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Intellectual theft- an essay on Plagiarism

Written by: Soumo Chaudhury & Suvajit Chakraborty - Vth year students pursuing BA LLB and BBA LLB respectively in Symbiosis Law School, Pune
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  • If you must write prose and poems
    The words you use should be your own
    Don't plagiarise or take "on loans"
    There's always someone, somewhere
    With a big nose, who knows
    And who trips you up and laughs
    When you fall
    Who'll trip you up and laugh
    When you fall
    - The Smiths, album The Queen Is Dead, 1986.

    Plagiarism is an issue of concern among people all around the world. It is a moral, ethical, legal issue which has been plaguing the world for centuries. However the internet and the subsequent proliferation of information has made the problem more serious. According to the Oxford Reference Dictionary plagiarism basically means taking the work or idea of someone else and pretending it is one's own. Plagiarism includes copying words or ideas from someone without giving credit; failing to put quotations in quotation marks; giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation; changing the words but copying the sentence structure of the source without giving any credit to the source; copying so many words or ideas from the source that it makes up the bulk of your work.

    There are essentially two categories of plagiarists all around the world namely those who cite their sources and those who do not cite their sources.

    The types of plagiarism practiced by those who do not cite their sources are the photocopy in this the writer copies significant portions of a text straight from a single source without alteration of any kind; the ghost writer in which the writer turns in the work of another; word-for-word, as if it is his own; another form of plagiarism is the potluck paper, in this the writer tries to disguise the plagiarism by copying from several different sources, making minor adjustments in the sentences so that they fit together while retaining its original meaning; one of the strangest kinds of plagiarism under this category is the self-stealer, the writer over here copies large portions from his or her previous work or works, thus violating policies concerning the expectation of originality adopted by most academic institutions; the poor disguise is another form of plagiarism which falls under this category, in this although the writer has retained the essential content of the source, he or she has altered the paper's appearance slightly by changing key words and phrases; and the last type of plagiarism which falls under this category is the labour of laziness in this form of plagiarism the writer takes the time to paraphrase most of the paper from other sources and make it all fit together. There is also the second type of plagiarism in which the author cites his sources but it still amounts to plagiarism.

    The types of plagiarism which fall under this category are the resourceful citer in which the writer properly cites all sources, paraphrasing and using all the quotations appropriately, however the paper contains no original work but looks like any other well- researched document; the misinformer a category in which the writer provides inaccurate information regarding the sources, making it impossible to find it, another type is the forgotten footnote in which the writer mentions an author's name for a source, but neglects to include specific information on the location of the material reference; and the last type is the too perfect paraphrase in which the writer properly cites a source but neglects to put quotation marks although the text has been written word-for-word or close to it.

    It can be said that in the present world plagiarism has become quite a common phenomenon especially among the school and college students. Submissions and multiple deadlines are actually forcing many to opt for the easier way out and what makes it possible for them is the fact that not only is plagiarism difficult to detect but even if they are detect the persons committing the act almost always go unpunished. It must also be remembered that although plagiarism is a form of copyright infringement it normally becomes impossible to prove its illegality simply because unlike copyright it is not protected by any specific legislation.

    It has happened a number of times in the past and no doubt will also happen in the future that many writers have unknowingly committed acts of plagiarism which has made their works seem similar to those of other writers but the fact remains that this was completely unintentional and so we can't really blame them for such instances. It has happened many times that while listening to a certain piece of music I have found it to sound astonishingly similar to someone else's music but what we must remember in such circumstances is that it is entirely possible that the musician did it with no intention of committing an act of plagiarism after all there are only a certain number of notes in any type of music and therefore the musical combinations are also necessarily limited. Another thing that we should keep in mind before pointing fingers at anyone is that we can claim a piece of literature to be our own but what we cannot do is own the thought behind the piece of literature. The Copyright Act of 1957 also makes a clear distinction between an idea and the expression of an idea, what can really be copyrighted is the expression and not the idea, this principle has been applied in a number of cases.

