Plagiarism and Its Legal Implications

Plagiarism and Its Legal Implications

Plagiarism is defined as the wrongful appropriation, stealing and publication of another Author’s language, thoughts, ideas or expressions, and the representation of them as one’s own original work. – 1995 Random House Compact Abridged Dictionary.

It could be defined as the practice of directly copying and then presenting an existing production without accurately citing or referencing, and /or passing off the product as one’s own, without permission from the original producer or author. Plagiarism is the most frequently committed offence under the Academic Code of Conduct, as a result of lack of proper acknowledgment. (See It happens when there is a legitimate expectation of original authorship in order to obtain some benefit, credit or gain which need not be monetary.

I dare say that some students plagiarize due to laziness, lack of interest in research, indiscipline, lack of focus in life, procrastination, zeal to succeed by all means with minimal effort, desire to live a larger than life status by all means, crave for respect by fellow human beings and the society at large by having a much better academic result than they actually deserve, and which they hardly worked for, desire to get a good job stemming from a great academic result with minimal effort(s), etc. Plagiarism will be drastically reduced if students receive the right orientation,

Plagiarism differentiated from Copyright (Retrieved from

Plagiarism is considered a moral offence against the plagiarist’s audience (for example, a reader, listener, or a teacher, and co-teachers, where the plagiarist is a teacher). Copyright infringement is a violation of the rights of a copyright holder, when the material which use is restricted by copyright, is used without the necessary consent.

However, it is always really difficult everywhere to seek the oral or written permission of an Author before his/her works are used. Instead of permission, most researchers and students choose to cite appropriately, and give credit to the author for part(s) of the author’s work(s) reproduced. The consent is usually that of the Author in most cases, or the Publisher, or the Author/Publisher, where the author is equally the publisher of the work, or any person assigned by law to take over ownership of the work.

Forms of Plagiarism

There are 10 different types of plagiarism according to Turnitin. He lists them as follows:

  1. CLONE – submitting another’s work word-for-word as one’s own.

  2. CTRL – containing significant portions of text from a single source without alterations

  3. REPLACE – changing key words and phrases, but retaining the essential content of the source.

  4. REMIX – mixing paraphrased materials from multiple sources.

  5. RECYCLE – borrowing generously from one’s previous work without citation.

  6. HYBRID – combining perfectly cited sources with copied passages without citation.

  7. MASH UP – mixing copied materials from multiple sources.

  8. 404 ERROR – citing non – existent sources or including inaccurate information about sources

  9. RSS FEED – including proper citation of sources, but containing almost no original work.

  10. RE –TWEET – including proper citation, but relying too closely on the text’s original wording and/or structure.

Avoiding Plagiarism (

The following are just a few steps that can help people avoid plagiarism:

  1. Understand that plagiarism is when you are using another person’s words or ideas and trying to pass them off as your own.

  2. Paraphrase (read and putting into your own words). Yet, paraphrasing, especially ideas, in most cases without a citation is plagiarism.

  3. Cite (using APA, NALT, MLA or any requirement needed for your research), and then, properly cite sources. However, the truth is that the substance and message the work intends to convey to impact humanity should be more emphasized than the form.

  4. Quote properly and cite the quotes

  5. Citing your own material (helps you avoid self –plagiarism)

  6. Referencing.

  7. Check your work for possible plagiarism, by using plagiarism checkers available online.

Checking And Citing A Quote (

  • Quoting- It is best to quote exactly the way it appears, so as not to misquote any author. It helps avoid plagiarism allegations.

  • Citing Quotes – this is different from citing a paraphrased material. Here, we add the page number or a paragraph number in the case of web content.

Indicia of a Quotation (

  1. Provide a citation, either in the text or footnote

  2. Either enclose their words inside quotation marks or put their words in a block of indented, single-spaced text, or even in italic, and quote the author or material you put in italics.

Identifying What Does and Does Not Need to be Cited (

  1. Historical Overviews – When multiple sources provide exactly the same information about historic events, you can summarize these without a reference. However, if the information is found from only a single source, we must cite it.

  2. Your Own Ideas and Findings – When presenting ideas or research results that are yours, state they are yours. If there is data you got from a particular source, cite the source from which you extracted or got the data.

  3. Conclusions containing formerly cited ideas – If you are summarizing ideas earlier cited in your paper, in your conclusion, you do not need to cite them again. However, if you are bringing in another new set of ideas as an addition, be sure to cite them.

  4. Common knowledge – This is when it can be found in a significant number of sources, and it is not considered to be controversial. Such information need not be cited.

Consequences Of Plagiarism

One of the few consequences of plagiarism is that it damages the reputation/integrity of students, professionals or academics involved.

The Plagiarism Checker And Its Uses (

Plagiarism Checkers are used to detect instances of plagiarism in a work or document.

  1. They can offer more sources such as large data banks which may include periodicals, books and journal articles that may not be found online.

  2. A plagiarism checker software highlights the content that is exact (with what the original Author wrote).

  3. Plagiarism detection software gives percentages of similarity between your work and that of an original author if your work is not the first in terms of content.

  4. Helps to check your paraphrasing abilities.

  5. Gives proof that you have not plagiarized.

Few websites will help you get free plagiarism checker tools to check your ongoing research. They actually have limits as to number of words that they can help a user check for free at a time or on a daily basis. Some are limited to 1000 words only, a few may accept more. See the following:

  1. Free plagiarism Checker to check 3000 words (

  2. The 5 best plagiarism checking tools in 2019 (

  3. Top 15 Online plagiarism Checkers for Teachers – 4 Free and 11 Paid (

  4. The 27 Best Plagiarism Checkers in 2019 (

Legal Issues in Plagiarism

Heavy fines can be paid as punishment for plagiarism. Imprisonment or imprisonment with an option of fine for damages suffered by the original author of the plagiarized work depending where it happened is possible. Therefore, it is wrong for people to deliberately plagiarize the efforts of others for monetary or non- monetary benefits. However, if people cite the authors or sources of any work, it should not be plagiarism. If an author gives permission to use his/her work to another person, even if it is implied, for whatever purpose, then it cannot be said to be plagiarism.

I think, where the intention to plagiarize is completely lacking, no person should be detained, especially when there is no monetary benefits involved. The alleged plagiarist can be politely told to remove/retract the work or pages deemed plagiarized. It can happen that someone erroneously cites an author who is not the primary authors of these works. This can happen if the work is extinct or some libraries don’t have the records of the main writers that existed many years ago and people might get to see their works cited by later researchers that may have died too/ before any alleged plagiarist can be detained for this, there should be ample evidence that the primary owner has a copy available readily whether online or offline (hard-copies). Sometimes, a public apology would have to be tendered by a plagiarist to the original author, if that would calm nerves.

Academic Institutions should make more efforts to teach the students what plagiarism is, how to avoid it and still produce a good work, and the consequences of plagiarism and they all should put Plagiarism Checkers in place for all students for free, this will encourage them to carry out their research work with utmost care, while Academic Supervisors guide and correct students and ensure they comply. This will go a long way to reduce the incidence of plagiarism in every other field, and not limited to Academics only.

Contributed By:

Barr. (Miss) Chigozie Ifeoma Nwagbara, LL.M, FIMC, Law Author, Solicitor & Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Associate Editor, African Journal of Law, Political Research and Administration. Law Lecturer, Dept of Commercial & Property Law, Nigeria Police Academy, Wudil, Kano State. (PhD Law in-view, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nasarawa State. Tel: 08033335091, Email:

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