Plagiarism: Be Careful What You Write

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Say you read lines in a book or magazine that appealed to you so much, you think of including it in an essay or article you’re writing. Stop! You can go to jail for that.

Plagiarism, or copying someone else’s work without acknowledging the source, is not only a serious academic offense; it is also a crime, although it may go by another name. However, not everyone agree with this. Some are of the opinion that they can get away with claiming another person’s work because they cannot be prosecuted for plagiarism. What they don’t realize is, the repercussions of this kind of stealing are serious. It can destroy one’s reputation, affect future employment opportunities and even end promising careers. Institutions also have their own policies for meting out punishment and these can be as harsh as the legal penalty.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

Academic institutions, where most of plagiarizing occur, have different guidelines for defining plagiarism. Aside from verbatim copying, other styles such as paraphrasing, using information and ideas that are not common knowledge and substituting synonyms for some words in a paragraph are already considered plagiarism. Hence, there are no hard and fast rules on this issue.

To play safe, if you are connected with a college or university, know the rules of the institution. If you’re a freelance writer or a blogger, or your career involves writing, use software to check your own work. There are many free apps; Copyscape is one of the more widely-used plagiarism checkers.

If you have a website or publishing business and you employ writers, you should still be on the lookout for cases of plagiarism since your writer’s offense will hurt your business.

Even if the copying is unintentional, one can be accused of plagiarizing and if the accuser is intent on going to court, the charges will be criminal fraud or copyright infringement. A competent criminal defense lawyer is your best choice to successfully handle such a case. In most cases, plagiarism can be avoided by diligence and prudence when writing your own work.

Other ways to check your own work and avoid being cited for stealing work are the following:

1. Paraphrase. Use your own words to write information or ideas that you read from another source. Limit copying from text to only two consecutive words.

2. Cite. Name the author, date of publication of the source and other information that is required of the formatting guideline you are using. Most colleges or universities use APA, MLA and Chicago Manual.

3. Quote. Quoting is using the same words exactly as they appear in the original and putting them in quotation marks. Limit quotes to less than 40 words.

4. Reference. For research papers, referencing a page or pages at the end of the paper is very important. Document formatting guidelines must be strictly followed.

Infamous Plagiarism Cases

Plagiarism is not exclusively confined to lazy students. Famous politicians and celebrities have been accused of using other people’s words and claiming them as their own. Here are a few examples:

1. Vaughn Ward – Republican nominee for congressional candidate for Idaho in the 2010 elections used parts of President Obama’s speech in the 2004 Democratic National Convention in his own speech.

2. Alex Haley – author of the 1976 bestselling book Roots, for which he won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1977, copied parts from the book Jubilee by Margaret Walker Alexander and The African by Harold Courlander.

3. Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke – in 2014, the two singers/songwriters were sued by the heirs of Marvin Gaye for blatantly copying Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up” for their hit “Blurred Lines”.

Image source:

Kristina Alexanderson. “Plagiarism.” Photo. 26 June 2012 03 Mar 2015

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