Plagiarism: What Is It, Exactly?

Updated September 26, 2023
12 min read
Plagiarism: What Is It, Exactly?


Have you ever wondered, "What is plagiarism?" Whether you're a student, professor, or content creator, understanding plagiarism is crucial for maintaining your credibility and avoiding hefty penalties. This article dives deep into the sea of understanding as we explore the definition of plagiarism, its consequences, and how to keep your work free from plagiarism's murky waters.

Definition of Plagiarism

So, what is plagiarism? At its core, plagiarism represents using someone else's original thoughts or ideas and presenting them as your own without giving proper credit. Picture this: someone breaks into your creativity bank, takes your unique ideas, and uses them to gain fame and score points. That sums up the plagiarism definition.

However, plagiarism isn't just copying and pasting text; it includes stealing images, videos, music, and even ideas! So, if you're using someone else's intellectual property without their authorization and without proper attribution, that's plagiarism.

Different Types of Plagiarism

Once we've answered the question, "What is plagiarism?" it's time to delve deeper into its varied classifications. Unveiling the different types of plagiarism helps us thread carefully and maintain our unique creative voice. 

  • Duplicate plagiarism: This type of plagiarism is essentially copying someone else's work verbatim. Imagine displaying an exact replica of someone else's painting in an art gallery, claiming it as your own creation. That's exactly what duplicate plagiarism is, and it's frowned upon just as much. 

  • Mosaic plagiarism: Although it sounds creative, don't be fooled. Mosaic plagiarism illuminates the craftier side of "what is plagiarism." It involves blending pieces from various sources and gluing them together without acknowledging the original creators. It is essentially assembling a patchwork quilt of ideas without acknowledging the original tailors. 

  • Accidental plagiarism: This type of plagiarism, as the name suggests, could be unintentional. It happens when misquoting, incorrectly paraphrasing, or neglecting to cite sources occur. But remember, underestimating "What is plagiarism?" won't save you from consequences; ignorance of the rules offers no protection. 

  • Global plagiarism: When understanding "what is plagiarism," it's crucial to know about global plagiarism. This involves submitting someone else's entire work, like an essay or article, under your own name. It's like passing off a full album of someone else's songs as your solo record.

  • Incremental plagiarism: Different types of plagiarism also cover incremental plagiarism, where you use quotes or excerpts from another source without proper attribution. Imagine cooking someone else's signature dish at a food contest without giving them a shout-out — not cool, right?

  • Self-plagiarism: The final frontier in our exploration of "what is plagiarism" brings us to self-plagiarism. This situation arises when you reuse your previously submitted work for a new assignment without permission from all parties. It's akin to repeatedly giving the same present at different parties, hoping no one will notice.

Understanding these diverse forms of plagiarism emphasizes the importance of maintaining originality and respecting others' intellectual property.

The Effects of Plagiarism

Understanding the implications of the question "What is plagiarism?" is vital whether you're working in academia, conducting professional work, or considering copyright legality in the U.S. This section further explores these key areas, underlining the severity of the outcomes when the lines of plagiarism are crossed. 

Consequences in academia

Pondering over "what is plagiarism" often takes us back to our college days. Carelessness or recklessness might lead you to think, "They'll never notice a bit of plagiarism," but the reality departs starkly from this assumption. 

In U.S. universities, for instance, the academic disciplinary boards maintain a stern approach toward plagiarism. A student found guilty of plagiarism may receive a zero on the plagiarized assignment or be expelled, as can be illustrated by the Rutgers University case in 2015, where several students were expelled over plagiarism charges. 

Consequences in a professional setting

Answering the question "What is plagiarism in a professional setting?" unravels a list of tough consequences. Work fraud isn't taken lightly; publishers may retract your work, you could lose your job, or be subject to legal action.

For example, high-profile cases like that of former New York Times journalist Jayson Blair, whose career ended due to rampant plagiarism, exhibit how grave professional consequences can be.

