Intentional and Inadvertent Plagiarism

Eisner Institute for Professional Studies

Abstract

Plagiarism in professional, academic, and research arenas appears to be escalating. This article elaborates the parameters of intentional and inadvertent plagiarism. The penalties and repercussions are quite significant with respect to whether an article or book is alleged to have been either intentionally or inadvertently plagiarized. There is an analysis of the signs and symptoms of both types of plagiarism. Further, the underlying causes or etiology is discussed. Lastly, the issue is whether there can be an accurate differential diagnosis between intentional and inadvertent plagiarism.

Background

The act of plagiarism is not of new vintage. Plagiarism, simply put, is mischaracterizing someone else’s work as your own. Someone who is plagiarizing does not offer references or citations to the original work. The work of the plagiarist may be verbatim or can be done in a sophisticated, paraphrased manner. The more crude method is simply to cut and paste from another article that may be on the internet. This might include lifting significant portions of a book or blatantly reproducing data and verbatim material from another research article. Excluded from this article is the topic of self plagiarism, where an author or scholar or writer simply uses or recycles their own previous comments or concepts. The focus in this paper is the intentional or inadvertent use of someone else’s product.

With the advent of the digital age and increasing technology, it appears that there is an acceleration of the opportunity as well as the instances of plagarism. There is no shortage of individuals who intentionally copy others person’s work. Plagiarism is widespread (Hayden, 2005) and worldwide (Vasconcelos, Leta, Costa, Pinto, & Sorenson 2009). Franklyn-Stokes and Newstead, (1995) report that 66% of a sample of students in the United Kingdom admitted to paraphrasing without proper citation. A study by Williams, Nathanson & Paulhus (2010) found that almost 40 % of college students admitted that they had plagiarized in high school. With the plethora of writing services, there is an abundance of what might be termed plagiarism by proxy. In this case, a student, for example, can simply ask someone else to produce the product. As such the student is not the actual author.

Plagiarism is not limited to students, but can include professors as well as writers, scholars, musicians, artists and inventors. Although rampant in academic circles, plagiarism permeates across most areas of human endeavor including music, books, painting, cartoons, and business presentations. Plagiarism is a form of thievery. Another person’s thoughts and ideas are being appropriated. In the legal arena, there are number intellectual property cases where a plaintiff will bring a lawsuit against the alleged plagiarizer.

In the academic area, a student has access to unlimited sources including theses and dissertations. However, the instructor has access to the internet and other tools as resources, and can detect striking similarities between what’s “out there” and the student’s presentation. Not every single statement in a written document needs to be cited. Where something is of common or general knowledge, references would be somewhat cumbersome. For example, it is accepted as fact, that the Capitol of the United States is Washington D.C. Since it is generally well known that Freud discussed the id, ego and superego, a specific reference might not be necessary. On the other hand, if a writer is critiquing Freud, plus offering one’s own opinions, there needs to be references to Freud’s publications. What is critical is to ascertain is the difference between intentional plagiarisms versus what might be called inadvertent plagiarism. One reason for so doing is that it could make a significant difference in a person’s reputation as to whether they are seen as an intentional plagiarizer or copied something based on inadvertent processes. Other names for inadvertent plagiarism have been used in the past such as unconscious plagiarism (Bink, Marsh, Hicks, & Howard, 1999) or cryptomnesia (Brown & Murphy, 1989).

This paper examines both intentional and inadvertent plagiarism. The signs and symptoms of both are analyzed in order to ascertain what an appropriate determination might be as to whether a case might be intentional versus inadvertent plagiarism. Some of the possible etiologies or causes of either type of plagiarism are also examined. Finally, a so-called differential diagnosis is presented in order to ascertain if credible distinctions can be made between intentional and inadvertent plagiarism. Using these clinical terms should not imply that plagiarism is a mental disorder, but on the other hand this may be a good platform for further debate and analysis.

