Whether you’re writing something professionally and have a tight deadline or you’re a student trying to churn out a massive paper that takes up most of your grade, it can be tempting to copy someone else’s work. However, directly copying someone’s work is an act of plagiarism, and can land you in hot water.
Plagiarism doesn’t have to be a direct copy, either. Simply stealing someone’s idea or converting their spoken word into your own print can also be considered plagiarism. There have been a countless number of people to commit plagiarism and not even know it. You can hear or see something once, and write it down as your own, completely unaware that you’re plagiarising at that moment.
But is plagiarism a crime? The answer is both yes and no. Let’s take a look at the specifics of plagiarism and see the scenarios in which legal action can be taken against someone that commits it.
If you think that because you copy and paste something out of a textbook onto your semester-end research paper you’re going to go to jail, don’t worry. Doing so is not considered a criminal act, but you could face serious repercussions with your school. Committing plagiarism on accident or in a very small dose will likely just lead to the paper having to be edited or a knock against your grade. The most egregious forms of academic plagiarism, though, can lead to a full expulsion.
However, we’re talking about the United States, where plagiarism itself is not a crime at the federal or state levels. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go to jail in other countries. In certain parts of the world, plagiarism is a jailable offense. In fact, Montenegro made plagiarism a crime in 2017, but that’s a rare case. For the most part, the worst that can happen legally when someone commits plagiarism is a civil infraction.
Paying the Price
In more severe cases of plagiarism, someone that commits this act may be looking at infractions linked to plagiarism. This includes copyright infringement, which frequently leads to civil suits when monetary gain was made with copyrighted work. If you’re posting a quote from Bill Gates in your essay or using Mickey Mouse’s likeness in an office memo, the chances of facing any punishment are basically zero.
There are a lot of cases in which plagiarism can be avoided simply by giving credit to the person that created the original work. Instead of simply copying and pasting what someone wrote word for word, you can make a reference to it. The standard is to cite the work, give it its own paragraph in your writing, and italicize it (if digital). This makes it clear that you’re simply using this work as a source instead of your own creation. For example:
“To engage in downright plagiarism is disappointing. It’s cynical, opportunistic and hypocritical.” -Saul Bass
Checking For Plagiarism
These days, it can be more tempting to plagiarise since there are so many thoughts that have already been put out into the internet thanks to the countless blogs and websites available. However, it’s also easier to detect. Instead of waiting until someone else checks your work for plagiarism and facing serious consequences, check for any potential plagiarism yourself through one of the online trackers.
A plagiarism tracker will scour the internet to see how much of your work matches with someone else’s. If there is a small overlap, it’s not a big cause for concern. You may be writing about the exact same topic, and therefore will be using a lot of the same words. The higher the score on a plagiarism checker, though, the more you’ll want to proofread your work and edit what you need so that you don’t get into trouble.