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What is Plagiarism?

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Plagiarism is similar to other kinds of academic misconduct, like cheating on examinations or improper collaboration on projects. Here, we will define it as follows:

“Presenting someone else’s work as if it were your own without adequately citing its source.”

When someone plagiarizes something, they have really done two things.

  • They have committed theft because they have taken someone else’s work without acknowledging them.
  • They have also committed fraud because they falsely claim to have done work that was done by someone else.

While plagiarism is not usually a crime in the legal sense like theft and fraud are, it is still a serious ethical violation and, just like other forms of cheating, it is treated as a major offense by academic and professional organizations.

Types of Plagiarism

Accidental Plagiarism

It is a type of plagiarism caused by failure to cite a work properly or failing to put quotes around the cited test.

Verbatim Plagiarism

It is a type of plagiarism where you copy someone without giving a citation or recognizing their work.


It is a type of plagiarism where you take your past work and try to pass it off as new and original work.

Significance of Plagiarism

Plagiarism applies, generally, in two areas as follows:

  • The Professional world
  • The Academic world

Plagiarism in Professional World

In the professional world, a person’s work product is often done for direct payment or other remuneration. In such a case, plagiarism amounts to taking money or value that belongs to someone else, just like when any property is stolen. As such, it could be a violation of a copyright, a trademark, or a patent. While not usually defined as crimes, these are violations of civil law and can result in the plagiarizer getting sued in civil court. It is also a valid reason for losing a job and causing significant damage to the violator’s professional reputation.

Plagiarism in Academic World

In the educational arena, plagiarism has other harmful effects, as well. In academics, plagiarism most often occurs regarding written material.

Examples of Plagiarism in Academics

In a mathematics class, a student is required to write out the solution to a problem, the purpose of the exercise is not to reveal the solution to the problem— that has been done many times, and the instructor undoubtedly knows it. The goal is to show that the student has the knowledge and skill to solve the problem. Copying the solution from somewhere else makes the exercise completely worthless from a learning standpoint. It does not demonstrate anything about that student’s knowledge or ability. Possibly worse, it advances the progress of the plagiarizer toward a degree or certification for which they are quite possibly not qualified.

Someone might rationalize plagiarizing in a subject that is unrelated to their goals— the student who plagiarizes the solution to that math problem is going to be a lawyer; he isn’t going to be applying false calculus skills in real life. But let’s follow that train of thought for a moment.

What about the students who need that ability and do the learning and the work? The value of their real, legitimate accomplishment is diluted by someone whose score is artificial. All manner of opportunities, educational and professional, are affected by margins of relative performance that are sometimes very thin.

A single incident of plagiarism can end up being very damaging to a lot of people. Realize, too, that you may also be the direct victim of plagiarism. If someone steals the work you have done and gets credit for it themselves, you have unfairly had something of value taken from you.

Consequences of Plagiarism

Regardless of what underlies any specific set of circumstances, the fact is that if you are accused of plagiarism in an academic setting, you need help because it is taken so seriously. Given the rise in plagiarism, schools are turning up the heat on all students and are often unwilling to believe any student if they say they did not cheat. Professors are more likely to report accusations of cheating as well.
If you have been accused and did not cheat, you may be facing a long and challenging road to clearing your name.

  • The consequences of being found responsible for plagiarism can be catastrophic. It is grounds for expulsion—dismissal from your school or program—and the notation on your official record that follows you whatever you attempt to do in the future.
  • Schools are competitive, and it is exceedingly difficult to get admitted anywhere after having been dismissed from another institution for plagiarism.
  • The consequences of cheating are enormous. They can end your academic career and wreak havoc on your emotional well-being.

One former student who was dismissed for plagiarism told their story to the Cavalier Daly (Feb 27, 2022) and is quoted as saying;

“The months after my expulsion were the darkest of my life. I lost my housing and my best friends. I was stripped of my scholarship, my job, and my community leadership positions. I forfeited the thousands of tuition dollars I had already paid for the semester in which my trial occurred, a semester for which I received no course credit. My vision of the future was shattered — the life I knew was over. The impact of expulsion was also felt by my entire family. My parents suffered with anxiety, watching their once vivacious child become a shell.”

Why is Plagiarism a Severe Academic Offense?

One reason it is such a grave offense in academic settings is related to the core purpose of education: obtaining knowledge and skills. When you do an assignment in an educational environment, the chief reason for the assignment is not usually to produce novel content for a group of consumers, but rather the purpose is to demonstrate your knowledge and insight by articulating what you have gained.

The whole point of a piece of writing for a class is to show how and what you have learned and provide insights into the skills you have gained. If you substitute someone else’s product for your own, then the entire mission of education is subverted.

Why is Plagiarism Increasing?

Plagiarism is increasing at colleges and universities around the country. The increase started with Covid lockdowns and the shift to more online learning. This trend has continued as students return to campus. The consequences of being accused of plagiarism can be devastating. Suspension, expulsion, probation, and a permanent mark on your transcript are all possible outcomes.

