Updated July 30, 2020: 

Plagiarism law involves the rules surrounding taking someone's ideas or writing, claiming they are your own and trying to sell or publish them. Plagiarism doesn't apply to short quotes or works that are cited to the original source.

In the case of plagiarism, the actual author can take legal action against the plagiarist and recover the profits made from selling the work illegally. If it can be proved that the work was created earlier by someone else, a person who plagiarizes could be sued for fraud or copyright infringement. Depending on where the plagiarism takes place, penalties can vary and are typically determined on a case-by-case basis.

Plagiarism and the Internet

Thanks to the internet, plagiarism has never been easier. Downloading and copying information from the internet and making it untraceable has led to a rash of plagiarism at every level from elementary schools to top universities. Many schools now use software to detect plagiarism.
Using someone else's language or words is acceptable if it is put in quotation marks and a reference to the original source is included in the text or as a footnote. The actual method for citing sources varies depending on the style. 

If a student plagiarizes someone else's work, they are at risk of getting a lower grade or receiving other disciplinary penalties.

Common Forms of Plagiarism

Plagiarism can happen intentionally or unintentionally when a person uses another person's ideas or words without citing the original source. Here are four common forms of plagiarism:

  • Copying another person's words without using quotation marks or referencing the original source
  • Copying an author's words without using quotation marks but using accurate footnotes to the original source
  • Paraphrasing an author's ideas without including a reference to the original source
  • Rearranging an author's exact words, even if there is a footnote to the original source

Other works, including songs, can also fall into plagiarism if they are too similar to the creation of another artist or author. Plagiarism can lead to punishments and penalties from universities and professional groups. Aside from these types of punishments, plagiarism also has legal consequences.

The Problem with Plagiarism

Even though most students know plagiarism is wrong, a large number of them do it anyway because they don't think they will get caught. Some students accidentally plagiarize because they don't know how to properly cite a source. It is easy for students to find essays on any topic from a number of websites and then submit a paper as their own. These websites, also called paper mills, encourage students to trade their papers with each other or take someone else's work.

Plagiarism Consequences

Plagiarism leads to a number of personal, ethical, professional, and legal consequences. Even plagiarizing one time can cause a person to always be regarded with suspicion of if they are actually submitting their own work or using someone else's in the future.

Plagiarism happens at all levels, including among professionals, academics, journalists, and students. Claiming ignorance is not a valid reason to be excused from plagiarism. Consequences for plagiarism include the following:

  • Ruined student reputation. A student who plagiarizes runs the risk of being suspended or expelled. The offense will likely be included on the student's permanent record and could cause them to not be admitted to other schools or universities. At most universities, students are suspended on their first plagiarism violation and are typically expelled if it happens again.
  • Ruined professional reputation. If a professional or public figure plagiarizes, they may find that the effects of the violation follow them their entire career and make it difficult to find another job or professional association. Plagiarizing can cause a person's name to be ruined and essentially end their career. This is particularly true for academics, whose careers revolve around publishing research. If an academic plagiarizes and can no longer publish in academic journals, their career could be over.
  • Financial impacts. Many prominent journalists, researchers, and authors have been exposed for plagiarism. In many cases, a person who plagiarizes is required to pay a penalty to their employer or educational institution.
  • Copied research. One of the worst kinds of plagiarism involves medical research. In this case, copying someone else's research could lead to the loss of lives.

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