What Is Plagiarism? Definition & 25+ Examples

Have you ever shared a secret recipe as your own while it was actually Grandma’s? In the world of academia and beyond, this stealthy act of ‘borrowing’ is called plagiarism.

It’s a widely misunderstood concept, often cloaked in shades of grey, with repercussions ranging from a tarnished reputation to legal consequences. Ready to navigate this labyrinth of originality, authenticity, and intellectual honesty?

Strap in because we’re about to embark on an enlightening journey into the intriguing realm of plagiarism.

Defining Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a term derived from the Latin word “plagiarius,” meaning “kidnapper” or “plunderer.” In modern usage, it refers to the act of using someone else’s work or ideas without proper acknowledgment or permission, thus presenting them as one’s own. It is considered a breach of intellectual property and a form of academic dishonesty in many educational institutions.

In contemporary contexts, plagiarism is most commonly associated with academic dishonesty. This can range from using someone else’s words or paraphrasing without citation to the wholesale copying of another’s work.

Plagiarism is not limited to academic settings. However, it can also occur in the arts, music, and other creative disciplines. Individuals who engage in plagiarism may be subject to a variety of penalties, depending on the context and severity of the offense.

Copyright laws exist to protect intellectual property and provide exclusive rights to creators for a fixed period. These laws cover a wide range of works, from literary compositions to musical tunes, and they help define the boundaries that make conduct plagiarism. When a work is copyrighted, it is generally illegal to reproduce, distribute, or perform the work without the copyright owner’s authorization.

Examples of plagiarism can vary in degree and complexity. Some instances may involve merely forgetting to cite a source or attributing a quote incorrectly. In more serious cases, a person might copy entire passages or even an entire work without permission or citation. This not only disregards copyright laws but also undermines the integrity of the original creator’s work and reputation.

Effects and Consequences

Academic Consequences

Plagiarism can lead to severe academic consequences. Students who are caught plagiarizing may face penalties.

Such as:

  • Receiving a failing grade on the assignment or the course.
  • Being placed on academic probation or suspension.
  • Expulsion from the academic institution.

Such penalties depend on the severity of the plagiarism and the institution’s policies.

Legal Consequences

Plagiarism may also result in legal consequences. In cases where copyrighted material is used without permission, the original creator can take legal action against the plagiarist.

Possible legal outcomes include:

  • Fines or compensation for damages
  • Cease and desist orders
  • Criminal charges in extreme cases

Legal consequences can lead to financial burdens and even damage an individual’s permanent record.

Reputation and Career Consequences

A person caught plagiarizing can suffer significant damage to their reputation and career. In academic circles, plagiarism can tarnish one’s standing among peers and potentially affect future academic or professional opportunities.

For professionals, plagiarism can lead to:

  • Loss of credibility in their field.
  • Termination of employment.
  • Difficulty finding new employment opportunities.

Detection and Prevention

Citing Sources Properly

Detecting and preventing plagiarism starts with proper citation of sources. To avoid accusations of plagiarism, it’s essential to give credit to the original authors whose ideas or words are being used. This can be achieved through various citation styles like APA, MLA, or Chicago.

Properly citing sources not only acknowledges the original authors but helps readers easily locate the referenced material.

Paraphrasing and Quoting Correctly

Another crucial aspect of avoiding plagiarism is learning how to paraphrase and quote correctly. When using someone else’s idea or information, it’s important to express it in one’s own words. Paraphrasing involves rewriting information in a way that maintains its original meaning but using different sentence structures and vocabulary.

When quoting, make sure to use the exact words of the original author and enclose them in quotation marks. Remember to include an in-text citation with the corresponding source.

Using Plagiarism Checkers

Leveraging plagiarism checkers is an effective method for detecting and preventing plagiarism. These tools compare submitted text against a vast library of resources to identify similar phrases and sentences. Some popular plagiarism checkers include Turnitin, Grammarly, and Copyscape.

By using these tools, writers can identify instances of unintentional plagiarism and make necessary adjustments before submitting their work.

Safe Practices and Habits

Developing safe writing practices and habits is invaluable in the long run.