Intentional Plagiarism

Intentional plagiarism may involve lifting significant portions of someone else’s written work, essentially verbatim, and implanting it into the plagiarist’s own work. The same applies in the other fields such as art, music, painting, or inventions. A rather graphic example of intentional plagiarism is offered by Kock (1999). Kock discovered that a paper that was sent to a prestigious journal was essentially a copy of an article he had coauthored and had previously published in another journal several months prior. The research that was done by Kock was conducted in Brazil as well as New Zealand. What Kock discovered in the alleged plagiarist’s paper is that 38 of 51 paragraphs were essentially sentence by sentence, word for word copies from his article.

The plagiarism was quite obvious when Kock placed the two publications side by side. However, there are some subtle and minor tweakages. Instead of mentioning the specific countries or names of companies, only general statements were made in the copied article. Thus, to the causal reader the striking similarities and virtual identicality might not be readily noticed. Of course, Kock (1999) knew exactly what he wrote. The intent to hide is evident not only in the selective partial citation, but on making the subtle changes.

Signs and Symptoms of Intentional Plagiarism

Blatant copying/cut and paste

A person who cut and pastes displays an intentional act wherein the plagiarizer has taken a snippet or more off the internet or another source and inserted it into his or her own work. There may or may not be citation to the actual source. One can go to Ask.com or Wikipedia and find information on virtually anything. One of the more obvious signs of intentional plagiarism that occurs in a cut and paste scenario is where an actual hyperlink is put into the body of a document. Thus, in this example of a cut and paste the plagiarist does not even bother to re-type or attempt to delete the hyperlinks that are embedded within the original article.

Improper ongoing paraphrasing without citation is another sign of intentional plagiarism. There needs to be more than a sentence or two in order to meet the bar of intentional plagiarism. A selective or systematic appropriation of materials that is continuous and over many pages and sources would be suggestive of intentional plagiarism (Roig, 2001.) Directly copying the research data from another article would generally constitute a gross example of intentional plagiarism

Avoiding exposure

As discussed by Kock (1999), the plagiarist described in his article did not send the paper to the most logical journal, but rather submitted it to a slightly different type of journal. The apparent purpose is to avoid detection. Since the academic and scientific field is so incredibly splintered at the present time, it is less likely that many researchers and scholars will notice what is published in different areas. Ordinarily, an article is submitted to a journal that closely matches the topic at hand. Interestingly enough, Kock (1999) who was cited in the submitted plagiarized research, was not asked to review the article. Of course, had he been selected as a reviewer, Kock would have immediately been aware of the plagiarism.

Writing style too sophisticated for the circumstances

Particularly in a graduate setting, it may be noticed that the writings are sometimes dramatically different from earlier presentations. In this type of instance, the student may have plagiarized via cut and paste, but also used sophisticated alteration of some of the sentence structures. Thus, the student paper may be reminiscent of a treatise on a particular topic. In the legal arena, apparently due to time constraints, an attorney filed a too, well, written brief (Murphy, 2010). The judge’s suspicions were aroused by the exceptionally fine quality of the brief. As it turned out 17of 19 pages were copied verbatim from another publication. Etiology of Intentional Plagiarism

Achievement orientation

In some cultures, there may be an element of enhanced achievement orientation. The individual wants to succeed at virtually any cost. The person is striving toward goals and objectives. This leads to pressure to get ahead. In academic and research circles, the pressure is sometimes known as “publish or perish.” Thus, a researcher or scholar is intent on moving up the charts, and needs a number of published articles to move up a rung or two (Kock, 1999; Roig, 2010.) Since many scientific journals are published in English, non-English speaking persons may have an uphill battle in presenting an acceptable original paper (Roig, 2010) and may wish to find a short-cut measure to achieve an acceptable presentation (Vasconcelos et al. 2009.)

In the quest for fame and fortune, rather than jumping over hurdles, some find it expeditious to avoid the obstacles. A higher education degree can be earned faster. After graduation, engaging in plagiarism can result in a plethora of publications. A British psychiatrist, for example, was accused of plagiarizing several articles that were in newspapers and medical journals (Grant, 2008.) He blamed the plagiarism on mistakes of subeditors, as well as cut and paste errors (Batty, 2008.)

A study by Williams, Nathanson, and Paulhus (2010) examined some of the mediating factors that might be related to cheating in undergraduate students. As discussed below, Williams et al found that psychopathy as a personality trait is a useful concept as an underlying factor in explaining plagiarism. As part of their investigation they found that achievement orientation was a relevant factor connected to cheating. Desiring a high grade or a scholarship motivates some students to engage in dishonest acts.

