Plagiarism definition: History, technology, and ethics


Plagiarism is a widespread issue with different plagiarism definitions, but most agree that it involves presenting someone else’s work as your own without permission. Not only is this an academic violation, but it’s also a moral offense that speaks volumes about the individual committing it. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, plagiarism is ‘using the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own.’ This definition highlights that plagiarism is, in essence, a form of theft. When you plagiarize, you’re stealing someone else’s ideas and failing to give proper credit, thus misleading your audience.

This version keeps the key information while being more straightforward. It integrates the general perception of plagiarism with its specific definition according to Merriam-Webster, highlighting its nature as both a moral and academic offense.

In this article, we will delve into the changing history of the definition of plagiarism, explore how technology has made plagiarism more overgrown, examine the varying academic stances on plagiarism, and discuss the legal and ethical implications of committing this form of intellectual theft.

A brief history of plagiarism definition

The concept of plagiarism has experienced significant transformation since its earliest mentions. To appreciate its current nuances, let’s outline the term’s origin and how it grew over the centuries.

  • The term “plagiarism” arises from the Latin word “plagiarius,” first used in the late 1500s.
  • “Plagiarius” translates to “kidnapper.”
  • A Roman poet originally used the term to describe someone stealing his work.
  • Until the 17th century, borrowing from other authors was a typical and accepted practice.
  • Written words and ideas were considered community effects, not owned by an individual.
  • The practice changed as authors aimed for proper acknowledgment of their work.
  • A formal plagiarism definition appeared as authors pushed for credit for their intellectual property.

With this historical context in mind, you can better understand the numerous plagiarism definitions we face today.


Technology & Plagiarism

In our current age, where information and existing works are richly available at our fingertips, plagiarism is especially overgrown. Now, not only can you easily research almost anything online, but 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, citations.

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. This definition goes much further, however, extending into the realm of moral and academic integrity. Specifically, this plagiarism definition implicates you in:

  • Literary theft of intellectual property, raising ethical concerns.
  • Dishonest ticket of acknowledgment, awards, or academic grades.
  • Loss of personal learning and growth opportunities.
  • Misleading and disrespecting your audience.

By plagiarizing, you not only rob yourself of the opportunity to learn and gain a new perspective, but you also lie to your audience, making you an untrustworthy and untrustworthy source. This not only upsets the author from whom you plagiarized but also disrespects your audience, treating them as naive subjects.


In academics, a plagiarism definition varies from one school’s code of behavior 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, citations. These two types of plagiarism are found equally shameful and considered a crime in the academic world.

School’s strike back: Fighting plagiarism

In response to the growing issue of student plagiarism, academic institutions have implemented various steps to deny this unethical behavior:

  • Code of behavior. Every college has a code of behavior that students are expected to follow, which includes guidelines on academic honesty.
  • Clear agreement. Within this code, students demonstrate that all submitted work for evaluation is their own original creation.
  • Consequences. Failure to stick, such as plagiarizing or improperly citing sources, can result in severe penalties, including expulsion.
  • Plagiarism detection software. Many educators use specialized software that checks student papers for copied content, helping them identify plagiarism more effectively.

Understanding the plagiarism definition is crucial, especially since numerous interpretations exist. In academic settings, where plagiarism carries significant penalties, having a working definition is essential. Teachers often provide their own definitions to clarify expectations, setting the stage for what they consider to be plagiarism. If students violate this provided definition, they do so knowingly and may face punishments, including expulsion.

To avoid falling into the plagiarism trap, it’s essential to get its definition broadly. Always use your own words and ideas, and when citing someone else’s work, proper attribution is crucial. Remember, when in suspicion, it’s better to over-cite than to commit academic wrongdoing.


According to most plagiarism definitions, plagiarism itself is generally not considered a punishable crime in a court of law. However, it should not be confused with copyright violation, which is legally actionable. While plagiarism may not lead to legal consequences, the consequences—such as expulsion from an academic institution and potential career damage—can be severe. In this context, committing plagiarism could be viewed as a self-imposed ‘crime,’ with consequences extending well beyond the legal sphere.

Don’t lose your integrity

While plagiarism definition may vary, they all agree that it involves taking someone else’s work without proper credit, which is both tricky to the audience and a midpoint of one’s own integrity. Committing plagiarism is universally understood as an act of theft or fraud, reflecting a lapse in ethical behavior. Proper measures should be taken to ensure that plagiarism is avoided.


Plagiarism is a serious issue with both academic and ethical implications. Although definitions may change, the essence remains the same: it’s a form of intellectual theft. Academic institutions are fighting this with strict codes of behavior and plagiarism detection software. While not legally punishable, the consequences are hurtful, affecting both educational and professional courses. Understanding its various definitions helps individuals avoid it, thus upholding academic integrity and moral high ground. Therefore, the responsibility falls on each of us to understand and control plagiarism.

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