Plagiarism and the misuse of sources, which is a complex and ethically multifaceted problem, can harm or crush the reputation of an individual or organisation.

It may result in disciplinary and punitive measures, fines, legal action, loss of employment, a criminal record and/or imprisonment (K/G Support, 5).

The question as to how one can legally incorporate text, images, music, video and other multimedia into one’s work is an open question. Copyright laws are both complex and country-specific. Besides contacting the copyright holder before using the work, it is advised that one acquires such work legally and that one follow the copyright holder’s instructions, including about how to cite the work.

The dangers of plagiarism and misuse of sources require that we continuously ask what it means to be ethical.

According to Galloway, Kerstetter and Mazur (cited in K/G Support, 2), the following are some ways in which plagiarism occurs:

  • failing to cite sources – inaccurately or not at all;
  • not attributing by not identifying the source of cited information with an introductory or signal phrase;
  • misrepresenting a source’s true meaning when paraphrasing;
  • failing to use quotation marks around material written verbatim from a source; and
  • misusing the paraphrasing technique by using words and/or sentence structures that too closely match the original source.

Techniques to avoid plagiarism include paraphrasing, quoting, summarising and citing; OWL/Purdue’s notes about these are exceptionally helpful.

17 U.S.C. § 107 – on fair use – provides general conditions that allow the limited use of copyrighted works. Fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis. Four factors are considered when determining fair use (OWL):

  • What is the purpose of the use?
  • What is the nature of the copyrighted work?
  • How much of the work will be used?
  • What is the usage’s market effect on the original work?

Fair use “is determined by weighing these four factors either for fair use or for asking permission to use the work” (OWL). If the answers to the majority of the above questions are yes, then the use can be considered fair. However, if the majority of the answers are no, then permission for usage must be obtained (OWL).

Reading something and saying, “Hey, change a word here or there – and we can put this on our blog [or article, book, etc.]” (Muller) is a cavalier approach that may get one in trouble.

While we do not perform checks to see whether or not you may have resorted to plagiarism (there are applications that allow one to do this), feel free to for instance highlight in text you are concerned about and ask us to reword this.

References are available upon request.