Understanding the rules/cultural differences

Kock (1999) mentions that some people may not really know exactly what plagiarism is. Colleges and universities are going to great pains now to try to educate students as to what exactly plagiarism is. Many students and others do not, for example, understand the difference between something as basic as secondary versus primary sources; namely, a secondary source is embedded in a primary source. In order to save time by not going back to the original source, a writer may simply cite the secondary source as if it were in the primary source article that is cited.

There are also cultural differences that may account for intentional plagiarism (Yang & Lin, 2009.) Some students in Eastern cultures may feel it is proper to copy the works of so-called experts or masters. To rewrite what is already written might seem inappropriate. As discussed by Koul, Clariana, Jitgarun, & Songsriwittaya (2010), Eastern cultures may have a different perspective on what constitutes plagiarism. However, with acculturation or socialization into the American academic arena, international students did not differ in the amount of academic misconduct ( McCrink, 2010.)

Lack of sanctions and repercussions

A third factor that may be associated with intentional plagiarism are the difficulties in redressing it ( Kock, 1999). Namely, in many instances there is not much that can be done. In Kock’s own case, legal action was fraught with great difficulties, the least of which was that the alleged plagiarist, at least initially, threatened to sue him. A plaintiff could be subject to a countersuit.

There may be a perception by some individuals who believe that they can get away with acts of plagiarism without much in the way of repercussions. The sanctions may be too lenient (Woessner, 2004.) The time and energy that a university committee may need to deal with acts of alleged plagiarism may tend to hinder full-fledged investigations. To say the least, it is not best use of academic resources to wade into the muck and mire of disciplinary investigations or civil law proceedings.

The internet and digital age

It virtually goes without saying that with the advent of the internet, it is quite simple to extract a variety of information from many sources, juggle them a little bit, and makes it appear as the writer has actually read, reviewed, analyzed, and critiqued 50 or more sources. As noted above, the ease with which a person can access material from the internet or various sites offers an abundance of material. There is Wikipedia and Ask. com . A treasure trove of previous work includes dissertations and theses. Copying from these sources may go undetected, unless the professor is diligent and eagled eyes. Ironically, the dissertations themselves may be plagiarized (Pyle, 2010.) Thus, over the generations, there can be exponential plagiarism, wherein a plagiarized article or study is plagiarized.

Personality characteristics.

A fifth possible causative element in intentional plagiarism relates to personality factors. A study by Willams et al. (2010) attempted to identify some of the relevant personality characteristics that underlie cheating. In one of their experiments, college students were asked to write two essays. The subjects were told that the essays would be subjected to a commercial plagiarism assessment service. One essay concerns a research project that was to be summarized. A second essay was deals with personal life experience. In order to assess personality characteristics a number of psychological tests were administered. The test questions addressed psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. These three dimensions were described as the “Dark Triad”( Williams et al. 2010.)

The results indicated that at least 15 % of the students plagiarized on at least one essay. The major finding is that the strongest relationship to cheating was based on the connection between indices of psychopathy and plagiarism. Overall, it was concluded that persons with psychopathic tendencies may commit other acts that violate societal norms. This would include fraud and other acting out behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse. However, the term psychopathy, in this research arena, does not imply a clinical or psychiatric diagnosis or have forensic considerations.

Inadvertent Plagiarism

In the case of inadvertent plagiarism, it is claimed that there is no conscious attempt to misappropriate someone else’s product. The individual firmly and honestly belives that he or she has produced original material. Any plagiarism would be due to inadvertence. In the case of Richard Lewis on the Curb your Enthusiasm television program (2002), he sincerely believed he originated this expression: “ The nanny from hell.” Thus, inadvertent plagiarism refers to a situation when the individual believes that the work is theirs, and did not intend to copy.

A real life example of inadvertent plagiarism involves the well-known case of George Harrison and the “My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine” legal suit (Self, 1993). The record, “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons, was a big hit in 1963. George Harrison, formerly of the Beatles, produced “My Sweet Lord” for an album that came out at the end of 1970. At issue was the alleged similarity of the music.

