With an increase in publication, there is a grinding compulsion for authors to churn out new literary works and research papers in close succession. The result is the internet being flooded by a huge amount of written content. The constant need for writing and sharing has made plagiarism a very common phenomenon in all streams of knowledge.

They say, great men think alike. If this is true, they may end up writing alike too. The problem is, writing alike may just be okay but publishing same content is seen as a serious crime in the academic world. Whether this sameness is deliberate, unintentional or casual, you have to bear the brunt of it.

Plagiarism is representing someone else’s language, ideas, thought or expressions as your own work. In the academic world, it is known as ‘literary theft’.

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to “plagiarize” means:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.

What about images, videos, and music?

Using an image, video or piece of music in a work you have produced without receiving proper permission or providing appropriate citation is plagiarism. The following activities are very common in today’s society. Despite their popularity, they still count as plagiarism.

  • Copying media (especially images) from other websites to paste them into your own papers or websites.
  • Making a video using footage from others’ videos or using copyrighted music as part of the soundtrack.
  • Performing another person’s copyrighted music (i.e., playing a cover).
  • Composing a piece of music that borrows heavily from another composition.

Certainly, these media pose situations in which it can be challenging to determine whether or not the copyrights of a work are being violated. For example:

  • A photograph or scan of a copyrighted image (for example: using a photograph of a book cover to represent that book on one’s website)
  • Recording audio or video in which copyrighted music or video is playing in the background.
  • Re-creating a visual work in the same medium. (for example: shooting a photograph that uses the same composition and subject matter as someone else’s photograph)
  • Re-creating a visual work in a different medium (for example: making a painting that closely resembles another person’s photograph).
  • Re-mixing or altering copyrighted images, video or audio, even if done so in an original way.

The legality of these situations, and others, would be dependent upon the intent and context within which they are produced.

The two safest approaches to take in regards to these situations is: 1) Avoid them altogether or 2) Confirm the works’ usage permissions and cite them properly.

Plagiarism may sound easy to get rid of. But, the reality is much more painful. Authors need to be very careful with their choice of words and might have to spend a few bucks on some premium plagiarism checker software in the market. This all can be a walk in the park with a few old and clever techniques.

The first step to stay away from plagiarism is to understand its implications and know its causes and consequences.  Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary 1995 defines this occurrence as, “use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work”. As a researcher, you must be spending an inordinate amount of time on the internet, books or other sources of knowledge. And when you get to writing, your brain is probably swarming with all the words and ideas and thoughts you have guzzled so far and they shower down naturally on your paper, sometimes without you realizing that you are rewriting someone’s else’s words in exactly the same framing as they themselves have written. This is just one and the most naive instance of plagiarism. There is more ruthless example to. So, let’s have a look at the types of plagiarism.

Types of Plagiarism

Direct plagiarism: This is the most deliberate form of plagiarism and results from as author’s ‘wrongful misappropriation’ of an existing source. This means the writer claims the literary or intellectual achievement of someone else as his/her own and immediately calls upon the severe charge of copyright violation on themselves. The legal implication of this act can range from monetary penalty to a loss of creative license.

Self-plagiarism:  Yes, it exists.  When you are writing in abundance, you run the risk of rewriting yourself. When repeating your already published work is an ethical issue, rewriting papers which have not been public is absolutely fine. Nobody can curb your freedom there. Plagiarism is the instance where three or more words reappear in the exact same phrasing in more than one publication. Although, it may not invite legal procedures against you, it can destroy your reputation and credential in your scholarly community.

Accidental Plagiarism: Be aware of this one! As like the sound of it, it is accidental! It happens so naturally that you attribute it to coincidence.  In this scenario, authors compose parts in a written piece that replicate similar words, ideas and phrases used by other writers elsewhere.  Although, the main cause of accidental plagiarism is negligence of the authors who do not care much to mention the original source. Therefore, a careful and thorough citation can prove to be life-saving. Cases of accidental plagiarism are taken as seriously as any other plagiarism and can invite the same range of consequences as other types do.

How Should You Deal with Plagiarism When It Happens?

Paraphrase: Whether you are writing an academic essay or a novel, referring to outside sources may be crucial for you. If you feel compelled to use such a source, use them appropriately. Sometimes, it is absolutely necessary to mention a radical work by the exponents of the particular field. In such case, paraphrasing is a great idea if you want to include information from outside sources in your written article.

Using quotation is another great way avoid plagiarism is by using quotations. Where you feel you cannot do without a particular sentence or a group of words express exactly the same meaning as you may want to convey, put that part in quotation mark. And you do not have to resort to any alteration which may disturb usual association of meaning. But when you do so, remember to include that in the list of citations.

Cite sources:  As discussed above, citing the works of the individuals you have referred to in your writing is the best practice among writers and scholars to steer clear of any accusation of plagiarism. It is also useful in anchoring your work to a particular canon of literature. Anybody researching in your field will land on your research and you get linked through citation. It also shows your sincerity to your contemporaries and predecessors.

After a considerable deal of research, if you are still not sure of whether or not your final write-up harbors plagiarized content, simply resort to good quality plagiarism checker software. There are plenty of such items that will not only check your manuscript, but also extracts the sources so that you can either choose to remove them or paraphrase them or play smart by citing them in the reference.



Credit: P.org, IJC

ANSA Nigeria