Most colleges and universities have zero tolerance for plagiarists. In fact, academic standards of intellectual honesty are often more demanding than governmental copyright laws. If you have plagiarized a paper whose copyright has run out, for example, you are less likely to be treated with any more leniency than if you had plagiarized copyrighted material.
A plagiarized paper almost always results in failure for the assignment, frequently in failure for the course, and sometimes in expulsion.
Most cases of plagiarism are considered misdemeanors, punishable by fines of anywhere between $100 and $50,000 – and up to one year in jail.
Plagiarism can also be considered a felony under certain state and federal laws. For example, if a plagiarist copies and earns more than $2,500 from copyrighted material, he or she may face up to $250,000 in fines and up to ten years in jail.
Most corporations and institutions will not tolerate any form of plagiarism. There have been a significant number of cases around the world where people have lost their jobs or been denied positions as a result of plagiarism.
Does intention matter? Ignorance of the law is never an excuse. So even if you did not realize you were plagiarizing, you may still be found guilty. However, there are different punishments for willful infringement, or deliberate plagiarism, and innocent infringement, or accidental plagiarism. To distinguish between these, courts recognize what is called the good faith defense. If you can demonstrate, based on the amount you borrowed and the way you have incorporated it in your own work, that reasonably believed what you did was fair use, chances are that your sentence will be lessened substantially.
What is “fair use,” anyway? The United States government has established rough guidelines for determining the nature and amount of work that may be “borrowed” without explicit written consent.
These are called “fair use” laws, because they try to establish whether certain uses of original material are reasonable. The laws themselves are vague and complicated. Below we have condensed them into some rubrics you can apply to help determine the fairness of any given usage.
The nature of your use.
If you have merely copied something, it is unlikely to be considered fair use. But if the material has been transformed in an original way through interpretation, analysis, etc., it is more likely to be considered “fair use.”
The amount you’ve used.
The more you’ve “borrowed,” the less likely it is to be considered fair use. What percentage of your work is “borrowed” material? What percentage of the original did you use? The lower the better.
The effect of your use on the original
If you are creating a work that competes with the original in its own market, and may do the original author economic harm, any substantial borrowing is unlikely to be considered fair use. The more the content of your work or its target audience differs from that of the original, the better.
We recommend the following sites for more information on “Fair Use” and Copyright laws.
http://www.sp.edu.sg/departments/asd/hk_1261.htm What is the “public domain?”
Works that are no longer protected by copyright, or never have been, are considered “public domain.” This means that you may freely borrow material from these works without fear of plagiarism, provided you make proper attributions.
How do I know if something is public domain or not? The terms and conditions under which works enter the public domain are a bit complicated. In general, anything published more than 75 years ago is now in the public domain. Works published after 1978 are protected for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. The laws governing works published fewer than 75 years ago but before 1978 are more complicated, although generally copyright protection extended 28 years after publication plus 47 more years if the copyright was renewed, totaling 75 years from the publication date. If you are uncertain about whether or not a work is in the public domain, it is probably best to contact a lawyer or act under the assumption that it is still protected by copyright laws.
What is Citation? A “citation” is the way you tell your readers that certain material in your work came from another source. It also gives your readers the information necessary to find that source again, including:
information about the author
the title of the work
the name and location of the company that published your copy of the source
the date your copy was published
the page numbers of the material you are borrowing
Why should I cite sources? Giving credit to the original author by citing sources is the only way to use other people’s work without plagiarizing. But there are a number of other reasons to cite sources:
Citations are extremely helpful to anyone who wants to find out more about your ideas and where they came from.
Not all sources are good or right – your own ideas may often be more accurate or interesting than those of your sources. Proper citation will keep you from taking the rap for someone else’s bad ideas.
Citing sources shows the amount of research you’ve done.
Citing sources strengthens your work by lending outside support to your ideas.
Doesn’t citing sources make my work seem less original?
Not at all. On the contrary, citing sources actually helps your reader distinguish your ideas from those of your sources. This will actually emphasize the originality of your own work.
When do I need to cite?
Whenever you borrow words or ideas, you need to acknowledge their source. The following situations almost always require citation:
Whenever you use an idea that someone else has already expressed
Whenever you make specific reference to the work of another
Whenever someone else’s work has been critical in developing your own ideas.
How do I cite sources?
This depends on what type of work you are writing, how you are using the borrowed material, and the expectations of your instructor.
First, you have to think about how you want to identify your sources. If your sources are very important to your ideas, you should mention the author and work in a sentence that introduces your citation. If, however, you are only citing the source to make a minor point, you may consider using parenthetical references, footnotes, or endnotes.
There are also different forms of citation for different disciplines. For example, when you cite sources in a psychology paper you would probably use a different form of citation than you might in a paper for an English class.
Finally, you should always consult your instructor to determine the form of citation appropriate for your paper. You can save a lot of time and energy simply by asking “How should I cite my sources,” or “What style of citation should I use?” before you begin writing.
In the following sections, we will take you step-by-step through some general guidelines for citing sources.
The first time you cite a source, it is almost always a good idea to mention its author(s), title, and genre (book, article, or web page, etc.). If the source is central to your work, you may want to introduce it in a separate sentence or two, summarizing its importance and main ideas. But often you can just tag this information onto the beginning or end of a sentence. For example, the following sentence puts information about the author and work before the quotation:
Milan Kundera, in his book The Art of the Novel, suggests that “if the novel should really disappear, it will do so not because it has exhausted its powers but because it exists in a world grown alien to it.”
You may also want to describe the authors if they are not famous, or if you have reason to believe your reader does not know them. You should say whether they are economic analysts, artists, physicists, etc. If you do not know anything about the authors, and cannot find any information, it is best to say where you found the source and why you believe it is credible and worth citing. For example,