The History of Plagiarism
As far back as the 1st century the Latin word “plagiarius” was used when a Roman poet accussed another of “kidnapping” his work. It’s often said that the immorality surrounding plagiarism wasn’t really conisdered until the 17th or 18th century. This is despite some ancient philiosophers acknowledging plagiarism and acknowledging the work of others in their own works and one even strongly condemning the act. However, these are stories and we can’t always take them to be fact.
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Of course, these days we all know that plagiarism is wrong and should always be avoided. Where someone else’s work has to be involved, the author must give sufficient credit to the original author. Unfortunately, not all people are honest and they will plagiarise someone else’s work. However, with this comes consequences and they can be mild to severe depending on the kind of plagiarism involved.
To the surprise of some, plagiarism itself isn’t a crime as such. Despite many of us viewing it as the same or similar to stealing, it doesn’t carry the same legal penalty. Additionally, those who have their work or ideas plagiarised may have to look at other avenues to have their work either removed or properly credited. For example, when fraud is involved then it becomes a legal matter. If someone uses another’s work to decieve and gain money then it could be a civil or criminal matter. Similarly, if the plagiarism is also an aspect of copyright infringement then again, it could be a legal issue. Plagiarism differs to copyright infringment in that infringement is the use of someone else’s material, whereas plagiarism is where material is used for personal gain.
Types of Plagiarism
Whilst plagiarism comes in many forms there are some types that are more common than others:
This kind of plagiarism can be done by students, tutors, professors, or researchers. Unsurprisingly, this form of dishonesty is very much frowned upon. Because of this it can lead to the offending person to lose grades, have to start again or even be expelled from the educational institution. Essay mills have beomce more and more popular online where students pay others to “spin” someone else’s work. Professors and researchers who commit plagiarism often see themselves terminated from their positions.
Unfortunately, the art world isn’t exempt when it comes to plagiarism. However, this kind of plagiarism can be more complex. Throughout history there have been several occasions where someone has honoured another artist. This could be via their style, colours, methods or recreation in a similar theme. Confusingly, there are no specific distinctions between plagiarism, forgery, imitation, etc. Artists tend to agree that some amount of copying is okay but direct “art theft” is not. Art Theft is not the literal stealing of an art piece but the practice of using someone else’s work for gain. This is usually done online where someone downloads an artists work and then sells items with the artwork printed onto it.
Especially since the creation of the internet, much of the news media that we consume is online. Additionally, many outlets and therefore journalists now share stories from other sources. This could be another news outlet, social media, or forums like Reddit. In these cases it is vital for the jounralist to cite the orignal source. Failure to do so will often result in termination of their employment. Or in the case of being a freelancer they may receive a legal notice to remove or correct their article.
Although this sounds almost impossible it is indeed a form of plagiarism. However, it has been contraversial in the sense that not everyone can agree on what the actual definition is. Often termed as the reuse of identical or near-identical parts of someone’s own work, self-plagiarism has also been known as recycling fraud. If someone is creating works and deeming all aspects to be new each time then there can be a serious ethical issue as they have misled their audience. Some argue that self-plagiarism cannot exist and technically it is self-contradictory.
Many years ago the only way to plagiarise someone would have been to have a copy of that person’s work. Then you could have stolen their work word for word. Alternatively, people could copy and then share the original works and copy it from there. With the advent of the internet it was so much easier to copy someone else’s efforts as you could simply copy and paste the text. Unfortunately, the increase in technological advances has led to plagiarism being more and more popular. Artists putting their work online open themselves up to having their ideas stolen and turned into profit for someone else. Even someone’s private ideas can be stolen via hacking.
As wonderful as it is, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the ability to be misused. Large language models (LLMs) such as GPT, AlexaTM, LLaMA etc all play a crucial part in AI engineering. They are neural networks that have several parameters. Many had specific tasks but these days there is a huge focus on natural language processing. In simpler terms these programs research how people and computers interact linguistically, it then self learns to create more and more data and increase in accuracy.
Interestingly, the GPT-2 model can already gain hgh scores on language tests and can create long, cohereant paragraphs. It has reading comprehension, can translate languages and answer questions. With the creation of such networks, including the more recent ChatGPT people are increasingly beomcing concerned about how easy it is to then plagiarise. Conversely, some think that we are reaching a new age where people and AI can write together to create excellent works.
Most of us will agree that there is a moral issue where plagiarism is concerned. So what is the solution? We are usually brought up to learn that stealing or copying is wrong but some will do it anyway. When it comes to art/media not much can be done other than pointing it out and asking for the work to be deleted/destroyed or attribution to be given. However, in academic settings it is more serious. After all, no one would want to see someone get a degree based on copying someone else. Here are a few ways plagiarism can be handled:
Detecting plagiarism is something that faculty members will have at the fore of their mind in some situations. When handed in, a student’s work can be carefully read to ensure there are no contradictions. Some will even read popular term-papers they think others may copy in a bid to recognise them should they be copied. Fortunately, there are easier ways! Online based detection services such as TurnItIn has been used by over one million instructors worldwide. The service screens the students work using AI. It not only scores the work but it also checks for copied content and patterns followed by other works. The tutor has to then make the final decision as to whether or not that plagiarism is true or a limitation of the service. Students will know these services are used and it can act as a good deterrent.
Some students may go into higher or further education and think that some plagiarism is okay. Or they may have previously been educated somewhere where some plagiarism was deemed acceptable. Some educational institutions dislike the use of detection software or services. They claim it can put pressure on the tutor to have the final say. It can also cause issues with the relationship between student and teacher. Many colleges and universities will simply explain openly to their students what plagiarism is and why it’s not a good thing. Studies have shown that students who were taught about plagiarism were less likely to go on to commit it.
It may be considered “old-school” but having punishment for bad behaviour will usually act as a deterrent. Telling students not to do something won’t be effective unless you also add the caveat of what will happen if they do it! Most places of education will have a set of rules that lay out the consequences for plagiarism. These will often include failing an assignment or course, having to redo their assignment, warnings which can then lead to suspension or expulsion. This can act as way to show others that their actions will not be brushed aside and will be taken very seriously.