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Plagiarism: A menace to be avoided by professionals

The question is not of money, not fame, not anything more or less lucrative, it is about having and maintaining self respect, being able to look at the mirror and smile, of ethics, of professionalism.


Plagiarism is defined as an act of attempting to pass off the work of another person as one’s own work. It is a type of theft of intellectual property that is quite prevalent in educational institutions. However, such offences are also rampant in workplaces. It is an offense with wide implications and long-lasting effects. By committing plagiarism, individuals bring themselves under personal risk. They might be subjected to penalties in case a lawsuit is brought against them. Apart from this, it is also a loss of goodwill and reputation and trust.

Plagiarism may take place in different ways. The most detestable way of plagiarizing is to directly take parts or lines of already published work of somebody else without giving the reference to the original writing. This amounts to passing off another’s work as someone’s own and is a serious wrong. Giving an acknowledgement to the original writer is the minimum that a writer can do without demeaning themselves and without hurting anybody else’s sentiments while at the same time being legally correct.

Copying someone else’s words is often intentional, but it is not necessarily always so. Sometimes it may just be accidental, when someone forgets to acknowledged the source of the information. It definitely is a kind of stealing, that of words, ideas, sources, an intellectual theft. But in all cases, it can have far-reaching consequences. So, it is important for all of us, whether academicians, authors, professionals, or just students, to try and avoid committing plagiarism.

In this article, I have not got into the depth of legalities of plagiarism, as regulated by the Copyrights Act, 1957, but dwelt more on the ethics and morality of the same. My intention is to appeal to professionals to contribute original thoughts and writings that will go a long way to develop the literature in a particular professional area.

Types of plagiarism

Knowing about the different types of plagiarism is a great way to prevent it, at least the unintentional version of it. The following are some types of plagiarism:

  1. Ghostwriting Plagiarism: The most dangerous (read criminal) type of plagiarism is when one just puts their name to someone else's original work. Also called ‘plagiarism of authorship’, here another’s work is passed off as their own by the alleged plagiarizer.

  2. Copy-Paste Plagiarism: This type of plagiarism is very common and takes place when a writer simply picks up one or more sentences/paragraph ‘as it is’ from a certain source, uses them without quotations marks and does not provide any reference to the source.

  3. Photocopy Plagiarism: This type of plagiarism takes place when one writer copies a substantial part of another person’s work, whether published or not, without any changes or use of their own inputs or opinions.

  4. Paraphrasing plagiarism: This type of plagiarism takes place when someone changes words in an existing work by some other words. The writer ideally looks for synonyms for keywords used in the original work and rephrases certain sentences. But in such cases the end product is not quite different from the original. It is also often called word-switch or patch-work plagiarism.

  5. Disguised Plagiarism: Sometimes the writer borrows from other sources, and changes the keywords and sentences here and there. The patchwork is disguised as an original one, but the essence of the work remains the same as the source.

  6. Idea Plagiarism: Plagiarism is not always with respect to words or phrases; one may be accused of idea theft also. When a writer picks up a creative idea from another work and does not provide necessary credit to it, such plagiarism would be called idea plagiarism.

  7. Secondary plagiarism: This type of plagiarism takes place when a writer picks up a sentence with seemingly necessary reference to the original work from a secondary source and uses the same without bothering to look up the original source to confirm what it actually mentions.

  8. Self-Plagiarism: When a particular work of the writer is already published and copyrighted by the publisher, borrowing from that source, even though their own, may result in plagiarism and violation of agreements entered into while publishing the original work. In other words, self-plagiarism is like ‘Old wine in a new bottle’. Such plagiarism also takes place when the writer submits the same article for publication at two different places simultaneously and both are accepted.

  9. Direct vs. Accidental Plagiarism: The former is a word-for-word copying of another person’s original work that the writer produces without any quotation marks or reference to source. On the other hand, plagiarism can take place accidentally when the writer forgets to provide reference to the original source, or unintentionally provides misinformation.

  10. Other types of plagiarism: Sometimes authors properly mention the original author’s name, when citing a study, work or idea, but miss out on putting the original quote within quotation marks. This also amounts to plagiarism. Similarly, citing the original author and source without sufficient information about where to find that work, also amounts to plagiarism as the author is ultimately indirectly passing the work off as his own. Similar type of plagiarism takes place when the author provides inaccurate, misleading information about the source.

Ghostwriting: the ethics of it

Ghostwriting is common and almost an accepted practice in public speeches or social media posts by celebrities or political leaders. Honorary authorship is another type of ghostwriting that is quite common in the institutional level. This takes place when a person holding a senior position is named as the author although the actual work was done by someone else or a department headed by the former. Such practice is also common in scientific research. The actual writers receive no or little credit but this is often done with their knowledge and implied consent. Another place where ghostwriting is prevalent is in popular Talk Shows that are often scripted in advance, with little to no credit of the on-screen host. Also, books by famous persons are often actually ghostwritten (and there are writers who willingly take up this as a career). Ghostwriting is also the accepted way in bureaucratic documentation. The last one is a very large subject in itself and needs a separate research or deliberation, and I choose to avoid it in toto in this article.

In cases of ghostwriting with the consent of the actual writer (mostly contractual in nature) plagiarism often become morally acceptable. The original writers often see this as strengthening their own resumes. (We will not go to the debate of the extent to which the financial constraints of the original writer led him to agree to enter into the contract in the first place or the power and influence that was exerted on them or whether his consent was at all voluntary.)

Legal Plagiarism

This is one of the biggest areas in which plagiarism is rampant. Legal plagiarism is especially a very big menace in India and only shows the lack of appropriate legal research caliber in our country. This largely points fingers at our legal education system and the need to strengthen it.

Why plagiarism should be avoided?

Plagiarism is unethical, and in essence, it is a kind of theft of intellectual property. The beneficiary of such theft is the plagiarizer and not the original writer. By passing off someone else’s work as one’s own, the latter also deceives the readers of such work. Further plagiarizers can often get caught in legal battles over copyright and end up paying huge penalties. This also leads to huge loss of reputation of the plagiarizer. By plagiarizing, a person not only deprives the original author the due credit for their work, they themselves often become lazy and thus deny themselves the opportunity to learn and produce work based on their own work and thinking. In short, they deprive themselves of the opportunity to become an original and continue to remain a copy.

Plagiarism detection

Manual detection of plagiarism can be very difficult. Internet has, however, made such detection very easy. Today there are various softwares, some even available free of cost online, that are capable of detecting plagiarism. Such softwares can look for plagiarism in an uploaded document by comparing it with thousands of other published works. And in a matter of seconds the results may be seen; the matching texts are highlighted and link of the original sources are provided. However, often the original sources detected by the plagiarism detectors are also plagiarized works. But it definitely helps to understand whether the work in question, for which plagiarism is being checked, is plagiarized. It is immaterial whether or not it was plagiarized from a secondary source.

Concluding remarks

We often indulge in writing as it helps us increase the reach of our work. But there is a very thin line that demarcates the border between research and plagiarism. In this age of widespread internet access, while publishing a work is relatively easy and the reach of published works are faster, plagiarism is also all the more rampant. As an academician or professional who is publishing a work/article, it is important to be ethical and honest. There is nothing wrong in being inspired by someone else’s work, or publishing a follow-up research document of the former, but the same should be clearly mentioned through appropriate citing, references, acknowledgement and quotation marks wherever necessary. In fact, the more the literature in a particular discipline the faster is its development. So, it is always a great idea to contribute largely to a discipline by writing frequently and investing in follow-up research works. All we need is appropriate acknowledgement of the original writer, thinker or researcher.


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