Plagiarism is defined in the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics (2005) as the unauthorized or unacknowledged appropriation of the words, graphic images, or ideas from another person. As such plagiarism can be a violation of intellectual property rights, although it is not in all cases illegal. A second definition is provided by MerriamWebster Online as the act of stealing and passing off someone else's ideas or words as one's own without crediting the source.
The practice of plagiarism is nothing new. Classical authors sometimes copied from each other without explicit acknowledgment, occasionally attributing their own works to another author (a kind of reverse plagiarism) because they saw them as part of a tradition better represented by someone else. There are also a number of pseudonymous works of Plato and Aristotle. The first five books of the Bible, although attributed to Moses, were almost certainly written by someone else.
The popularity of the use of the Internet has made the plagiarisation of work easier than ever before and has led to the problem of becoming an epidemic in schools, colleges and workplaces not only in the United States but also throughout the world. A study carried out in America by Ashworth et al in 1997 found 80 percent of college students admitted to cheating at least once. In 2005, American education and software company, Plagiarism.org, discovered 36 percent of undergraduates copy written material.
A report published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, highlighted how many lecturers have admitted they do not feel confident in challenging students they suspect of plagiarism due to rigid university rules and a fear of law suits from students. There is software in place to aid the detection of plagiarized work but experts in the field believe students should be taught ethical research behaviors, while others feel strongly that the reintroduction of oral exams could also address the problem.
Jim Evans, a leading expert from Warwick University's Centre for Academic Practice, has called for greater training for academics. He made this appeal in his paper The New Plagiarism. He said: "If academics are not fully aware of the various types of plagiarism or its kissing cousin, copyright law, how can students in higher education be expected to understand it?"
Plagiarism is now such a widespread problem, experts claim it happens in offices throughout the world on a daily basis. Examples given by John T. Adams III in his article on Plagiarism in the Workplace include an employee writing a report for their boss who appropriates a few paragraphs from a subordinate's memo, an employee who makes a presentation failing to attribute information on their slides to a web site used for research, and a supervisor taking credit for a money-saving idea proposed by a staff member.
With an increase in the number of global companies affected by this issue, many organizations are now looking to solve this problem in the long-term. One option is the use of an online plagiarism detector that is able to check copy in several languages. However, there is not as yet any plagiarism control software capable of searching for copied works in various languages.
In The Journal of Perioperative Practice (August 2007), Paul Wicker explained the three types of plagiarism sweeping the nation. The first was unintentional plagiarism, which occurs when a writer accidentally copies a few sentences or a short paragraph, or forgets to reference a direct quotation. An example of this is when practitioners write about a clinical procedure manual.
The second type is intentional naïve plagiarism which can happen when a writer knowingly, but innocently, copies large blocks of text without referencing it. An example of this would be a student who makes substantial notes on a subject over a number of months for use in a dissertation and forgets about the original source, believing the data is their own. In cases of naïve plagiarism there is a lack of ‘intent' to commit intellectual property theft and this could be significant in deciding their fate if they are caught.
The third kind of plagiarism is the most serious. In cases of intentional malicious plagiarism, a student may pass of work of another student as their own or even trawl the internet in search of an obscure piece of work to copy. The main motivation in cases of intentional malicious plagiarism is often to knowingly deceive a lecturer into awarding them a higher mark than actually deserve.