These habits may include:

  • Keeping track of sources while researching.
  • Taking clear notes and differentiating between direct quotes, paraphrases, and personal thoughts.
  • Reviewing citation requirements before starting the writing process.
  • Proofreading for proper citation formatting and paraphrased content.

By incorporating these practices into writing routines, writers can significantly reduce the risk of committing plagiarism and maintain academic and professional integrity.

Types of Plagiarism

Complete Plagiarism

Complete plagiarism occurs when an individual submits someone else’s work as their own. The plagiarist copies the entire work without any changes or modifications, presenting the work as theirs without any credit to the original author.

Mosaic Plagiarism (Patchwork Plagiarism)

Mosaic plagiarism, also known as patchwork plagiarism, involves copying bits and pieces from different sources and combining them into a new work without proper citations. This type of plagiarism may involve rephrasing some sentences but keeping the original meaning and sometimes structure.

Direct Plagiarism

Direct plagiarism refers to copying the exact words from a source without using quotation marks or providing citations. This is a blatant act of dishonesty as the plagiarist attempts to steal the original author’s thoughts and ideas.


Self-plagiarism occurs when an individual reuse their own previously published work without proper citation or reference. This can happen when a writer submits the same work for multiple assignments or when an academic reuses sections from a previous paper in a new publication.

Accidental Plagiarism

Accidental plagiarism refers to unintentional copying of someone else’s work due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of proper citation practices. Although accidental, it is still considered plagiarism and can result in academic or professional consequences.

Paraphrasing Plagiarism

Paraphrasing plagiarism involves rephrasing someone else’s words or ideas without proper citation. Although the words may be different, the plagiarist is still borrowing the original author’s ideas and presenting them as their own.

Inadequate Attribution

Inadequate attribution occurs when a writer fails to properly cite or attribute the original source of information or ideas. This can happen due to unclear or missing citations, causing the reader to question the writer’s credibility and integrity.

Source-Based Plagiarism

Source-based plagiarism involves incorrect or fabricated citations that mislead the reader about the true origin of the information or ideas. This type of plagiarism might involve citing non-existent sources, altering citations, or misrepresenting the original source’s content.

Global Plagiarism

Global plagiarism refers to the act of passing off a single source as one’s original work without adequate citation or attribution. This includes presenting the ideas, research, and data from a single source as entirely the product of the plagiarist’s own effort.

Examples of Alleged Plagiarism in Literature


"Atonement" by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan faced accusations of plagiarism for his novel "Atonement." The controversy arose when it was discovered that several passages in the book closely resembled accounts written by Lucilla Andrews, a wartime nurse and writer. McEwan did acknowledge Andrews in his author's note but allegedly did not cite her directly in the text, leading to the accusations.
"How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life" by Kaavya Viswanathan

Kaavya Viswanathan's debut novel was pulled from shelves when it was discovered that numerous passages had been plagiarized from two young adult novels by Megan McCafferty. Viswanathan claimed the similarities were unintentional and due to unconscious internalization of McCafferty's work.
"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown

Dan Brown faced accusations of plagiarism from Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." They claimed Brown appropriated their ideas and themes. However, in this case, the court ruled in favor of Brown, stating that the copying was of non-protected historical facts and ideas rather than expressions of those ideas.
"Harry Potter Series" by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling was accused of plagiarism by the estate of Adrian Jacobs, claiming that parts of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" were lifted from Jacobs' book "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard." The case was dismissed in court due to lack of evidence.
"The Roots" by Alex Haley

Alex Haley, author of the acclaimed novel "Roots," faced plagiarism charges from Harold Courlander, author of "The African." Courlander claimed that Haley had lifted sections from his book. The case was settled out of court, with Haley making a financial settlement but admitting no wrongdoing.


Benny Johnson

Benny Johnson, a former reporter for BuzzFeed, was fired after it was discovered that he had plagiarized portions of at least 40 different articles. BuzzFeed publicly apologized and listed all the instances of plagiarism, which included copying from sources such as Yahoo! Answers, Wikipedia, and various news websites.
Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer, a popular science writer, resigned from The New Yorker after he was found to have fabricated quotes and plagiarized content in his articles and books. One notable example was an article in which he reused content from a previous article he had written for The Wall Street Journal.
Multiple articles by Jayson Blair

Jayson Blair, a journalist for The New York Times, was found to have fabricated and plagiarized numerous stories over a period of years. This led to a major scandal, and Blair resigned from the newspaper. His actions led to increased scrutiny of journalistic practices and ethics in the digital age.

