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On plagiarism with sense of humor
“Copying from one person is plagiarism. Copying from two or more people is research.”
— Hwee Hwee Tan[1]

Plagiarism is the use of another person's words or ideas with the goal of deceiving readers into thinking the plagiarist originated the ideas and deserves credit for them. It is considered a very serious offense in the academic world, and students, professors and even college presidents are regularly punished for it.

Colleges have elaborate rules on how students can avoid plagiarism by quotations and citations. Note that when academic credit for original writing is not at issue, plagiarism does not happen. Thus officials of government or the private sector often give speeches or reports, and take credit for them, even though some staff member actually did the research and writing. That is not plagiarism because no academic credit is claimed, plus the speech writers are paid for their services.

Plagiarism is intellectually dishonest, and in the academic and professional community is considered to be a serious offense, and can lead to academic suspension, expulsion, or loss of a job.[2]

Academic standards

Dave Pierre of NewsBusters quotes the Harvard University definition of plagiarism as cited at Harvard's Faculty of Arts & Sciences which defines plagiarism and emphasizes personal responsibility:

Plagiarism is passing off a source’s information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to acknowledge that source—an act of lying, cheating, and stealing.

See also Harvard's "Writing with Sources: Common Questions about Sources" (emphasis added):

4. Am I plagiarizing if I accidentally use a few vivid phrases from my reading without citing them? Yes; it's your responsibility to avoid such accidents (p. 14b).[3]

Relation to copyright

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are separate concepts, and don't necessarily overlap. An act of plagiarism can also qualify as copyright infringement if the work being copied is copyrighted.[4] However, it is still plagiarism to copy a work that is in the public domain without providing a citation.[5]

Hollywood Plagiarism

Science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued and won in a case against James Cameron, claiming that his film The Terminator plagiarized the two episodes he wrote for the television show The Outer Limits: "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand". [1] The case was settled out of court, with Ellison gaining a spot in the film's credits.

Plagiarism and the Internet

Plagiarism is an ever-increasing problem in schools. With the widespread popularity of the Internet, it has become much easier for students to directly plagiarize information; rather than laboriously copying it from a book, they can now simply cut-and-paste electronically. The problem is exacerbated by the existence of online sites offering pre-written papers for a fee.[6]

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King, Jr., who has a federal holiday established in his honor beginning in 1986, was posthumously accused in 1989 of undeniable plagiarism in his Boston University doctoral dissertation entitled, ”A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman." Among other scholars who wrote on the topic was Jack Boozer, who penned a paper three years before King did so. This was long before a website was created for checking plagiarism. Boston University appointed a panel to determine if King's doctorate should be revoked, but the panel members decided to take no action, and his works were not removed from libraries as is usually the case if a work lacks appropriate citations of sources.[7]

Joe Biden

Associated Press reported: "On the plagiarism issue, (the then U.S. Senator from Delaware) Biden correctly attributed lines in one of his speeches to former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock on some occasions, but not at an Iowa State Fair debate where Biden was videotaped. In political campaigns, no black mark is too old to dredge up — again. Biden admitted back in 1987 that he had committed plagiarism while a freshman at Syracuse University law school and that he occasionally used other people's words in his speeches without giving credit. [2]" This refers to an instance during Biden's 2008 run for the Democratic Party nomination when Biden plagiarized a speech.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

In 2002, the since defunct Weekly Standard questioned the sourcing of the book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, by the liberal Democratic historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (born 1943), a former contributor to the PBS NewsHour. The Weekly Standard reported that Goodwin did not provide attribution of material taken from three other books, including Times to Remember, by Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennnedy (1890-1995), the mother of the slain Kennedy brothers, and Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times, a study of Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington, written by Lynne McTaggart.[8]

According to Lynne McTaggart, Goodwin took a third of McTaggart's book without giving attribution. Taggart said that she felt that Goodwin had "lifted out the heart and guts of somebody else's individual expression." McTaggart and Goodwin entered into a "private settlement"' over the matter. In an article in Time magazine, Goodwin said, "Though my footnotes repeatedly cited Ms. McTaggart's work, I failed to provide quotation marks for phrases that I had taken verbatim ... The larger question for those of us who write history is to understand how citation mistakes can happen."[9]

In its analysis of the controversy, the liberal Slate magazine reported that Goodwin failed to correct the problem of plagiarism in subsequent editions of her book.[10] Slate also claimed that multiple passages in Goodwin's book on the Roosevelts, entitled No Ordinary Time, were apparently taken from Joseph Lash's Eleanor and Franklin and Hugh Gregory Gallagher's FDR's Splendid Deception, although she "scrupulously" placed footnotes in the material cited. The Los Angeles Times reported problems with The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. The multiple accusations of plagiarism accusations prompted Goodwin to resign from the board which selects the winners of the Pulitzer Prize.[11][10]


  1. Hwee Hwee Tan (2000). Foreign Bodies. Simon and Schuster, 184. ISBN 9780671041700. 
  3. NewsBusters - Dave Pierre
  7. The Martin Luther King You Didn’t Know: Plagiarism Test States “Guilty!” (May 19, 2015). Retrieved on March 27, 2020.
  8. Bo Crader (January 28, 2002). A Historian and Her Sources. The Weekly Standard. Retrieved on March 23, 2020.
  9. Doris Kearns Goodwin: "How I Caused that Story," Time,January 27, 2002.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Timothy Noah (January 28, 2002). How To Curb the Plagiarism Epidemic. Slate magazine. Retrieved on March 23, 2020.
  11. Peter H. King. As History Repeats Itself, the Scholar Becomes the Story. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on March 23, 2020.

See also

External links