This graph from the Huntingtonian (May 1, 2022) shows a dramatic increase in the number of college students who admitted to plagiarizing some of their work. An Education Technology (April 1, 2021) report indicates that 45% of respondents admit to plagiarizing work.

Following are the commonly identified reasons across the student to be involved in plagiarism:

Good Grade

For all its adverse effects, the evidence we have indicates that plagiarism is on the increase. The biggest reason people give for committing plagiarism is to get a good grade. While that makes sense, students have always had that goal, so that desire alone doesn’t explain the uptick in plagiarizing. Some estimates are that it has increased as much as 10 percent during the pandemic, and that raises the question of how plagiarism tends to be committed.

Pre-packaged Info Available Online

In the online environment where so much ready-made, prepackaged information is readily available to everyone, it is easier than ever to copy someone else’s work. It takes little time and less effort to search for a question or a topic, then cut-and-paste a relevant piece of an article into a document.

Stress Owing to Pandemic

Add to that the increased pressure and stress the pandemic brought to everything, and it is not hard to see why the temptation to this is harder to resist than ever before. Of course, that means that the adverse effects of it must be combated more diligently than before, as well.

Famous People Accused of Plagiarism

President Joe Biden

Several famous people have been undone by plagiarism. President Joe Biden had his 1988 presidential bid derailed by accusations of plagiarism while he was in law school. It took decades to rebuild and restore his reputation.

H. Gilbert Walsh

H. Gilbert Walsh, a professor at Dartmouth College, stepped down because of a plagiarism scandal. Musicians have had to pay millions for stealing other people’s work. For the average college student, thousands of dollars in tuition are on the line if you are accused. For graduate and medical students, that dollar amount could be hundreds of thousands.

Plagiarism & Citations – Intent Can Matter

Another factor that can make dealing with accusations of plagiarism difficult is the lack of clarity that sometimes exists about the line between using information that you find while doing research, which is appropriate and plagiarizing.

Plagiarism means quoting material from a source without properly citing it. It is possible to do this without intending to do anything wrong.


Citation may refer to using someone else’s idea in your research while attributing the credit to the original source of that idea.

Sometimes out of carelessness and ignorance, someone can reproduce something that comes from elsewhere in their own writing without noting it in the proper way. When a problem like this manifests itself, schools have a habit of overreacting and adopting strict policies and sanctions for disallowed behavior. It creates an especially difficult issue when the punishment for an offense is harsh and unbending, but the definition of the offense is not clear and well-delineated.

Policies and syllabi often do a better job of explaining the consequences of plagiarism than they do of defining it or teaching how to avoid it. It’s important to note that many times, plagiarism happens by accident because the student didn’t realize they needed to cite something or didn’t know how to cite it properly.

Plagiarism owing to the intent of citation is mainly a problem for students who have studied in other countries, where the rules regarding citation and crediting differ substantially from those used in the United States. International student may not be aware of the following significant questions while addressing the plagiarism in their education institutions:

  • Exactly how “word for word” does something need to be before it demands quotation marks and separate formatting?
  • Does something need to be cited in the text itself, as well as in notes at the end of an assignment? Different style formats – APA, MLA, etc. – and different disciplines have varying standards regarding many of these things.
  • Do you need an author’s express permission to use their work?
  • How widely known does something need to be before it does not require formal citation?
  • And what about group projects, which are becoming more and more common in every setting now?
  • How do you acknowledge the work of collaborators in your group? Do you need to, and how?

How to Deal with Plagiarism Accusations?

There are several steps you can take to help yourself during the process of clearing your name.

  • First, know the rules, and read the policy and the appropriate handbook to get help.
  • Second, seek professional help. Find someone who specializes in education law and policies. They can help explain the policies and procedures. They can also help protect your rights.
  • Third, refrain from relying on the university to assist you in this process. Most do not offer help, or if they do, it is a limited resource at best.

When you consider the time, effort, and money you have invested in your education, you cannot afford to let threats to it go unaddressed. No matter what the truth is behind an accusation of plagiarizing, regardless of whether you realize you might be doing it or if the accusation is false, you need to have the best possible defense in your favor. The Keith Altman firm specializes in precisely what you need. We can help someone reach the best possible outcome for a plagiarism charge—from exoneration to minimizing sanctions. Whatever the facts of the individual case might be, anyone wants the best result possible for them.

While no two cases are the same, they understand how the college discipline process works. K Altman Law has former school administrators who are well-versed in college procedures to assist you and lawyers specializing in school law.

Defend Plagiarism Accusations with K Altman Law

If you do seek help, pick an expert at K Altman Law. Our legal and educational experts have assisted hundreds of students in similar matters. Many schools now have very strict policies that require faculty members to make a formal referral whenever they have the slightest suspicion that plagiarism has occurred. They might have little to no discretion in reporting, even if the evidence against you is thin.

The results of not taking the steps to adequately defend yourself against plagiarism, academic failure, suspension and even expulsion are too damaging to simply accept.

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