Examples of Alleged Plagiarism in Pop Culture


"My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison

In 1971, George Harrison was sued for copyright infringement by the publisher of The Chiffons' song "He's So Fine." The court found that Harrison had subconsciously copied the earlier song in his composition of "My Sweet Lord." This is one of the most famous cases of musical plagiarism.
"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams

In 2015, a court ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' hit song "Blurred Lines" had copied elements from Marvin Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up." The estate of Marvin Gaye was awarded $7.3 million in damages.
"Creep" by Radiohead

Radiohead was sued by The Hollies over similarities between "Creep" and The Hollies' song "The Air That I Breathe." The case was settled out of court, and Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, the writers of "The Air That I Breathe," were given co-writing credits and a percentage of the song's royalties.
"Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice

Vanilla Ice's 1990 hit "Ice Ice Baby" famously samples the bassline from Queen and David Bowie's song "Under Pressure" without permission. Vanilla Ice initially denied the plagiarism, but the matter was later settled out of court, and Queen and Bowie were given songwriting credits.
"The Old Man Down the Road" by John Fogerty

In an unusual case, John Fogerty was sued for plagiarizing himself. Saul Zaentz, the owner of Fogerty's former band Creedence Clearwater Revival's catalog, claimed that Fogerty's solo song "The Old Man Down the Road" was too similar to Creedence's "Run Through the Jungle," a song Fogerty had also written. The court eventually ruled in favor of Fogerty.


"The Island" directed by Michael Bay

This 2005 sci-fi movie faced plagiarism accusations for its similarities to the 1979 film "Parts: The Clonus Horror." The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed seven-figure amount.
"Avatar" directed by James Cameron

James Cameron was sued by author Bryant Moore, who claimed that "Avatar" plagiarized his screenplays "Descendants: The Pollination" and "Aquatica." However, the court ruled in favor of Cameron, stating that the alleged similarities were general and non-protectable ideas.
"The Shape of Water" directed by Guillermo del Toro

The estate of Paul Zindel initiated a lawsuit against Guillermo del Toro's film "The Shape of Water," alleging it copied elements from Zindel's 1969 play "Let Me Hear You Whisper." The case was later dismissed, with the judge ruling that the works only shared a 'basic premise' which is not protected by copyright.
"Frozen" by Disney

Disney was sued by author Isabella Tanikumi, who alleged that "Frozen" plagiarized her autobiographical book "Yearnings of the Heart." The case was dismissed, with the judge stating that the two works had little in common beyond superficial similarities.
"Kung Fu Panda" by DreamWorks

DreamWorks faced a lawsuit from artist Jayme Gordon who claimed that "Kung Fu Panda" plagiarized his drawings. However, it was later revealed that Gordon had traced his drawings from a Disney Lion King coloring book, and he was sentenced to two years in prison for fraud.

Examples of Alleged Plagiarism in Art


Luc Tuymans

Belgian painter Luc Tuymans was found guilty of plagiarism for his painting "A Belgian Politician," which was based on a photograph by Katrijn Van Giel. The court ruled that Tuymans did not alter the image enough to differentiate it from the original photograph.
"Obama Hope" by Shepard Fairey

This iconic poster led to a lawsuit by Associated Press against Fairey, as the image was based on a photo by AP photographer Mannie Garcia. The case was settled out of court with Fairey agreeing to share profits from the poster with AP.
Anthony Lister

Australian artist Anthony Lister was accused of plagiarism by street artist Blek le Rat for his work that featured a stencil very similar to Blek's signature rat stencil. Lister did not respond to the allegations.

Remember that allegations of plagiarism can be complex and controversial in the art world, with debates about the distinction between inspiration, appropriation, and outright theft.