Reputation and ethical implications

"What is plagiarism's impact on reputation and ethical status?" one may ask. Well, beyond just professional repercussions, the shadow of plagiarism can forever tarnish an individual's reputation. Ethical considerations label plagiarism as intellectual theft, marking the plagiarist as dishonest and untrustworthy. These labels can negatively impact career progression and personal relations.

Legal implications

The legal interrogation "What is plagiarism?" isn't merely an academic concern. It's a subject that significantly intrigues lawmakers, especially in the realm of intellectual property rights. Particularly in the United States, the law recognizes plagiarism's potential to tread on these rights, navigating into the territory of what we describe as legal plagiarism and copyright infringement. Underpinning these concerns is the U.S. Copyright Law, Title 17, which provides the legislative teeth required to bite into cases of legal plagiarism.

But what does this actually look like in practice? What is plagiarism when it comes face-to-face with the U.S. judicial system? Here, the case of J.D. Salinger against "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye" offers valuable insights. The court ruled in favor of Salinger, confirming that the defendant's work constituted copyright infringement or, essentially, legal plagiarism. The case underscored the fact that plagiarizing copyrighted material could lead to legal consequences. 

The defendant was hit with a permanent injunction against the book — a sobering reminder that the repercussions can be severe. As stipulated by U.S. law, willful repeat offenders can even face hefty fines or a maximum of five years imprisonment. This landmark case underscores the stern warning courts send to plagiarizers and the significance of understanding the legal consequences of plagiarism.

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How To Avoid Plagiarism

Alright, now that we've established what is plagiarism and its consequences, let's get down to some practical tips on how to avoid this pitfall:

  1. Cite sources: Maintaining a robust system of source citation is the first, and possibly most important, step to avoid the plagiarism quandary.

  2. Paraphrase carefully: Paraphrasing is fine, but make sure you're doing it right! Always give credit to the original idea.

  3. Use plagiarism checkers: Technology is here to help! Use plagiarism detection tools to ensure your work is unique.

  4. Educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with the different types of plagiarism and laws about copyright and fair use. For more templates and guidance, check out comprehensive resources available at Lawrina, a reliable legal tech ecosystem.


In our journey exploring "What is plagiarism?" we've sailed the seas of definition, dived into the murky depths of types, and navigated the treacherous waters of legal and professional consequences. The lesson here? Integrity, originality, and respecting others' intellectual property rights are the lighthouse on the horizon of content creation. Whether you're writing an essay, designing a logo, or creating a musical score, steer clear of plagiarism. If you want to protect your creations from being plagiarized, consult a legal expert in intellectual property. Securing your professional work might also include using a trademark assignment template

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there any difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement?

While both are about theft of intellectual property, they lie on different spectrums. So, what is plagiarism in contrast to copyright infringement? Plagiarism is when one presents someone else's work as their own without due attribution. While no legal statutes explicitly ban plagiarism, it's often subjected to sanctions in academia and certain professions based on ethical principles. 


On the other hand, copyright infringement is a legal offense. It occurs when copyrighted works are used without permission, infringing specific exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display, perform the protected work, or make derivative works. Here, the intention to deceive or lack of attribution is irrelevant — all that matters is that unauthorized copying occurred.

What are the consequences of plagiarizing in school or university?

In the academic world, the question "What is plagiarism?" often comes with serious consequences — it's not merely frowned upon; it is sanctioned. These sanctions vary widely depending on the institution and the severity of the offense. 


A minor, first-time offense might result in a warning or the need for a student to resubmit a paper. More serious offenses often demand stiffer consequences. Think of failing grades not just for the assignment but potentially for the entire course. Repeat plagiarists, or anyone caught plagiarizing a major work could face suspension or even expulsion.  


How can I legally protect my works from being plagiarized?

What if we flip the perspective and ask: "What is plagiarism prevention?" Proactively ensuring your creations are legally protected is a smart move to ward off would-be plagiarists. Copyright registration can bring added protection and establish a public record of your copyright claim. It also allows you to file for copyright infringement if necessary.