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Plagiarism Defined

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to "plagiarize" means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)

For more tips and videos, visit (

Examples of Plagiarism in the Real World

If you do a Google search using keywords examples famous plagiarism cases, you will find instances of some famous people in all fields who paid dearly by marring their career, disgracing themselves in their professional lives, and paying very costly fines by plagiarizing.

The best way to avoid this misfortune is to learn how to write and cite the words and ideas of others properly while in college. It's your responsibility.

Why Plagiarism is Wrong

Plagiarism is a form of cheating, theft or stealing, and deceit.  When you plagiarize, you are:

  • creating an opportunity for faculty and/or future employers to question your integrity and performance, which may lead to disciplinary actions.
  • deceiving faculty who are evaluating your work. 
  • depriving another author due credit for his or her work.
  • showing disrespect for your peers who put effort into doing their own work.
  • denying yourself the opportunity to learn and practice skills that will be needed in your future education and career. 
  • eliminating the opportunity to receive feedback on improving your skills and performance and preventing your growth as a student and lifelong learner.

Some Examples of Plagiarism

  • Passing off another's ideas or work as your own
  • Falsifying parts or all of citation(s)
  • Copying, cutting, and pasting without citing the original source
  • Paraphrasing the words and ideas of another without crediting the source
  • Using image, audio, or video files without citing them
  • Buying a paper online and submitting it as your own
  • Recycling a paper someone else wrote
  • Giving your work (e.g., a paper or project) to someone else; you may also be penalized.



Do not be misled by these common misconceptions:

  • Anything you find on the Internet is available for anyone to copy and paste; therefore, you don't have to cite it. (Wrong. Just as hard copy information needs to be cited, so does information found on the Internet.  It doesn’t matter if the information is in hard copy or electronic format.)
  • Anything you find on the Internet is considered common knowledge; therefore, you don't have to cite it.(Wrong again!. As with print or hard copy, information on the Internet may or may not be common knowledge.)
  • Images, charts, and graphs in books can be photocopied; therefore, you don't have to cite them. (Untrue. Information written or produced by someone else must be cited, whether photocopied or not.)