How Colleges should Deal with the Issue of Plagiarism

Plagiarism, simply put, is the theft of someone elses intellectual property. It is a violation of copyright law whereby an individual claims ownership of writing or fails to cite the original author.

The reason plagiarism is wrong is because credit and reputations in the world of literature are made by ones own work and original ideas. When these ideas are stolen, credit is not paid where it is due. Legally, it is a federal offense and as of 1989, all works in the U.S.A are instantly protected by copyright law, ergo the copying of any work, whether or not the copyright is evident, is an infraction.

Legality and morality aside, colleges have the right to expel and ‘Black Ball’ students who have plagiarized. Many institutions will first give a warning or fail you in that specific course but a second offense will have you expelled. Immediate expulsion without investigation would seem to be legally and morally just (in regard to the original author) but to the student may be unfair. There are cases where plagiarism occurs unintentionally or is a complete coincidence. If a student forgets a citation in their bibliography, they may be expelled from the institution, which in all honesty seems a bit rash. At a glance it may seem improbable that plagiarism can occur simply by coincidence but with all the written works in existence, similar ideas and similar wording are bound to happen. Through personal experience, I can say that many students are falsely accused of plagiarism, even if only because their work exceeded the expectations of the professor.

If it occurs frequently with the same student, it can be safe to assume that they may be plagiarizing, though the teacher’s word should never be enough to condemn the student. Actual proof that he/she did plagiarize should be absolutely necessary and the student should also be allowed to defend his or herself. This is why a warning is fair. Even if it were intentional, the student may have acted out of pure desperation during a very stressful time. If people can be excused from murder because they are NCRMD (not criminally responsible due to medical disorder) then a student-a human in the process of learning-should be allowed to make a mistake.

Plagiarism when done out of sheer laziness is inexcusable; out of ignorance, forgivable. Essentially, the student’s intent and story should always be taken into consideration before expulsion or ‘Black Balling’ is enacted. Everyone deserves a trial, or at least a chance to explain themselves. Even if a polygraph test is necessary, it is better than the alternative: dying justice.