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Plagiarism and the (Dire) Consequences!

It’s NOT your work. You can read it, reference it, you can even directly quote passages from it, you can even share the original and its source, but it is still NOT your work.


It’s a given, really; a principle that the vast majority of us have had repeated to us throughout both our formal and informal education. We are intellectual creatures and our incredibly powerful imaginations and ability to solve complex problems is what sets us apart from other life on our planet. A person’s intellectual output is their property and they have every right to be recognised as such, regardless of whether they produce texts, music, video, art or anything else.

This anti-plagiarism principle doesn’t stop people from misappropriating others’ work, however. With the internet now providing instant access to information and ideas shared by peers and strangers alike, the ‘copy and paste’ phenomenon has truly started to dominate the debate on plagiarism given the ease in which people can ‘lift’ work that does not belong to them into their own.

Plagiarism in Academia and Commerce

Academics are, unsurprisingly, particularly sensitive to plagiarism given the vast work that goes into dissertations, theses and other research. The reputations of academic institutions is wholly contingent on the unique work of their staff, researchers and students, which explains why 98% of UK universities now employ the plagiarism detection tool, Turnitin. The software analyses submitted documents, cross-referencing the content with a huge range of sources across the web before reporting back on the document’s originality. Whilst the software cannot positively identify whether someone has purposely cheated, the required human review following a red flag gives a necessary balance in the review process.

Many thousands of commercial plagiarism cases are currently before courts across the world, with Led Zeppelin, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran all defending the originality of their music. Then there’s patent, copyright and trademark disputes between companies starting almost every day (Apple has been involved in many, many disputes in recent years- here’s just ten of them!).

It is clearly a problem on the rise in many parts of the world, with counterfeit goods increasingly being found in the UK, with a significant portion of this practice attributed to the Far East. So what are the consequences?

Plagiarism and the Law

Of course, intellectual property rights are enshrined in laws across the globe, as well as forming a key part of international legislation, meaning that any party who infringes on somebody’s rights as a intellectual property owner could potentially find themselves before the courts. However, bringing this sort of litigation before courts can be expensive, although this won’t stop anyone determined to assert their rights and the potential awards made by courts for winning a case are huge. For businesses, the sale of your products could be restricted in certain locations or you could even find yourself filing for administration if you can’t afford the financial settlement for infringement (and you may find it difficult to get a job afterwards).

Students who plagiarise work can have their previously awarded qualifications removed, which could be highly embarrassing. Those who are caught plagiarising during their studies can be removed from their courses and effectively forced to leave an institution.

Whilst the internet has been an enabler for plagiarists across the world, it is undoubtedly a double-edged sword given that it can also be used to identify plagiarism with relative ease. As the saying goes: ‘you can run, but you can’t hide’. This has never been more applicable to plagiarists than it is now. High-profile figures have been accused of and investigated for plagiarism, causing significant public embarrassment. Former German Defence Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, is a shining example of this: in 2011, he was forced to resign his position in Government following a revelation that he had used unattributed content throughout his doctoral thesis.

So, don’t forget: it’s NOT your work. You can read it, reference it, you can even directly quote passages from it, you can even share the original and its source, but it is still NOT your work.

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