An overview on the Legal Consequences of Plagiarism

21 Apr 2022

Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest painters in the renaissance period, once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” however, what does this statement mean for us in the 21st century? The millennium’s turn has introduced significant changes and rapid technological advancement that was once considered unfathomable in the past. Our reliance on technology has led to a series of information and knowledge at the tips of our fingertips. Everything you ever need to know is a google search away. Books, movies, playwrights, art, news, retail, grocery, etc., are all within our reach; however, with access to this information online, it is easy to misuse the information and ideas we find online. We cannot ‘steal’ any information or concepts we find online due to laws governing Copyright and Intellectual Property, and doing so would be considered plagiarism, which has serious repercussions. The word plagiarism can originally be procured from the Latin word ‘plagiare,’ which essentially translates to a kidnapper – one who abducts a child. Simply put, plagiarism is defined as the act of stealing an idea and trying to pass it off as your own, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The concept of plagiarism is more frequent with college students who have to submit research papers and dissertations where they rely on the internet and journal articles for their research; however, it is a severe problem as plagiarism has severe consequences if any is caught. In its most simple form, verbatim copying constitutes plagiarism; however, unlike what most people believe, paraphrasing of text or ideas without using proper citations also constitutes plagiarism. This is because merely changing the order of words around a paragraph does not make your writing since the idea inscribed does not belong to you. It is still the original author’s property; hence it is essential to properly reference text when referring to ideas from someone else’s work.


What constitutes plagiarism? 

Plagiarism occurs when one commits any of the following:

  • Use another individual’s idea, words, or opinion without giving credit to the person.
  • Paraphrasing lightly by changing just a few words of another person’s work
  • Verbatim copy word to word any information from websites, books, articles, or any other sources


Legal offense:

One must exercise caution when taking ideas or opinions from another person without giving credit to their work. Suppose an individual is caught or found guilty of plagiarizing the content of another author. In that case, there are legal consequences that one might incur as plagiarizing content may be in breach of copyright infringement laws. If a work is submitted that is plagiarized, the original author of the content has grounds to sue that individual in court. The worst-case scenario of plagiarism is it is a criminal offense and can be legally enforceable in court. However, cases like this are more likely to be in the journalism or media industry. Five possible legal consequences may happen if one is caught plagiarizing:


1. Royalty payments 

Royalty payment is when one party pays another party for a particular patent, asset, or product that they own to use that specific thing. If a party gets caught plagiarizing the work of the original owner of the content, they will be liable to repay the profits that are earned through the work of the original owner.

2. Court sanctions

Attorneys are also liable to plagiarism, as seen in the case of Lindsay Lohan’s lawyer, who got sanctioned $750 for plagiarizing her briefs in court.


3. Legal proceedings

A Harvard Law graduate had filed a lawsuit against her university with a claim stating that she was wrongfully accused of plagiarism at university and that false claim has defamed her and because of that she missed out on a job opportunity.


4. Copyright lawsuits

Celebrities have also gotten plagiarism lawsuits slapped against them, and a prime example was when Oprah Winfrey got slapped with a $100 million dollar lawsuit for using another person’s pamphlet on her show without giving credit to the author.


5. Possible imprisonment sentence

Plagiarism is originally a civil matter; however, in certain circumstances, it can become a criminal case. An example of this is the case of a man who forged his test scores to get into Harvard unlawfully, and additionally, he received scholarships and grants based on the essays that he has plagiarized. Thus he has been sentenced to two years in prison.


Steps to take to ensure you do not accidentally plagiarize 

There are certain precautionary measures one might take in order to avoid plagiarism, whether it is intentional or unintentional. One may start by adding quotation marks to any piece of content that is a verbatim copy, and it is vital to ensure to give credit where credit is due. Moreover, although paraphrasing does constitute plagiarism, to paraphrase essentially means to be able to express or convey the meaning of content, idea – whether it be spoken or written. To paraphrase means to reword the entire document in your own understanding of it; however, giving credit is still important. Furthermore, having a reference style is important to adopt, such as the Harvard style, MLA, CLA, or APA, and it will ensure that credible sources are cited and credit is given.