Looking at George Harrison, for example, we can see that over the course of 7 years, it is likely he was exposed to thousands and thousands of sounds and songs. Thus, it would not be unusual to have a particular thought or song element that is submerged deep into one’s memory bank. There might not be excellent recall as to where it may have originated. The court in this case, (Self ,1993) ruled that the plagiarism heard in “My Sweet Lord” was subconscious plagiarism.

In the case of a poet, he was attempting to finish a poem (Campbell, 2007). He fell victim to what was a case of accidental plagiarism or what this article terms inadvertent plagiarism. He was familiar with another author who he had admired. As it turned out, Campbell did not recall that he had copied the last lines (12 words) from that author into his notebook At a later point, in order to complete the poem, he looked through the notebook which had the perfect words for the ending. Campbell sent the poem off for publication. The poem was rejected. Since he was surprised by finding the conclusion for the poem, he began to see if he could locate its possible origin. He went through the other authors’ collections and found that the verbatim 12 words had been written by someone else. Campbell was shaken and surprised to learn that the other author had written the exact same words.

Signs and symptoms of Inadvertent

No apparent attempt to hide

In the case of George Harrison, it would seem foolhardy to copy someone else’s product. His album would be heard by millions of listeners. The alleged plagiarism was quite open and obvious. In Campbell’s case if the poem were published, the copied lines could be easily discovered. However, in the Kock (1999) example, the plagiarist attempted to hide the blatant plagiarism by sending the article to a slightly different area of interest. In an attempt to make it appear that the rest of the article was original, the plagiarists cites Kock, but then drops him as a reference in other parts of the publication. Additionally, as noted, subtle changes were made in the cited article to as to make it seem to be an entirely new production.

Campbell (2007), related another scenario wherein a well known writer was plagiarized was when the fake author sent the copied material to an obscure journal. Contrastingly, an inadvertent plagiarist generally does not engage in measures that attempt to cover up or hide the plagiarism. Their productions may be exposed to a large audience with the attendant increased possibility of exposure.

The ratio of plagiarized to non-plagiarized material is low

In the case of George Harrison, a very small part of the song was allegedly copied. In a student paper, if one sentence was apparently copied, the plagiarism ratio would be quite low. On the other hand, in a 20 page paper, it would strain credulity that one inadvertently plagiarized 10 pages. In a picture or cartoon, if there is substantial identicality with the original work, the implication is that the plagiarism is intentional.

No other instance of alleged plagiarism

It is likely that once an individual successfully plagiarizes, there would be other instances. For example, a researcher very often has many other articles that contain fabricated data (Sox & Rennie, 2006). The element of psychopathy discussed above ( Williams et al. 2010) implies a general longstanding personality trait. Thus, it would not be unusual to see multiple examples of plagiarism within the intentional realm. In the case of Campbell he uses the term “accidental” in his title. This suggests that it is a one-time only event. Similarly with George Harrison, apparently there have been no other instances of plagiarism. Thus, in evaluating each case or example, there would be a search for other instances of plagiarism. Absent other examples lends some weight to the claim of inadvertent plagiarism.

Causes of Inadvertent Plagiarism

There are several potential etiological or explanatory factors that relate to inadvertent plagiarism. One of the main explanations appears to be memory problems. The overarching cause of inadvertent plagiarism may be source monitoring errors. Related to the source monitoring errors are the effects of age and affect. Additionally, the possibility of simultaneous emergence is considered.

With inadvertent plagiarism, it is as if there is a mental blocking of the identity of the original source. The ideas, phrases, pictures, and so on may be embedded into long term memory, only to emerge at a later date. When the thought or idea re-emerges and is recalled, there is no conscious recognition of the alleged or actual original source. Everything appears new and original in the case of inadvertent plagiarism.

Source monitoring errors

The last several decades has seen an abundance of research into the nature of inadvertent plagiarism. The idea is to see if people who generate words, solve puzzles, or concepts can recall whether or not they in fact were the originators of the material at hand. Source monitoring errors refers to mistaking where the material came from.

