If someone else’s intellectual property is taken over and passed off as their own work, this is known as plagiarism. This can be, for example, texts, images or melodies. Often, plagiarism is a violation of copyright law, which protects personal intellectual creations.

Plagiarism is the adoption of someone else’s ideas without appropriate labeling. Plagiarism mostly occurs in the fields of literature, art and science.

In the scientific field, plagiarism occurs in bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral theses, for example. Due to the Internet, many universities are confronted with cases of plagiarism to a greater extent than in the past. Many universities have therefore published an explanation of the term plagiarism and instructions for writing scientific papers in the course of studies on their websites. There, the correct citation and referencing of foreign sources is explained.

In the past, allegations of plagiarism in the scientific field have already caused a great public stir on several occasions. For example, the former defense minister zu Guttenberg stumbled over a plagiarism affair and subsequently resigned. He was accused of plagiarizing in many places in his doctoral thesis. He had copied passages from other people’s texts without acknowledging their sources. His former university, the University of Bayreuth, investigated the incident and subsequently withdrew zu Guttenberg’s doctorate. Former Education Minister Annette Schavan also lost her doctorate as a consequence of a plagiarism affair.

If formulations and quotations are taken verbatim from other sources, this is known as text plagiarism. As a rule, this also constitutes an infringement of copyright. If an artistic or scientific work has reached a certain level of creation and is not yet in the public domain (70 years after the death of the author), it is protected by copyright. If plagiarism infringes copyright, this can have legal consequences.

If there is an accusation of plagiarism, a plagiarism check is carried out. Various software programs, such as Copyscape, are available for this purpose. Internet platforms such as GuttenPlag Wiki and VroniPlag have also become established, where Internet users collaboratively investigate suspected plagiarism and debunk plagiarism. The co-founder of VroniPlag is the well-known plagiarism researcher Debora Weber-Wulff. According to the representatives, the declared aim of these platforms is to defend the reputation of science.

The repeated use of one’s own texts or text passages can also be considered plagiarism. If, for example, the same scientific work is submitted for different exams, this is self-plagiarism.

If other people’s ideas are taken over without marking it accordingly, this is called idea plagiarism. Therefore, a paraphrase, i.e. the rewriting of another text, can also be plagiarism if the source is not named.

Plagiarism also occurs when a translated text is passed off as one’s own, or when parts of a translated text are taken over without appropriate citation of the sources.

Tips for avoiding plagiarism in texts

To always be on the safe side with their texts, authors should keep the following in mind when writing:

  • research multiple sources
  • always mark direct and indirect quotations and name the sources
  • use their own formulations and style to create an individual text
  • highlight different aspects of the topic
  • also provide paraphrases with references


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