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What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It Read and rate this story.

What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It: A Primer

“If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.”

– Wilson Mizner

The other day I was reading an article on a blog. I noticed that certain sentences and phrases, were taken from an online source. However, there was no attribution to the source.

Many writers think that it is okay to copy such small informative and factual contents. Moreover, they think that since they are not deriving any monetary profit out of it or using it for commercial gain, they are not violating any copyright. There is also the thought that since it is being used for educational purpose, no infringement is involved.

Well, such thinking is erroneous!

It is one thing to explain or quote from a book in a classroom, or during a lecture; but entirely another thing to publish an article under one’s name and within the contents, insert a passage or extract from someone’s work without attributing to the source. This is what is called – Plagiarism!

Let us see what the dictionaries say about Plagiarism.

Dictionary Meaning of Plagiarism

The word ‘plagiarism’ made its appearance during the 1660s. It is interesting to note that plagiarism comes from the Latin root ‘plagiarius’ which means kidnapper! This is derived from the Latin word plagium or plaga, which is a net used by hunters for catching animals in the wild. So a plagiarist is no worse than a kidnapper.

The Collins English Dictionary defines Plagiarism as, “Plagiarism is the practice of using or copying someone else’s idea or work and pretending that you thought of it or created it.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Plagiarism as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, plagiarism is “the process or practice of using another person’s ideas or work and pretending that it is your own.”

According to Merriam-Webster.com, definition of plagiarize is “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source” (transitive verb); and “to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source” (intransitive verb). (Anon, 2019)

The University of Oxford has this to say about plagiarism and this is how seriously it conveys the message to the student and teaching community: “Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgment. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional.”

If you have noticed, I have mentioned the Sources of information and put the matter taken from there within quotes. This indicates that what appears there is not my creation.

In the case of Merriam-Webster, I have provided an in-text citation, (Anon, 2019). The Bibliography citation that will go at the end of the article will look something like this:

Anon, (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/plagiarized [Accessed 4 May 2019].

The Most Common Types of Plagiarism

Before we go on to types of plagiarism, we must understand what constitutes intellectual property. According to the Law, any original idea is intellectual property. It can be in a written form – article, story, novel; or it can be an artwork or piece of music; or it can be even a computer program.

These forms of expressions are covered under copyright protection as long as they have been recorded. You might find it interesting to know that the distinctive growling sound of the Harley Davidson motorcycle has been copyrighted.

Plagiarism is actually literary or intellectual theft, as you are copying other’s work and claiming it to be your own. Even copying a few words or ideas without giving due credit is plagiarism. Based on what, how much, and how the material has been copied helps classify plagiarism. Given below, are a few types of plagiarism.

Direct Plagiarism

This is the most common, and the severest form of plagiarism, as well as the most easily detected type of plagiarism. In Direct Plagiarism, word-for-word passages from other’s work are copied without any attribution, or even without any quotation marks to indicate that these have been borrowed from elsewhere.

Mosaic Plagiarism

Also called “Patch Writing”, in Mosaic Plagiarism, materials from several sources are taken without any citation or using quotation marks. Moreover, a few words may be changed or synonyms used to make the look of the content different. The writer copies a few sets of words, phrases, and ideas from sources without indicating or citing the source.

Accidental Plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism comprises of those instances when one doesn’t cite sources due to negligence or carelessness or wrongly attributes the sources. However, no leniency is shown for accidental plagiarism, and it is treated as seriously as any other form of plagiarism.

Self Plagiarism

Do you know that even to use your own previous work in some subsequent content, you need to cite it? You can’t simply pass on your previous work in your later writings. Now you understand why for any writing event, you are asked to send only “fresh writings” and not any previously published work!

Self-plagiarism is generally found in academics when one or several previous works earlier written for some other purpose is used partly or fully for any subsequent work.

Reverse plagiarism

Reverse plagiarism is something quite strange and peculiar. You must have seen funny memes in social media where any hilarious or ludicrous quote is attributed to a well-known personality. Here the credit is falsely given to a person who actually did not author it. This is often done to impress or create a favorable impression on the readers.

Avoiding Plagiarism – What the Academicians do?