With inadvertent plagiarism, the subjects in various experiments wrongly believe that the solutions or concepts emanated from themselves. At times, college students believe that they, in fact, generated new material when in fact they did not. (Marsh, Landau & Hicks, 1997). The subject is first asked to offer suggestions on reducing traffic accidents and subsequently is asked for novel solutions. College students erroneously believed that they had generated some of the novel responses, when in fact other participants had done so. These sorts or errors were considered demonstrations of unconscious or inadvertent plagiarism.

With elaborating of new materials, it appears there can even be increased enhancement of what was called unconscious plagiarism (Stark & Perfect, 2008). Subjects were asked to offer possible uses for common objects such as a newspaper or brick. Later the subjects were asked to elaborate on their responses. The individuals in these studies seem to have had problems in discerning the original source of what they heard or experienced especially when they were asked to improve or modify their initial contribution. One implication in the academic or business arena is there could be source monitoring errors over time as to who actually originated a project or business plan.

Age and cognitive abilities

Secondly, both age and source monitoring errors may be a factor in eliciting inadvertent plagiarism. By middle age not only is there likely to be cognitive overload , but at some point certain cognitive abilities may have reached a plateau, or may show a decrease such as in delayed and immediate memory (Willis & Schaie, 2005.) In a source monitoring study, McCabe, Smith & Parks, 2007), found that older adults, namely in their 70’s, were more likely to inadvertently plagiarize examples that they had encountered earlier. However, it should be noted that with both of these possible explanations, the issue of generalizabilty should be considered. Although based on laboratory studies, they may offer some clues as to the etiology of inadvertent plagiarism.

C . Mood

How affective state effects inadvertent plagiarism was examined in a series of experiments by Hege (2008.) The college students were given a number of word puzzles to solve along with a “partner” who was actually a computer. A typical source monitoring procedure as described above was used. However, Hege (2008) attempted to induce different mood states: a happy or a sad mood. This was accomplished by having the subjects write a happy or a sad personal experience story. The manipulation appeared to be effective. Namely, the participants in the sad group were more accurate compared to the happy group, i.e. the sad group produced fewer source monitoring errors. The implication was that the happy mood subjects were less able to focus and hence produced more instances of faulty memory.

Simultaneous emergence/coincidence

Another explanation of inadvertent plagiarism may be a simultaneous or near-simultaneous emergence of the same product. Jung (1969) described the notion of the “collective unconscious.” According to Jung, the collective unconscious can be viewed as the mind being a repository or museum of human history. For example, in various parts of the world, there are symbolic drawings that appear almost identical. Created prior to intercontinental travel it seems unlikely that there could have been intentional reproductions. A related explanation for simultaneous occurrences is that it may simply be the zeitgeist, where different people have the same thoughts. It is simply a coincidence. In real life, one person may have coined the expression “nanny from Hell,” but others may have also independently done so. Lending credence to the notion of coincidence would be if the two individuals did not speak the same language and had never communicated with or contracted each other. Obviously, a verbatim or near replica of the work would tend to negate this possibility.

Differentiating intentional versus inadvertent plagiarism

If intentional plagiarism is construed as a felony, then inadvertent plagiarism could be considered a misdemeanor. Therefore, it is important to see if there can be a so-called differential diagnosis. At present there is no particular psychological test that has been given to alleged plagiarizers to assess their mental status or a psychiatric diagnosis. The study by Williams et al (2010) , however, has some interesting future implications. An extension of their study could incorporate additional psychological assesment tools. Would persons who show symptoms of psychopathology or antisocial behavior on standardized testing be more prone to intentional plagiarism? A forensic or incarcerated population might also yield some interesting findings. A prediction is that persons who have been convicted of various crimes may be more prone to acts of intentional rather than inadvertent plagiarism.

