Plagiarism Law & Legal Definition


Plagiarism is taking the writings or literary ideas of another and selling and/or publishing them as one's own writing. Brief quotes or use of cited sources do not constitute plagiarism. The original author can bring a lawsuit for appropriation of his/her work against the plagiarist and recover the profits. Although not normally a crime, a person who plagiarizes is subject to being sued for fraud or copyright infringement if prior creation can be proved. Penalties vary depending on jurisdiction, the charges brought, and are determined on a case by case basis.

The Internet has made plagiarism easier than ever before. From elementary schools to the highest levels of academia, the ease of downloading and copying "untraceable" online information has led to an epidemic of digital plagiarism. Plagiarism detection software now exists and is used in schools to monitor student's work. If you adopt someone else's language, provide quotation marks and a reference to the source, either in the text or in a footnote, as prescribed by such publications as Format, The MLA Style Sheet, or another manual of style. Students who commit plagiarism may be subject to grade or disciplinary penalties, which vary by institution.

Intentional or unintentional use of another's words or ideas without acknowledging this use constitutes plagiarism: There are four common forms of plagiarism:

  • The duplication of an author's words without quotation marks and accurate references or footnotes.
  • The duplication of author's words or phrases with footnotes or accurate references, but without quotation marks.
  • The use of an author's ideas in paraphrase without accurate references or footnotes.
  • Submitting a paper in which exact words are merely rearranged even though footnoted.

The following is an example of a state statute dealing with plagiarism:

"Works to be submitted by students without substantial alteration.

  1. It shall be unlawful for any person or business entity to sell, offer to sell, or advertise for sale any term paper, thesis, dissertation, essay, or report or any written, recorded, pictorial, artistic, or other assignment which the seller or advertiser knew or reasonably should have known was intended for submission by a student, unaltered to any substantial degree, in fulfillment of the requirements for a degree, diploma, certificate, or course of study at a university, college, academy, school, or other educational institution in the state.
  2. This section shall not prevent any person or educational institution from providing tutorial assistance, research material, information, or courses in research or writing unless this service includes the preparation, research, or writing of a report or paper as outlined in subsection (1). No person shall be prevented by this section from selling or offering to sell services which include the typing, assembling, transcription, reproduction, or editing of a manuscript or other assignment prepared by the purchaser.
  3. Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083."