Plagiarism is very simple to avoid. You can avoid it by not copying from other’s work. If you have to, then acknowledge it by citing the source from which it is taken. Here is some basic information on Citation Systems and how to use it to avoid plagiarism.

What is a Citation System?

In Academic writing, there is a citation system. An academic journal may ask you to use a specific Citation Style.

Some of the most-used citation styles are:

– Harvard Style of Referencing – This is mostly used in academic writings,

– MLA or Modern Language Association style – This is used in writings related to literature, languages, and art.

– APA or American Psychological Association style – This is primarily used in writings related to social sciences.

– Chicago style – Mostly used in historical writing.

– CSE or Council of Science Editors style – This is often used in scientific writings.

Sources of Information

All these styles have their own specific formats. The types of sources are also cited in a specific manner. These sources of information and reference can be the following, and more:

  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Websites/Webpages
  • Online articles
  • Films
  • Chapter of An Edited Book
  • Court Case
  • Dictionary Entry
  • E-book or PDF
  • Press Release

The In-text citation

The “in-text” citations come in your content itself, as the name suggests these are found within the text. These are brief and are placed at the end of the quoted text, within brackets and mention just the surname of the author and the year of publication. For example, (Smith 2014)

In case you are paraphrasing or quoting the exact material then you can also mention the page number, e.g. (Smith 2014, p. 73).

In case you are using the name of the author in your writing itself, as an authority to point something, then you can write the author’s name and after that mention the year of publication and page number within brackets. For example, According to Smith (2012, p. 73) …

About Bibliography

At the end of the writing, there is a “works cited” list or a Bibliography. This is where the “in-text” citations in the content, are mentioned in detail. Please remember that every Citation Style has its own specific style. But all will generally have the following information:

  • The last and first name of the author and in case of multiple authors the phrase “et al” is used. In case of anthologies having an editor (ed.) is put after the name.
  • The title of the work (in italics)
  • The year or date of publication
  • Publisher
  • Place of publication.

Learning to use the Citation system is all you need to avoid plagiarism. The writing may not be original, but at least it cannot be called a plagiarized article.

Some Interesting and Famous Cases of Plagiarism

Every year there are certain high-profile cases of plagiarism that make news all over the world. Even the best and well-known authors have not escaped such accusations. Plagiarism is not only restricted to the written word, but speeches, music, and songs have also been challenged.

J. K. Rowling: “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

J.K. Rowling’s hugely successful “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”, which was published in 2000, was accused of plagiarism from the book “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard: written by the late Adrian Jacob and published in 1987. It is alleged that the ideas of wizard colleges, wizard contests, wizard prisons, wizard hospitals, etc. have been lifted from this book. However, since the estate of the late author didn’t have the resources to deposit 1.5 million pounds as security in the Court, the case was dismissed. Rowling has denied that she has ever even read the book. In an earlier accusation of plagiarism, an American author Nancy Stouffer claimed that Rowling’s “Harry Potter” was inspired by her character “Larry Potter”. (Kehe, 2019)

2015 Man Asian prize for Best Story

South Korean novelist Shin Kyung-sook, who won the 2015 Man Asian prize for her short story “Legend”, was accused of plagiarizing a Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima’s short story titled “Patriotism”. The guilty author initially denied even having read the other story, but later apologized. The consequences of her act also included the recall of the anthology itself, in which her award-winning story was published.

Dan Brown: “The Da Vinci Code”

The famous author Dan Brown has been accused of plagiarism for his bestseller “The Da Vinci Code”. Lewis Purdue, the author of the novels The Da Vinci Legacy and Daughter of God, accused Dan Brown of stealing from his books. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, historian duo whose book, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail was published in 1982, also accused Dan Brown of plagiarism from their book. Another author Jack Dunn, who wrote The Vatican Boys, also accused Dan Brown of stealing several elements from his book. However, the allegations could not be proved in all these cases, as the elements were too general and abstract to be covered under the copyright laws.

