Plagiarism can often occur without the author knowing it until it is too late.
 
If you use another person's work and do not attribute that work to the author, including copying text verbatim, paraphrasing a phrase or summarizing an idea, you are essentially committing plagiarism. Plagiarism usually occurs when a writer fails to:
  • cite quotes or ideas written by another author;
  • enclose direct text in quotes; or
  • put summaries and/or paraphrases in the his or her own words.

Plagiarism may be done deliberately or accidentally; either way, plagiarism is a serious offense. Committing plagiarism could be grounds for expelling a student from a university, terminating a professor's teaching contract, or suing an artist for monetary compensation.

The Problem With Plagiarism

Plagiarism has been a problem in schools and universities for years, but has become even more prevalent with the birth of the Internet. Search engines make it easy to find thousands of authors' works immediately, which can then be copied and pasted for a school paper, article, book, etc. Recently, 48 University of Virginia students quit or were expelled for plagiarism, and studies have shown that most college students know that plagiarism is wrong. Yet, students plagiarize anyway because they believe they will not get caught. Other students simply do not understand how to properly cite sources, resulting in many cases of accidental plagiarism.

Web sites today often provide complete essays on nearly any topic, making it easy for students to copy another person's work and pass it off as their own. Sometimes called "paper mills," some of these Web sites offer completed papers, while others allow students to trade their completed papers among one another.

Legal Ramifications of Plagiarism

Although plagiarism is not a criminal or civil offense, plagiarism is illegal if it infringes an author's intellectual property rights, including copyright or trademark. For example, the owner of a copyright can sue a plagiarizer in federal court for copyright violation. The plagiarist in turn may have to pay the copyright owner of the plagiarized works the amount he or she actually lost because of the infringement, in addition to paying attorney's fees.

Yet, plagiarism does occur and may likely continue to occur. Many famous icons have been proven to have plagiarized, either intentionally or accidentally. Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism during her school years, as was Martin Luther King, Jr., when a Boston University investigation revealed he had in fact plagiarized approximately one third of a chapter of his doctoral thesis.

Combating Plagiarism

Although proving plagiarism isn't always easy, there are electronic sources that can help combat plagiarism. Search engines on the Internet can be used to discover and fight plagiarism by allowing authors and professors the ability to search suspicious phrases or passages.