Plagiarism is the intentional or unintentional use of another person’s writings or ideas without proper attribution. In academia, acts of plagiarism can result in failing grades, course dismissal or expulsion. In the professional and scientific communities, an original author can sue a plagiarist for monetary damages under fraud and copyright infringement statues.
Unintentional Acts of Plagiarism
Particularly common among high school students and college freshmen, unintended acts of plagiarism often occur when a student’s paraphrasing of another’s work too closely resembles the original author. Inexperienced researchers and writers also sometimes take direct passages without using quotation marks, a more flagrant example of plagiarism.
Upon a first occurrence of plagiarism, professors may offer students an opportunity to rewrite an assignment using proper credit and citations. However, professors may also issue failing or no-credit grades for individual plagiarized assignments.
Student plagiarists can have college acceptances revoked. In 2003, a New Jersey high school student who had plagiarized stories for a local newspaper was denied admittance to Harvard, in spite of its previous letter of acceptance. Upon discovery of the act of plagiarism, Harvard rescinded its offer.
Under college academic integrity policies, instructors may fail or dismiss a plagiarist from a course. Carnegie Melon University gives its faculty some discretion in the handling incidences of plagiarism, suggesting a range of penalties “from the loss of points to failure of the assignment or exam or ultimately, failure of the course.” At George Washington University, students often must submit assignments with a signed “pledge of honesty” that assures the work is their own.
Because much academic and scholarly research is funded through grants, the stakes can be high when acts of plagiarism are found in grant proposals or research work. Funding can be pulled and full research projects stopped when plagiarism is discovered. Additionally, faculty members and scholars who are plagiarists can be barred from submitting future proposals.
In its harshest measure, a college may dismiss a student for repeated acts of plagiarism. Ithaca College follows a policy of “warning, suspension, dismissal,” when meting out punishments for poor academic standing and violations to its code of academic integrity. Consideration of expulsion is done on a case-by-case basis.
Authors who plagiarize, whether in academia, business or the literary world, can jeopardize their livelihood. Known worldwide for its excellence in journalism and high written standards, "The New York Times" admitted in 2003 that one of its rising stars was a discovered plagiarist. Jayson Blair left the "Times" and journalism. A work's owner may also sue a plagiarist under U.S. copyright laws.
Linda Emma is a long-standing writer and editor. She is also a digital marketing professional and published author with more than 20 years experience in media and business. She works as a content manager and professional writing tutor at a private New England college. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.