Plagiarism Definition: Problems Defining Plagiarism

Mike Deep • September 22, 2015

Though plagiarism is ubiquitous, a universal plagiarism definition does not exist. However, most people would agree on plagiarism, in a nutshell, is stealing another person’s work and using it as your own without any permission to do so. All plagiarism definitions denote the same bottom line: the act of plagiarism is a moral offense and has to do more with the plagiarist than the original author.

Brief History Of Plagiarism Definition

The earliest use of the word “plagiarism” comes from the Latin word “plagiarius” of the late 1500s. The word “plagiarius” translates to “kidnapper”. A Roman poet used the term to express his frustrations of another man kidnapping his work. Until about the 17th century, writers used other authors’ work freely and built upon it without any censorship. Written words and ideas were considered community property, not a single person’s property. It was understood that to learn one must first imitate. Eventually, whether innocent imitation or intended deceit was the catalyst, authors (especially those who wrote as a profession) pursued proper acknowledgment for their original ideas, thus, a plagiarism definition was born.

Technology & Plagiarism

In our current age, where information and existing works are abundantly available at our fingertips, plagiarism is especially rampant. Now, not only can you easily research almost anything online, you can simply copy and paste someone else’s ideas and sign your name to them. In addition to words, many plagiarism definitions presently include media, videos, and images as intellectual property that can be plagiarized.

Plagiarism definitions range from paraphrasing someone else’s work or ideas without citing the original author to stealing another’s work word for word while failing to give proper, if any, citation.

Literary Theft And Your Audience

One plagiarism definition is submitting and taking credit for another person’s work as your own while failing to give any proper citation to the original author. Most authors consider plagiarism to be a literary theft of their intellectual property. This plagiarism definition expands much further, however, as it also deals with the undue credit to the author who has plagiarized. Any acknowledgment, accolades, academic grade, or extension to your reputation received for plagiarized work is received fraudulently. By plagiarizing, you not only strip yourself of the opportunity to learn, internalize, and gain a new perception on a topic, you take credit for something that you did not do. Moreover, this definition says you just lied to your audience who now finds you an untrustworthy and unreliable source. By plagiarizing, not only have you disgruntled the author you plagiarized from, you’ve treated your audience as credulous subjects whom you have no respect for.


In academics, a plagiarism definition varies from one school’s code of conduct to the next. These plagiarism definitions range from paraphrasing someone else’s work or ideas without citing the original author to stealing another’s work word for word while failing to give proper, if any, citation. These two types of plagiarism are found equally nefarious and considered a crime in the academia world.

The Problem With Multiple Definitions

Having a working definition of plagiarism is essential to any context in which plagiarism is punishable. Academics is the most common area where plagiarism is committed. Since there are multiple definitions and multiple interpretations of plagiarism, teachers often must provide their own plagiarism definition. By furnishing their own definition of plagiarism teachers can outline their own expectations and guidelines for their students on the issue. This definition instructs students on what is deemed plagiarism and what is not. In turn, if by the said plagiarism definition a student commits an act of plagiarism they do so knowingly and will be punished if not expulsed.

Legal Issues

By definition, plagiarism is presently not considered a punishable crime in a court of law. However, copyright infringement is and one must be careful not to commit either. Of course, being expelled from school and ruining your potential career could be considered a crime against yourself and the waves created may have far more consequences than legal ramifications.

Don’t Lose Your Integrity

While plagiarism definitions may vary, they all involve the thieving from another and an insult to your audience. Integrity is lost when plagiarism is committed. All definitions of plagiarism agree that committing plagiarism is committing an act of theft, fraud, and demonstrates a lack of morality. Plagiarism is an act of deceit and proper measures should be taken to be sure plagiarism is not committed.