"LOVE" by Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana’s iconic "LOVE" sculpture has been the subject of various plagiarism disputes. Numerous unauthorized replicas have been created worldwide, and Indiana spent much of his career in legal battles over copyright infringement.
"Fearless Girl" by Kristen Visbal

Artist Kristen Visbal's "Fearless Girl" statue, initially placed opposite Arturo Di Modica's "Charging Bull" in Wall Street, led to a dispute between the two artists. Di Modica claimed that the placement of the "Fearless Girl" changed the meaning of his sculpture and violated his legal rights.
"String of Puppies" by Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, a renowned artist, has faced several lawsuits for copyright infringement. One such case involved his sculpture "String of Puppies," which was found to have been copied from a photograph by Art Rogers. The court ruled in favor of Rogers, stating that Koons had not transformed the image enough to claim fair use.


"Monkey Selfie" by David Slater

David Slater's famous "monkey selfie" sparked an unusual copyright dispute. Slater set up the camera, but the photo was taken by a macaque monkey. Wikimedia Commons argued that Slater didn't own the copyright because he didn't take the photo, and PETA claimed the monkey should own the copyright. The court ruled in favor of Slater.
Richard Prince

Richard Prince was sued by photographer Patrick Cariou for using his photographs in a series of paintings without permission. In a controversial decision, the court ruled that Prince's work was transformative and thus constituted fair use.

Handling Cases of Plagiarism

Academic Plagiarism Cases

In academic settings, handling plagiarism cases typically involves imposing penalties on students found guilty of the act. Institutions have varying approaches in dealing with such cases.

Some common penalties include:

  • Requiring the student to redo the assignment.
  • Reducing the assignment or course grade.
  • Failing the student in the course.
  • Suspension or expulsion from the institution.

Educational institutions often have a predefined procedure to address plagiarism cases.

Some key steps may involve:

  1. Identification of the suspected work.
  2. Investigation and evidence gathering.
  3. Alerting the accused student and explaining the charges.
  4. Giving the student an opportunity to defend themselves.
  5. Implementing a verdict based on the evidence and university policies.

To minimize occurrences of plagiarism, schools may also introduce preventive measures.

Such as:

  • Providing training on proper citation techniques.
  • Encouraging students to use plagiarism detection tools.
  • Establishing a clear policy on plagiarism and academic integrity.

Professional Plagiarism Cases

In the professional sphere, plagiarism cases might involve employees, journalists, authors, researchers, or other professionals. Consequences may vary depending on the profession and severity of the incident.

Possible ramifications include:

  • Damage to reputation and credibility.
  • Legal action and claims for copyright infringement.
  • Loss of job or professional opportunities.
  • Financial penalties, such as paying fines or damages.

Handling professional plagiarism cases usually requires a thorough investigation.

This process may involve:

  1. Identifying the plagiarized work and the source material.
  2. Comparing the two works and determining the extent of plagiarism.
  3. Alerting the alleged plagiarist and discussing the accusation.
  4. Evaluating the explanation provided by the accused party.
  5. Deciding on an appropriate course of action is often based on organizational policies or industry standards.

To prevent plagiarism in professional contexts, organizations can:

  • Emphasize the importance of ethical conduct and original work
  • Promote a culture of accountability and transparency
  • Require the use of plagiarism detection tools for published content
  • Offer training on intellectual property and proper citation methods

The Importance of Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding Plagiarism Upholds Intellectual Integrity

Avoiding plagiarism is a testament to our commitment to intellectual integrity. It signifies our dedication to producing original work that contributes to the collective knowledge pool rather than muddying it with recycled ideas. When we consciously avert plagiarism, we affirm the importance of intellectual honesty, a trait that extends beyond academic or professional life and into our personal character.

Avoiding Plagiarism Fosters Creativity and Critical Thinking

Eschewing plagiarism isn’t just about not “getting caught”; it’s about promoting creativity and critical thinking. The process of generating original work encourages us to think independently, question existing knowledge, and discover new insights.

It fosters creativity, pushing us to find novel solutions to problems and unique perspectives on issues. Avoiding plagiarism means embracing the intellectual journey with all its challenges and rewards.

