Why Is Plagiarism Unethical?

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"Quit copying me!" Even kids know that plagiarism is wrong. Among scholars, journalists and authors of integrity, plagiarism is considered a deadly sin. If done deliberately, it can end a career. In the Internet age, with such a vast array of writing and music at everyone's fingertips and the ability to cut and paste, plagiarism may seem like a tempting and simple way to reduce one's workload. But there are important underlying reasons why plagiarism is not tolerated.

Plagiarism Is Intellectual Property Theft

  • Scholars and practitioners in every field rely on the works of others in building their own work, and know how challenging it is to come up with original ideas. When you take credit for work that isn't yours, you're robbing the creator of hard-earned respect and potential success. Plagiarizing another's invention or business plan may result in substantial loss of profit. Plagiarizing someone's academic work and misrepresenting their thoughts as your own effectively shuts them out of a discourse they have earned the right to be part of.

Plagiarism Robs the Reader

  • When you properly attribute someone else's work, you're providing the reader with access to that other author's body of work and articulated thoughts. She can use that information to broaden her comprehension of your work by judging for herself what you are basing it on, and may discover entirely new intellectual horizons in the work of the other writer. Plagiarism breaks this chain of connection, creating an intellectual dead end where there ought to be a bridge.

Plagiarism Robs the Writer

  • Intellectual dishonesty is as damaging to the character as any other type of theft. If you get away with it -- increasingly unlikely in our era of sophisticated cross-referencing -- you will never be able to feel as though what you have achieved is really yours, because it isn't. No one else may realize you're a fraud, but you will. And by taking the lazy way out and claiming another's thought as your own, you are robbing yourself of the chance to actually comprehend what it is you're talking about by striving to fit the thought into the larger picture and create an original synthesis.

Plagiarism Undermines the Quest for Knowledge

  • The entire recorded history of the human race can be viewed as a lengthy conversation among a great many voices, analyzing their own perceptions and commenting on the perceptions and theories of others. By introducing fraud and dishonesty into that conversation, plagiarism undermines the reciprocal trust that underlies all communication. It severs the thread of an idea or train of thought, as a complete memory loss would divide the life of an individual.

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  • Photo Credit Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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