    Now that what plagiarism is, is clear what is important is how plagiarism can be stopped. The most important question which needs to be addressed is that who are the people who indulge in acts of plagiarism? A study by The Centre for Academic Integrity found that almost 80% of college students admit to cheating at least once and as per a survey by the Psychological Record 36% of undergraduates have admitted to plagiarizing written material. Therefore looking at the statistics we can say that plagiarism is rampant among college students. However it must be remembered that sometimes plagiarism is intentional and sometimes it is not. Therefore a student, to avoid plagiarizing accidentally must keep accurate notes when doing research; he or she must also educate himself or herself on university plagiarism policies. Apart fro this, the student must master the procedure for citing the sources and learn to paraphrase without borrowing the language or structure in the original source. To avoid the temptation to plagiarize intentionally a student should visit a specialist who can teach him or her how to edit a paper or plan an essay.

    The student must also visit his or her instructor during office hours and ask questions in class to clarify course requirements or instructions for assignments and he or she must also consult web based resources. A student must also consider the consequences of plagiarism before he or she tries to pass off someone else's work as his or her own, he or she must realize that missing a deadline or receiving a low score will not tarnish his or her academic record in the same way as sanctions from a educational regulatory body will (these guidelines are for UC Davis students but seem to be effective guidelines for students all over the world). However even so students might still be tempted to indulge in plagiarism, in such cases I guess disciplinary measures and penalties (the harshness of which should depend from case to case) would be the only means to prevent this.

    There are means provided by the internet to stop plagiarism one such means is Google ( Google is essentially a search engine however it can be used to detect plagiarism because its advanced search engine capabilities are conducive to locating key phrases that may appear in students' research papers. The Google Directory also has numerous links to information about plagiarism detection devices. Joint Information Systems Committee on Electronic Plagiarism Detection ( are a body which completed a plagiarism project in 2001 and established a plagiarism advisory service as a result of this experience. The Glatt Plagiarism Program is another means of preventing plagiarism. Dr. Barbara Glatt has developed the 3 different software programs designed to detect and prevent plagiarism.

    The 3 parts are the Plagiarism Teaching Program, the Plagiarism Screening Program and the Plagiarism Self- Detection Program. The University of California Berkley students and alumni created as a mechanism to detect plagiarism. Another effective means of stopping plagiarism is Turnitin ( Turnitin is a partner of and is considered to be one of the world's most recognized and trusted resources to prevent internet plagiarism. There are a number of other means of preventing plagiarism apart from those stated above.

    Journalism is another industry in which plagiarism flourishes. Journalism's main currency is public trust if a journalist indulges in plagiarism it undermines its very basis, the trust. Journalists accused of plagiarism are often suspended from their reporting tasks while their charges are being looked into by the news organization. Journalists have in fact on quite a few occasions been caught copying and pasting articles and texts from a number of websites.

    There have been quite a few famous cases of plagiarism in the recent past one of the most famous ones is that involving the well known historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, Stephen Edwards Ambrose. In 2002, Ambrose was found to have plagiarized several passages in his book The Wild Blue. Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard reported that Ambrose had taken passages from Wings of Morning: The Story of The Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II by Thomas Childers (a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania). Ambrose and his publisher released an apology as a result.

    Recently there was a dispute between B R Films and Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox. B R Films was accused of plagiarism by 20th Century Fox however the case has been settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Fox had alleged that the Indian production house's upcoming film Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai was a copy of the Oscar winning My cousin Vinny. There are many such cases of plagiarism going on all around the world. The question is that can the the means ton fight plagiarism win in the race against plagiarism itself.

    The situation in India with regard to control of plagiarism is at present quite bleak. In India there are no databases of thesis and dissertations which makes the act of plagiarism by both students and academicians pretty easy. Plagiarism in project work and other forms of assignments such as articles and essays is very difficult to detect. It's not only a problem as far as the educational field is concerned but there are different areas such as literature, music, journalism and so forth which get affected by this pest named plagiarism. Can we stop it? Well frankly I don't know but at least we can try.

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