Avoiding Plagiarism Respects Others’ Work

Avoiding plagiarism is also about showing respect for others’ work. When we use someone else’s ideas without proper attribution, we deny them the credit they deserve for their intellectual labor. This is not only unfair but also detrimental to the spirit of collaboration and mutual respect that drives progress in any field.

Avoiding Plagiarism Safeguards Professional Reputation

The professional consequences of plagiarism can be severe. In academia, research careers can be destroyed, and in the professional world, reputations can be irreparably damaged. Avoiding plagiarism safeguards our professional standing and ensures that our work is recognized and valued for its authenticity and quality.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement?

Plagiarism refers to the act of presenting someone else’s work as your own without proper attribution, while copyright infringement involves the unauthorized use, distribution, or reproduction of copyrighted material.

While both involve using others’ work without permission, plagiarism focuses on the issue of academic honesty and intellectual property, while copyright infringement revolves around legal rights and protections.

Can common knowledge be plagiarized?

No, common knowledge cannot be plagiarized. Common knowledge refers to information that is widely known and accepted as fact, not attributed to a specific person or source. This could include basic facts, such as “water boils at 100 degrees Celsius at sea level,” or widely recognized historical facts, like “World War II ended in 1945.”

Since this information is universally known and not the result of an individual’s unique research or creative work, it doesn’t need to be cited. However, it’s important to use discretion when deciding what constitutes common knowledge. If you’re unsure whether a piece of information qualifies as common knowledge, it’s always safer to cite your source.

What do I do if I suspect someone of plagiarism?

If you suspect someone of plagiarism, the first step is to ensure you have substantial evidence. This could involve locating the original source you believe has been plagiarized and highlighting the sections of the suspected work that match.

Online plagiarism checker tools can also be helpful to substantiate your suspicions. Once you’re certain, the appropriate course of action can depend on the specific context.

In an academic setting, for instance, it’s usually best to bring your concerns to a professor, academic advisor, or another relevant authority figure. They can then investigate the matter further and take appropriate action. If you’re in a professional setting, discussing the matter with a supervisor, manager, or human resources representative would be a suitable approach.

In either case, it’s important to handle such situations with sensitivity and discretion, as accusations of plagiarism are serious and could have significant consequences.

Can images or videos be plagiarized?

Yes, images, videos, and other types of media can be plagiarized just as written content can. This kind of plagiarism involves using someone else’s creative work without their permission or without giving them proper credit. It’s important to remember that intellectual property rights extend to all forms of creative expression, not just written words.

Therefore, if you use someone else’s images, videos, music, or other creative works in your own work, you should always make sure to get permission if necessary and to provide appropriate attribution.

Is it plagiarism if I pay someone to write a paper for me?

Yes, paying someone to write a paper for you and then submitting that paper as your own work is considered a form of plagiarism. This practice, often referred to as “contract cheating” or “ghostwriting,” is a serious violation of academic honesty policies.

Even though the words might be original to the person who wrote them, presenting them as your own work misrepresents the source of the ideas and the effort behind the paper, which is the core of what makes plagiarism dishonest.

Consequences for this type of academic dishonesty can be severe, including failing grades, expulsion, and damage to your academic and professional reputation.


Plagiarism is a serious offense in academic, professional, and creative fields. It not only hinders an individual’s intellectual growth but also undermines the credibility of shared knowledge. It is important to recognize the different forms of plagiarism, such as direct, self, mosaic, and accidental plagiarism, in order to avoid committing them.

Educational institutions, organizations, and professionals should take measures to ensure that the work presented is authentic and original. Implementing transparent policies, raising awareness, and utilizing plagiarism detection tools are crucial steps in this process.

By understanding and adhering to ethical writing practices, writers contribute to a more reliable and valuable body of knowledge. This reinforces trust and integrity in intellectual pursuits, fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration for the benefit of all.

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Aerielle Ezra is an enthusiastic student of architecture who has a wide range of interests, including psychology, lifestyle, and relationships. Apart from her studies, she also likes to engage in athletic activities, particularly volleyball. When she is not playing, she spends her free time watching her preferred sitcoms or reading her favorite books, which include fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.