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Defining Plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as "the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one's own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc) of another" (2192).


Again, what is plagiarism??

We can think of plagiarism in two parts:

  • Claiming authorship of something you did not create, 
  • Using someone else's work without giving proper credit.


So remember, don't steal; cite.

Examples of Plagiarism

Some examples of plagiarism:

  • Using material in its original format without modification (or with only slight modification), without referencing.
  • Whole and/or partial copying, translating or paraphrasing without proper citation.
  • Direct quotation of reference source without quotations marks or proper citation.
  • Copying information and/or software without referencing the original author or owner.

Plagiarism Resources

How Can I Avoid Plagiarism?

The most important step to not plagiarizing is making sure you are properly citing your sources. Citing sources shows that you are doing your best to give credit and avoid plagiarism.


When in doubt, cite. 


Plagiarism vs. Copyright Infringement

While plagiarism refers to claiming someone else's work as your own or not giving proper credit, Copyright Infringement usually means using someone else's work without their permission. This is especially true for creative works (music, art, fiction, etc.).


Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement can overlap, but generally, we can think of it like this:



  • Information and ideas
  • Handled by schools and teachers

Copyright Infringement

  • Creative works, such as music, art, and fiction
  • Handled by courts

Fair Use

Sometimes, you can use copyrighted material without getting permission. This is called Fair Use.


Fair Use law is vague and open to interpretation, but these are the basic considerations:

  1. the purpose of your use
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market


Columbia University Libraries,
For more information, see the Fair Use Checklist