give credit to sources of information are not going to receive the promotion and pay raise they’ve been hoping for. Some employers may not be so friendly if they catch you plagiarizing. You could be placed on unpaid leave or even fired. The punishment may depend on how soon the mistake was noticed. If your work has been published for all the world to see, the penalty will likely be more severe. If your supervisor notices in your first draft that you forgot to include a citation, you’ll likely be given a bit more leeway.

Apart from workplace and academic settings, plagiarism is punishable by law. According to an article on eHow.com, civil penalties can range from $100 to $50,000 while state and federal penalties can top out at $250,000. The fine often depends upon whether or not the plagiarized material was used to generate income. Those found guilty often have a note placed on their record, making it very difficult to find employment again. Students expelled for plagiarism may have trouble being admitted into college. Your reputation for academic and moral integrity often can’t be regained.

Can it be Plagiarized?

Plagiarism can take many forms. It’s even possible to plagiarize yourself. No matter how epic your sophomore-year, world history paper was, reusing it for a college class (or even portions of it) is considered self-plagiarism. This can be particularly tricky when you’ve given the rights to an article of yours to another source. One of my public relations teachers mentioned how she had to ask permission to use one of her own PowerPoint presentations because she had given the rights to it to the Public Relations Society of America.

If you can find it in several places, it is common knowledge. For example, you don’t have to cite the fact that the War of 1812 began in 1812. It’s not necessary (nor wise) to point out that you had to consult an encyclopedia to find out that Bill Clinton was a Democrat. Works that haven’t been (or cannot be) recorded in a tangible form are not subject to copyright laws. These can include concepts, ideas, or methods.

To avoid falling into the pitfall of copyright problems, there are several things you should do.

  • Be familiar with the style of writing that your professor wishes you to use. These can include APA, AP, Chicago, and MLA and many others.
  • Keep track of each source you use.
  • When you cite a source, make sure you follow the rules of the specific style you’re using (whether that mean indenting a paragraph differently or using quotation marks in a direct quotation.

If you have any doubt about whether or not using a certain material violates copyright laws, it is better to check with your professor or a supervisor prior to using it.

If you want to learn more:

http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf is a lengthy document published by the United States Copyright Office outlining the basics of copyright law.

http://lib.byu.edu/departs/copyright/overview/fund/ is a college website that contains a lot of useful information about copyright, fair use, registration, and much more. It also has a tutorial designed to help users learn how to deal with copyright.

About the Author

Derek Gurr is a writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers helps people determine if an online education is right for them and helps them search for online degrees that can help them reach their goals.

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