Friday, September 16, 2011

Plagiarism or "Hey, I wrote that"

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Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work, ideas, thoughts, opinions, theories, statistics, facts, drawings, or paraphrasing the same. There are 5 common forms of plagiarisms:

1. Duplicating another’s words or phrases, etc. without identifying the speaker or author, or not using quotation marks.

2. Same as #1 except including quotation marks.

3. Using another’s ideas by paraphrasing them without noting sources.

4. Submit, enter or sell as your own work by merely rearranging words and/or phrases without footnotes.

5. Intentional or unintentional, ignorance of the law is no defense.

The devil is in the details, however. According to copyright laws established in 1989, works are now protected with or without the copyright symbol; they are considered intellectual property. As long as the material can be shown to belong to someone other than you, even though altered but similar to the original form, without acknowledgement, it is considered plagiarism. Copyright laws do not protect facts considered “common knowledge.” Common knowledge is defined loosely as information generally known or known by a large group of people, e.g.,

Another gray area is “public domain.” This often, but not always, means intellectual property that “belongs” to the public and can therefore be used freely. There are variations of law depending on copyright laws in different countries as well as patents and trademarks. It is best to check with an attorney.

The punishments are of varying degrees often depending upon the venue and the amount of material copied. The greater the amount of material copied the greater the punishment can be. Most cases are considered misdemeanors bringing fines between $100 and $50,000 and can be accompanied by up to one year in jail. Generally, your offense is considered a felony if you earn more than about $2,500. The punishment could be upwards of $250,000 and ten years jail time. In a business situation, the punishment is usually not of the prosecutorial kind (unless sued by the original author). It takes the form of a demotion, denial of promotions, monetary fine or firing. In the academic world, the punishment is often meted out by the professor which can result in a failing grade, failing the course or, under the auspices of the dean’s office, expulsion from the college or university. The easy use of the Internet has increased the instances of plagiarism manyfold in all venues

There are a few ways to protect yourself from prosecution of plagiarism.

** Avoid plagiarizing by understanding what constitutes plagiarism.

**When taking notes from various sources for your writing, clearly identify anything that is not in the public domain or not in your original words and thoughts.

**Keep all your notes, electronic, recorded and penned, in several backups in various venues; back up your computer file each time under a different name, e.g., essay plagerism-1, essay plagerism-2, etc. This will give you a paper and time trail to strengthen your case should you be charged or you wish to charge someone else with plagiarism.

**Check the style manuals for the organization for which you are writing as to how to format your written word. APA is the American Psychological Association used primarily in liberal arts settings, ACS (American Chemical Association) for writing in the science field, AP and Chicago styles for general writing. Publishing houses and business often have in-house guidelines they wish authors to follow.

Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, began his book, “It was the best of times…” If you fail to properly credit your sources in your writing, it could easily become, “…the worst of times."

(Disclaimer: this author does not represent the material in the essay to be thought of as legal knowledge or advice under any terms or conditions.);;

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