Plagiarism Law, What is Plagiarism, and When and Why You Should Cite Your Work

Plagiarism Law

How the Law Views Plagiarism

As mentioned earlier in our What is Plagiarism article , the law does not view plagiarism as anything currently being associated with any current law or statute. This brings to mind a question then. If plagiarism is wrong, why does the law not officially recognize it? The law does not view it as a black and white concept. If it did, then each single word I have used to bring this message to you might be considered plagiarism because someone else has already used them to convey a thought around each word that I am duplicating here right now. The word plagiarism has already been used by someone else originally to covey a thought and by it’s own meaning, I should not be allowed to convey the same thought based around that same word. If you think the law is confusing now, be glad that legislature did not see fit to add plagiarism to their writings when laws were put into effect. Things are messy enough.

With that said, the law uses a variety of other descriptive methods to determine the legalities of whether or not something is considered copied. For example, a piece of work that is copyrighted is protected under copyright law, but copyright infringement and plagiarism are two very different things. This is because copyrights are handled based upon legal definitions of how material was created and a record prepared to associate the material with that record as well as with the author. Copyrights protect an author’s work as far as expression is concerned but not their ideas. Ideas are protected by patents, and those are for another discussion.

When and Why You Should Cite Your Work

As far as the need to cite another other author’s work or not, you need to bear in mind this simple rule. If the fact you are claiming in your writing is a well known fact, you do not have to cite. If you are writing something that is about a fact that very few people are familiar with, then you do need to add a citation. Consider it almost like a verification process. A reader should be able to verify a fact that they are unfamiliar with.

Seriously, it is doubtful that any publisher of the content you are writing is going to want his or her article filled up with citations. To be brutally honest, the content you are writing is probably being used to draw Internet traffic to a web site somewhere for marketing purposes. The last thing the publisher is going to want is a bunch of unrelated text and links to other sites within their content. The easiest way to avoid writing citations is to avoid using unknown facts in your content.

So if you are writing content and you catch yourself making a bold a claim that is not well known, then you should adjust what you are writing so that you are not making that claim. For example, claiming that salty water will boil faster than fresh water is a little known fact which should be cited. However, telling your reader that water has a boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit is a well known fact and requires no citation.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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