Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Understanding PLAGIARISM AND How It Differs from Copyright Infrigement

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Understanding PLAGIARISM AND How It Differs from Copyright Infrigement

Article excerpt

Ohio University, the oldest public university in the state of Ohio, is an institution with an enrollment of about 20,000 students. For the past year, the university has been besieged by a crippling plagiarism scandal. Based on an alumnus' allegations that more than 30 students in the school's mechanical engineering department have plagiarized substantial or core portions of their graduate theses, the Athens, Ohio, institution has ordered those students to address the allegations or risk having their degrees revoked. Some of these theses are 20 years old, according to an article about the case in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Aug. 15, 2006.

This front-page story was the latest in a series of plagiarism stories that seem to be destined for headline news. According to a WSJ article published on May 14, 2006, the board of directors at defense contractor Raytheon Co. decided it would withhold a salary increase and reduce incentive stock compensation to CEO William Swanson after it was revealed that Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management, a booklet he authored, contained almost verbatim passages from The Unwritten Rules of Engineering, a 1944 book by W. J. King.

Afew weeks earlier, publisher Little, Brown and Co. took the extraordinary step of removing the novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life from retail shelves after The Harvard Crimson published a story accusing author Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard undergraduate student, of pilfering significant portions of two teen novels written by Megan McCafferty, according to a WSJ article published on April 28.

Based on these developments, plagiarism has become the new piracy. Just as piracy was a few years ago, plagiarism has become the hot, new crime du jour-an act that suggests immorality and often scandal at once. What's more, plagiarism allegations feed into our society's Candid Camera mentality-our seemingly insatiable need to uncover wrongdoing. So that's why I wanted to compare plagiarism and copyright, and to write about the role of information professionals in raising the collective level of citation savvy.

Copyright ≠ Plagiarism

One of the biggest misconceptions about plagiarism is that it is synonymous with copyright infringement. Each passing year, I spend more time during my copyright seminar at Syracuse University explaining the distinction between (and possible intersecting points of) copyright and plagiarism.

Here's how I compare and contrast these two concepts: Copyright simply is a set of laws that governs the creation, reproduction, and distribution of original works that can be perceived. Copyright law is codified as a federal statute at Title 17 of U.S. Code. The most important things to remember about copyright are that 1) it is a set of laws and 2) allegations of wrongdoing-the illegal use of protected works without exception, license, or purchase-are made within the context of a standardized legal process. But more about this process later.

Plagiarism, in comparison, is the act of stealing and passing off someone else's ideas or words as one's own without crediting the source, as defined in Merriam-Webster Online. Brief or attributed quotes generally do not constitute plagiarism. Typically, no law governs plagiarism, so no one can be sued for plagiarism. Ultimately, plagiarism is about idea theft: A person tries to take an idea and claim it as his or her own.

There is also a potential intersection between plagiarism and copyright. For example, an idea can be plagiarized, but an idea cannot be copyrighted. However, if that idea is committed to paper (or otherwise recorded), then the idea can be both plagiarized and infringed. So let's take this a step further: While a recorded idea can be subject to plagiarism and copyright infringement, a person could use a recorded idea if that use falls under one or more copyright exceptions. Qualifyingfor one of the exceptions may remove the copyright infringement risk, but it may not necessarily remove the plagiarism risk. …

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