May 14th, 2008

Embarrassing Cases of Plagiarism

Think plagiarizing can be considered an innocent mistake? These stories may cause you to think again about copying and pasting that bit from an article or website.

Plagiarizing can carry extreme repercussions both on the job and concerning a degree in progress or already granted. Plagiarism is rarely considered an innocent mistake, especially in academia and publishing where people are expected to understand the rules and respect the intellectual property of another. Excuses are usually not accepted and it can be challenging to rebuild a reputation after one is caught plagiarizing.


Romance novelist Cassie Edwards learned this the hard way. In her novel Shadow Bear Edwards lifted passages from a book about Ferrets written by Paul Tolme. Ferret references in a romance novel?!? This humorous article written by the plagiarized author discusses how Edwards worked ferrets into a conversation between Lakota Indian Shadow Bear and a pioneer woman. While Edwards claimed “she didn’t know she was supposed to credit her sources” this excuse was not enough to save her publishing deal with Signet Books.

Another case of career-ending plagiarism comes from prominent newspaper, The New York Times. Journalist Jayson Blair plagiarized by fabricating details including fake quotes from interviews. The situation wounded the credibility of the New York Times and heads rolled because of it. Jayson Blair was of course fired, but two editors also resigned due to their alleged bad management that allowed this to happen. In this case plagiarism not only affected the plagiarizer, but his managers (the editors) also found themselves in hot water.

An Austrian report titled “Report on dangers and opportunities posed by large search engines, particularly Google” cites examples of people losing their jobs and revocation of degrees for plagiarizing on a thesis or dissertation. The report cites the definition of plagiarism from the software program, which specializes in scanning documents to find instances of plagiarism. Below is that definition as quoted in the report:

“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”

While citing sources often feels like a pain, the pain of not crediting another’s work can be felt for years.



Comment from Jonathan Bailey
Time May 16, 2008 at 12:18 am

Thank you for this very level-headed view of plagiarism. It’s a refreshing respite from the usual vitriol of the Web.

On that note, it’s worth noting that technology is catching up to the plagiarists and that the tools they use to find material to lift enables the rest of us to track down the source.

It isn’t just Google either. Tools such as Copyscape and Bitscan can check sites for Plagiarism and unwanted copies. Also, Turnitin and MyDropBox can detect plagiarism in academic papers.

The playing field is leveling at least some. We’re going to be seeing a lot more plagiarists getting caught over the coming years.

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