This MLA essay defines plagiarism, explores its legal status, and examines the most recent cases of cheating in higher education. This sample essay was written at the undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
The Cheating Game: What is Plagiarism?
Cheating has plagued the nation’s schools and universities for years. One of the most common issues facing this problem is the increasing use of plagiarism among students. Whether they intentionally use another person’s work or misuse citations and attributions, academic dishonesty is a problem. Professors and teachers report students are underprepared for their academic careers, a significant contributor to the plagiarism problem. Before we can solve this issue, we need to understand why students cheat and how serious the problem has become.
Academic Definition: How do schools and educational institutions define plagiarism?
Plagiarism has several definitions, and those definitions invoke heated debate. Some professors and academic researchers believe plagiarism constitute exact copying of another person’s words (plagiarism.org). Nothing could be farther from the truth. Plagiarism.org, in partnership with Write Check, says defining plagiarism the way is dangerous (plagiarism.org). “Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like ‘copying’ and ‘borrowing’ can disguise the seriousness of the offense” (plagiarism.org). Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines plagiarism as:
To steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; to use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source. (plagiarism.org)
Basically defined, plagiarism is the use of another person’s written work or ideas without their permission and passing it off as your own work (plagiarism.org).
While the basic definitions of plagiarism are established, there are different opinions and regulations relating to the act and intention. For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) defines plagiarism as “the form of deliberate or reckless representation of another’s words, thoughts, or ideas as one’s own without attribution” (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Here we see plagiarism is seen as a deliberate act. UNC-Chapel Hill only considers it an act of academic dishonesty, punishable by school regulation, if the student knowingly commits the act on purpose (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) agrees with this assessment. In its official statement on plagiarism, the CPWA states:
Students are not guilty of plagiarism when they try in good faith to acknowledge others’ work but fail to do so accurately or fully. These failures are largely the result of failures in prior teaching and learning: students lack the knowledge of and ability to use the conventions of authorial attribution. (The Council of Writing Program Administrators)
On the other hand, some universities have a zero tolerance policy towards plagiarism, regardless of intention. Drew University defines plagiarism in its Academic Integrity policies:
Plagiarism is the act of appropriating or imitating the language, ideas, or thoughts of another and presenting them as one’s own or without proper acknowledgment. This includes submitting as one’s own a thesis, a paper, or part of a paper written by another person, whether that material was stolen, purchased, or shared freely. It also includes submitting a paper containing insufficient citation or misuse of source material. (Drew University)
Both Duke University and Baylor School adopted similar policies regarding intentional and unintentional plagiarism, albeit with different levels of severity (Duke University and Baylor School).)
Crime and Punishment: Is plagiarism illegal?
There are many legal questions surrounding plagiarism, and legal concerns are one reason colleges and schools take this form or academic dishonesty so serious. There are laws in the U.S. regulating plagiarism (Morrow). While there are laws regulating the illegal copying of another’s work, this deals more with property and payment rather than academics.
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. (Morrow)
Madonna released here hit “Frozen” in 1998 (Morrow). Seven years later, “a little-known Belgian songwriter named Salvatore Acquaviva won a plagiarism case in Belgian court against Madonna” (Morrow). The songwriter claimed Madonna stole his intellectual property (e.g. parts of his song) and used them in her hit (Morrow). Madonna lost her lawsuit and was required to make financial reparations (Morrow). Defining this law is difficult and requires an intimate knowledge of copyright laws and other intellectual property regulations, a course not taught to most college students (Morrow). College students must rely on their high school education, first-year English composition courses, and remedial studies to learn the intricacies of plagiarism and intellectual property violations (Morrow).
The Numbers: Has plagiarism increasing recently
Several studies have been conducted and prove a startling revelation. Plagiarism is on the rise, both in colleges and high schools (Staff Writers). The most revealing study was conducted by the Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics (Staff Writers). The institute surveyed 43,000 high school students in public and private schools; researchers determined more than half of all high school students admitted to cheating on a test that same year (Staff Writers). Nearly a third of the same students said they cheated more than once (Staff Writers). “One out of three high school students admitted that they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment” (Staff Writers). Another study conducted by Donald McCabe of Rutgers University determined “64 percent of students admitted to cheating on a test, [and] 58 percent admitted to plagiarism” (Staff Writers).
While high school students are sometimes expected to cheat, after all they are less mature than college students and adults, studies show college students are just as likely to falsify their essays and cheat on exams (Staff Writers). McCabe’s study revealed that more than 36 percent of undergraduates admit to plagiarizing at least a few sentences without attributing or citing the information (Staff Writers). A startling discovery revealed more than a third or graduate students admitted to plagiarizing their work (Staff Writers). This is significant because most graduate students earn professional degrees aimed at performing advanced jobs. Another significant finding reveals students admit their actions are morally and ethically wrong.
Survey by David Wangaard and Jason Stephens of over 3,600 students in six New England-area high schools found that 95percent of students admitted to cheating in the past year. In addition, 57percent of these students agreed/strongly agreed with the statement, “It is morally wrong to cheat.” (Staff Writers)
The most notable recent plagiarism scandals include: MBA students at Duke University, Maryland Professor “sting,” Naval Academy Students, Henry Ford II, and the Indiana University School of Dentistry (Staff Writers).
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Ashar, Matt. “Understanding & Preventing Plagiarism Strategies & Resources for Students and Teachers.” Accredited Schools Online. N.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. http://www.accreditedschoolsonline.org/resources/preventing-plagiarism/.
Baylor School. “Intentional and unintentional plagiarism.” N.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. https://mail.baylorschool.org/~jstover/plagiarism/intent.htm.
The Council of Writing Program Administrators. “Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices.” Jan. 2003. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. http://wpacouncil.org/positions/WPAplagiarism.pdf.
Drew University. “Academic Integrity.” N.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. https://www.drew.edu/theological/current-students/regulations-of-graduate-division-of-religion/academic-integrity/.
Duke University. “Unintentional Plagiarism.” N.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. https://plagiarism.duke.edu/unintent/
Morrow, Stephanie. “Plagiarism: What is it, Exactly?” LegalZoom. Dec. 2009. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/plagiarism-what-is-it-exactly.
Plagiarism.org. “What is plagiarism?” N.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism/.
Staff Writers. “8 Astonishing Stats on Academic Cheating.” Open Education Database. 19 Dec. 2010. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/8-astonishing-stats-on-academic-cheating/.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The Instrument of Student Judicial Governance.” 11 May 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. https://studentconduct.unc.edu/sites/studentconduct.unc.edu/files/documents/Instrument.pdf.