Kaavya Viswanathan: “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life”

This should be of interest to all Indians. Kavya Viswanathan, an Indian American student at Harvard, wrote a bestseller “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” which was published by Little, Brown, and Co and she also got a contract for two more books. However, it was later found that she had copied materials from author Megan McCafferty’s book ‘Sloppy First and Second Helpings’ and several other authors. Consequently, the books were recalled and her contracts for the book, as well as a film adaptation, were canceled.

Stephenie Meyer: “Breaking Dawn”

Stephenie Meyer, the author of the hugely successful Twilight series, was accused of plagiarism for her book “Breaking Dawn” by Jordan Scott from his novel “The Nocturne”. However, the case was not followed up further by the plaintiff.

Jane Goodall: “Seeds of Hope”

Jane Goodall is a renowned primatologist who has worked for more than half a century on chimpanzees in Africa. In 2013, her book “Seeds of Hope” was accused of plagiarism from various sources including Wikipedia. Goodall had to apologize and attributed these to her careless mistakes, while removing the copied items in subsequent publications.

Helen Keller: “The Frost King”

Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf in 1880, became an icon for overcoming her disabilities. When she was 11, she wrote a story “The Frost King”. It was alleged that the story had been plagiarized from “The Frost Fairies”, a story written by Margaret Canby. Although Keller later accepted that the plagiarism was accidental, it became a blemish on her otherwise exceptional life and career.

J.R.R. Tolkien: “The Lord of the Rings”

J.R.R Tolkien is known for his epic The Lord of the Rings book series. It has been alleged that it has plagiarized several ideas from an opera, Ring of the Nibelung, which was composed by Richard Wagner. Although Tolkien never admitted of plagiarism, it is well-known that there are several similarities between the two and it cannot be denied Tolkien was inspired by the opera.

E.L. James: “Fifty Shades of Grey”

E.L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey which became a bestseller in 2011. The novel started its life as a fan-fiction, yet Stephanie Meyers who wrote the Twilight Saga, from which the trilogy was inspired, has not taken any action as yet.

Alex Haley: “Roots: Sold to Slavery”

Alex Haley, the author of the well-known book “Roots”, was accused of plagiarism by Harold Courlander the author of “The African”. The matter was settled out of court.

Melania Trump: 2016 RNC speech

Melania Trump’s July 2016 speech at the Republican National Convention faced the accusation of plagiarism from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. Entire passages were alleged to have been copied.

Barack Obama: 2008 Presidential Campaign speech

In 2008, Obama during his presidential campaign made a speech at Wisconsin. He was accused of plagiarizing by his rival Hillary Clinton. Parts of his speech were taken from Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick’s speech. It was revealed later that they were friends and had shared ideas for the speech together. Obama admitted that he should have given credit to Governor Patrick, and the latter himself defended Obama with a public announcement that the claims of plagiarism were unfair.

Nicki Minaj: “Starships”

In 2012, Nicki Minaj was accused of plagiarizing her song “Starships” from a song written and performed by artist Clive Tanaka. She was also accused of plagiarizing wig designs of Terrence Davidson, for her brand of wigs which were sold from her website.

Justin Bieber: “Somebody to Love”

Justin Bieber was accused of plagiarizing the song “Somebody to Love” from a song with the same title, which was written by Devin Copeland and Mareio Overton.

Michael Bolton: “Love is a Wonderful Thing”

Michael Bolton’s 1991 song “Love is a Wonderful Thing” was accused of being plagiarized from a song by the Isley Brothers. Bolton later paid a fine of $5.4 million.

Now that you know the perils of plagiarism, and you have been warned; avoid plagiarism in your writing. It is actually not worth it !!



Kehe, M. (2019). J.K. Rowling faces another plagiarism suit. [online] The Christian Science Monitor. Available at: https://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2010/0218/J.K.-Rowling-faces-another-plagiarism-suit [Accessed 3 May 2019].

The Times of India. (2019). 5 authors who have been accused of plagiarism – Times of India. [online] Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/features/5-authors-who-have-been-accused-of-plagiarism/articleshow/58593060.cms [Accessed 3 May 2019].

Plagramme. (2019). Plagiarism Cases Around The World. [online] Available at: https://www.plagramme.com/plagiarism-cases-around-the-world [Accessed 3 May 2019].


Cover Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash

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