Intellectual Property

Plagiarizing ? If the President Can Do it, Why Can?t We?

An online columnist for the Wall Street Journal was caught plagiarizing. Freelance writer Mona Sarika, who wrote the “New Global Indian” online column, used content from the Washington Post, Little India, India Today and San Francisco magazine.

Sarika copied direct quotes from other articles, without providing sources. She also changed the original speakers’ names apparently making up new ones.  The Wall Street Journal published notice to its readers explaining that the column has been removed from the Journal’s Web sites and advising other publications to review her work.[1]

Is Plagiarism Common?

Plagiarism, sometimes intentional and other times inadvertent, is quite common. The Regret the Error web site has many entries on plagiarism and mistakes.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is taking another’s words and using them as your own; basically, copying. In the academic world, plagiarism is a common issue with students and is considered academic dishonesty, which may lead to punishment, even expulsion. In journalism, plagiarism breaks journalist ethics, and reporters caught using works without citation can face disciplinary measures.

With the use of the Internet, plagiarism has been on the rise; copying words and ideas have become almost effortless. But, catching plagiarized occurrences has become easier as well.

 Plagiarism in Politics

Students and journalists are not the only abusers; politicians have too been found to have “borrowed” words and ideas.

When President Barack Obama was running for office, he was accused by his opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton of plagiarizing.

He gave a speech that was very similar to one given by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. When attacked, President Obama dismissed the accusation and explained that his lack of attribution was an “oversight.” He also explained that “because he and Mr. Patrick are friends and often share ideas, it wasn't ‘plagiarism.’”[2]

Is Plagiarism the Same As Copyright Infringement?

Copyright violates the rights of the holder of the copyright. If something protected by a copyright is used without the consent or permission, infringement has occurred and legal action can be taken. This often involves using charging money or expecting income based on the work.

On the other hand, plagiarism involves using someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. Plagiarism isn’t a crime but more of an ethical violation and embarrassment due to being caught and essentially, cheating. It’s damaging to one’s reputation and negatively impacts one’s career.

Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

If you use someone else’s words or ideas, be sure to attribute that; cite the original author and give him or her credit. Also, when researching, be sure to keep your citations organized so that you can differentiate your ideas from others’ later in the process. If you are using exact words, then you need to use quotes and a citation. It’s a good idea to err on the side of caution, even if some politicians seem to disregard that idea.

Question For Your Attorney

  • I might have mistakenly plagiarized something in the past. How can I rectify the situation without getting into trouble?
  • I came across an idea or sentence that I would like to use in my own work, but now I can’t find out what source I got it from. What should I do?
  • If I agree with someone’s ideas, how can I write about it without plagiarizing?
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