As noted above, intent is the major critical factor in differentiating between the two forms of plagiarism. Persons who are accused of plagiarism are not given a psychological assessment or a polygraph examination. There is no bright line test that definitively bifurcates intentional plagiarism from inadvertent plagiarism. However, there is an instructive case that may shine some light on separating the two types of plagiarism. Namely, the Doris Kearns Goodwin matter. At first glance, it would not seem to be a good idea that a scholar with the status of Doris Kearns Goodwin would resort to intentional plagiarism. Similar to George Harrison, whose work would be exposed to the mainstream, it was likely that her books would be read by thousands and thousands of individuals. An article in the New York Times in 2002 summarizes the facts in this matter (King, 2002). Kearns Goodwin denied plagiarizing and claimed that she simply made some mechanical mistakes, namely she had delegated footnotes and other types of duties to a researcher.

One of the signs of inadvertent plagiarism is that there is no attempt to hide the reproduction. In the Doris Kearns Goodwin case, she actually cited the author, but later left out the correct citation. According to a lawsuit that was filed, Kearns Goodwin allegedly copied 91 out of 240 pages. Additionally, the copyright infringement lawsuit that was filed in this matter claims at least 45 out of 94 pages in her book contained copyright infringement material. Perhaps not insignificantly, there was a settlement of the lawsuit wherein Kearns Goodwin paid out an undisclosed sum of money. The switch from citation to non-citation is quite curious . It could be construed as an attempt to reduce reliance on a single author. Of course the major effect was to make it appear that the alleged plagiarizer is offering her own original ideas and thoughts.

Secondly, there is the issue of the proportion of plagiarized to non-plagiariezed material. Assume for the moment that a student turns in a 20 page term paper and properly cites accurate references on several pages. However, the instructor discovers that half of the pages are actually from Wikipedia in a verbatim reproduction with numerous paragraphs and pages never cited. It appears that the student is cleverly trying to show that he or she did most of the work on an original basis and did not want to show that there was heavy reliance on just one source. However, this is a diversionary tactic that makes it appear as if the uncited 10 pages are actually the plagiarist’s original thoughts. What is noteworthy that in the 20 page term paper, the ratio of cited to uncited material is quite high, about 50% of the paper does not contain proper citation. Thus, in the 20 page paper, if there was a sentence, or perhaps a paragraph, that appeared similar to some other source, this probably would not be particularly significant. However, 10 uncited pages, which is half of the entire product copied from another source, constitutes intentional plagiarism. Thus although there may not have been an intentional attempt to hide the plagiarism in the Kerns Goodwin book, the ratio of uncitied to cited material is quite high.

Looking back at George Harrison with respect to the three notes in his song, this is a small proportion of the entire song. Secondly, viewing Campbell’s (2007) inadvertent or accidental plagiarism, several lines are placed in a longer poem. The percentage was relatively small. It is when the percentage of the uncited, unreferenced material becomes quite large that the evidence tends to point toward intentional plagiarism rather than inadvertent plagiarism.

Lastly, another indication as to whether there is inadvertent versus intentional plagiarism relates to whether or not an individual has other instances or episodes of alleged plagiarism. In the Doris Kearns Goodwin case, according to King (2002), when another book was closely examined, other instances of alleged plagiarism emerged. Thus, a close scrutiny of the overall facts and circumstances of each case is necessary in order to differentiate between what is intentional plagiarism versus. what is inadvertent plagiarism.

Conclusions

With the advent of the digital and internet age, the battle rages on between plagiarizers and methods of detecting plagiarism. There are different signs and symptoms that can serve to distinguish intentional versus inadvertent plagiarism. The rationale for examining the difference is that the penalties and sanctions may be different. As noted in the George Harrison case, a defense of unconscious or inadvertent plagiarism carries little weight. However, outside the legal system, the significance may be important in terms of one’s reputation and credibility. With intentional plagiarism there is a blatant and purposeful reproduction of another person’s product. Once an individual engages in plagiarism, it is not uncommon that multiple examples would be uncovered.. With inadvertent plagiarism, there may be no particular attempt to hide the plagiarism. Looking at signs and symptoms, it may be possible to at least gain some understanding as to whether an alleged case is either intentional or inadvertent. With intentional plagiarism one of the hallmark causes may an underlying psychopathy. However, it was noted that this personality trait does not necessarily rise to the level of a clinical diagnosis. With inadvertent plagiarism, it may be that there is a blockage with respect to the actual source. Future lines of inquiry can assess personality and behavioral characteristics of actual or potential plagiarizers.

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