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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Plagiarism

There are a variety of things you may not know about plagiarism!

Jonathan Bailey
Jonathan Bailey
Plagiarism Consultant -- Plagiarism Today






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Did you know that the first time the word “plagiarism” was used in its modern sense was roughly 80 AD? It became a part of our regular English vernacular over 400 years ago and has been in the dictionary for nearly two and a half centuries.

And while plagiarism is an important topic of conversation recently in schools, politics, the news and beyond, there are still many things that people may not know about it. Here are a few interesting facts that will help you to better understand the wide world of plagiarism.

1: Old Cases of Plagiarism Are Constantly Being Discovered

In 2015, NPR discovered plagiarism in some of its articles dating back to 2011. In 2017, famed war photographer Eduardo Martins was revealed to be a fraud after it was discovered that his images were plagiarized. This was after operating for several years and amassing some 125,000 Instagram followers.

Just because you get away with a plagiarism today doesn’t mean you will tomorrow. Old cases of plagiarism are routinely being detected years or even decades after the fact using modern plagiarism detection software.

2: Plagiarism Tools are Now Being Used to Detect Government Waste

In February of 2018, it was revealed that a controversial company that had failed to deliver hot meals to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico won a $156 million contract despite plagiarizing its proposal. The story has been cited as an example of how FEMA’s application process needs a process for identifying questionable applications.

Plagiarism detection plays an even bigger role in dealing with authentic research grants. In 2013, the National Science Foundation found itself investigating nearly 100 cases of suspected plagiarism in proposals that were submitted and approved the year prior.

These cases often stem from researchers duplicating their proposals or releasing several similar proposals to improve their chances. However, these cases also often result in double-funding of experiments and, like in FEMA’s case, a massive loss of time and materials.

3: Plagiarism Regularly Causes Political Turmoil

Though plagiarism scandals in the U.S. rarely seem to have any significant impact, elsewhere they can be a force for major political change.

Romania, for example, has had not one, but two separate Prime Ministers forced out in part due to plagiarism scandals. However, it’s Germany where plagiarism has made the most direct impact. There, a wave of plagiarism allegations that began in 2012 directly resulted in the resignation of several top ministers.

Plagiarism, especially when it endangers the university degree of the plagiarist, can be a major catalyst in ending their careers

4: Plagiarism Detection Technology is Evolving

While plagiarism detection may seem to be nothing more than text matching, at its top tiers, it’s much more than that.

In January 2012, Turnitin announced that it was expanding to include detection of translated plagiarism, filling a widely-known gap in its detection tools. In February 2018, Turnitin made a similar announcement, this time that it is working with several University partners to go beyond text matching and into authorship detection.

The move is aimed at detecting contract cheating, where students buy or otherwise have others write papers for them. While these papers may not be plagiarized from outside sources, they are still plagiarism in that the student did not produce the writing they are submitting.

This approach involves looking at previous writing samples belonging to the student and then comparing the samples to the new writer to see if it was likely written by the same person.

5: The Legal Landscape is Evolving Too

It’s not just technology that’s evolving to keep up with the changing face of plagiarism, governments are, as well.

In the United Kingdom, an amendment to the Higher Education and Research bill seeks to make it illegal to provide or advertise “cheating services” such as essay mills. The move is actually based on existing laws that are already in effect in New Zealand.

In the UK, there’s also a push to force universities to block access to essay mill websites on their local networks, much the same way they are compelled to block websites engaged in piracy.

While it’s unclear what impact these moves will have, what it does illustrate is just how seriously governments around the world are taking the issue of plagiarism and contract cheating.

Plagiarism is an ever-evolving landscape that changes with growing technology and our global connectedness. It’s crucial that we stay tuned into how it continues to grow...

This post was contributed by Jonathan Bailey, a foremost expert in plagiarism. He has spent over 16 years fighting plagiarism professionally and currently blogs on Plagiarism Today, where he raises awareness about the importance of digital literacy and the societal effects of plagiarism.

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