Saturday, February 2, 2013

A good definition of plagiarism

Jude Carroll alerted me to a 2009 paper by Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, that gives an excellent definition of plagiarism, much better than "We know it when we see it":
Plagiarism occurs when someone
1. Uses words, ideas, or work products
2. Attributable to another identifiable person or source
3. Without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained
4. In a situation in which there is a legitimate expectation of original authorship
5. In order to obtain some benefit, credit, or gain which need not be monetary
This definition nails down some of the nastier corners of attempts to define the term. Common knowledge is something that is not attributable to another identifiable person or source; there are situations where we expect original authorship, even if the use of the text is legally possible because the author had permission; and it covers more that just a word-for-word copy.  The paper explores various definitions of plagiarism before focusing on the aspects beyond copyright violation that are important in a university setting.


  1. I am interested in the distinction between plagiarism and scholarship, could you provide a reference here. Paraphrasing Howard Becker, as academics 90% of what we write is not our own, just the 10% that is our contribution.


  2. Teddi gave a good example of the last point at the conference in Brno in June 2013: If you are copying "Starry, Starry Night" because you are practicing and want to get better - that's fine, that's not plagiarism. But if you submit it for credit: You are in trouble.


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