Would Plagiarism Ever Be a Legal Crime?

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Would Plagiarism Ever Be a Legal Crime?

Plagiarism involves adding another person's idea to a written piece without stating the origin of the idea. A plagiarist acts like the idea is his, and often receives honor for using the idea. The similarities between plagiarism and theft are clear, and plagiarism is conceived of as a crime mentally. However, in almost every law, plagiarism is not considered a legal crime. It is rather treated as a moral crime.

The fact that plagiarism is not a legal crime does not mean sanctions cannot be incurred by the plagiarist when the crime is found. In fact, most cases of plagiarism lead to the plagiarist facing damages like demotion and shame. Part of the terms found in contracts for job offers in the academia include a request for the employee to avoid plagiarism. The employee is made to agree to face stated sanctions if found guilty of plagiarism.

Though not a legal crime, there are cases wherein plagiarism leads to legal crimes like a breach of contract and piracy. Piracy is the closest legal crime to plagiarism, it involves making money from unauthorized sales and use of a work whose copyright belongs to another person or group.

While piracy can only be called out if the work in question is protected by copyright, plagiarism can be called out whether the work is protected by copyright or not. For example, in the United States, selling old books like the Iliad is not a copyright violation. But lifting quotes from the Iliad without crediting Homer is plagiarism.

Plagiarism shares some features with legal

It is true that no man is an island, every work being written is often a continuation of a previous work. A scientist writing a paper about a new path in the field of biology is basically continuing from where previous researchers in the field stopped. For this biologist, it is hard to write his paper without adding ideas from previous research.

Adding ideas from previous research in your work is a good thing if you state the source of these ideas. It is advisable to limit the number of quotes lifted from previous works. In a case where it is vital to add many quotes, paraphrasing these quotes is good.

Paraphrasing is not always plagiarism, it involves changing the words in an already existing quote yet keeping the original message of the quote. The role of paraphrasing in writing is great because it limits the number of direct quotes a writer is lifting from already existing writings. However, it is vital to credit the original author to avoid turning paraphrasing to plagiarism.

Plagiarism shares some features with legal crimes like theft and perjury. Given its similarities with these legal crimes, why is plagiarism not a legal crime? This work is tasked with answering this question.

1) It May Be Mere Coincidence:<br />


There is no doubt that plagiarism is a moral crime. It is basically lying and lying has always been considered bad as long as society is concerned. There have been calls made by people whose pieces were plagiarized for legal action, some of these calls never found a way into the court of law.

The following are reasons plagiarism has proven hard to change into a legal crime.

1) It May Be Mere Coincidence:

It is easy for plagiarists to

Many writers say that they are unaware that the idea they thought was theirs has been used in the past. Others say that they used their thoughts to make the words, and the matching phrases in their quotes and already existing quotes are mere coincidences.

There are trillions of quotes out there, the internet always grows, more quotes are added to the internet all the time. It is not strange for writers to see a work they consider original crawled by a robot and scored high in plagiarism. The point is that it is hard to tell if the writer knowingly plagiarized or not.

2) Plagiarists Can Fool The System:

It is easy for plagiarists to fool crawling robots by wisely paraphrasing. If such cases were brought to the court, a good lawyer could convince the judge that the plagiarist is innocent. This would lead to constant miscarriages of justice and would dent the name of the legal system.

Would Plagiarism Ever Be a Legal Crime?

3) There Is No Public Pressure:

In the United States, LGBT rights have been accepted by the law. Some years ago, the law made no provision for gay marriage. This changed thanks a growing pressure from the public at the turn of the century. Public pressure is the most effective way of getting laws passed because it stirs the media. It is true that the media often controls the masses, but what is barely noted is that public pressure also controls the media.

For plagiarism, there is no pressure from the public to make it a legal crime, and there is no sign that public view on plagiarism would change in the future. History suggests that matters relating to Human Rights like racism are the main focus of public pressuring. Public pressure is mostly aimed at inclusion, and cases like plagiarism are likely never going to stir public pressure.

4) There Are Punishments Already In Place:

Media houses and schools are part of a good list of bodies that already place sanctions on plagiarists. Most contracts for job offers issued by such bodies state that plagiarism would be punished because it dents the name of the company. Part of the code of conduct guiding journalism includes a ban on plagiarism.

The fact that most contracts for job offers in relevant sectors ban plagiarism implies that plagiarism is mostly treated as a breach of contract. A breach of contract is a legal crime, and most solid cases of plagiarisms are brought to court under umbrellas like breach of contract and piracy.


For years now, plagiarism has been treated only as a moral crime, and people have been fine with this. There is already an intricate system in place that ensures plagiarism is legally punishable in some cases (piracy and breach of contract). The system in place is working fine because there are no hard complaints about it. Making plagiarism a legal crime would mean changing a working system and this may cause more harm than good. There is no need to consider plagiarism a legal crime, there is no need to change a working system.

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