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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 155-158

The true meaning of plagiarism

1 Department of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India
2 Department of Gastroenterology, Srirama Chandra Bhanja Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack, Odisha, India

Date of Submission06-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance06-Jul-2020
Date of Web Publication3-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sakir Ahmed
Department of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar - 751 024, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/injr.injr_178_20

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How to cite this article:
Ahmed S, Anirvan P. The true meaning of plagiarism. Indian J Rheumatol 2020;15:155-8

How to cite this URL:
Ahmed S, Anirvan P. The true meaning of plagiarism. Indian J Rheumatol [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Feb 7];15:155-8. Available from:

Plagiarism is the presentation of another person's intellectual property as one's own. It is not just limited to copying text verbatim but also includes paraphrased text, methods, graphics, ideas, and any other novel product of the intellect.[1] It is imperative to understand the concept of plagiarism to be able to escape its clutches. In 2016–2017, around 10% of original articles submitted to the Indian Journal of Rheumatology had to be rejected straightforward due to textual similarities with other sources, while authors of another 20% of manuscripts had been asked to rectify “minor textual similarities.”[2] Overall, among all publications emanating from India, the leading cause for retractions is plagiarism.[2] In India, the prevalent primary and secondary education pattern has been postulated to be a major factor promoting the practice of “cut and paste.”[3] When education endorses reproduction of textbook material at the cost of innovative thinking, plagiarism is subconsciously imprinted in young minds. However, plagiarism is not limited to middle- and low-income countries. Even in the United States, 5%–15% of physicians in training were found to have indulged in some form of unprofessional behavior including plagiarism.[4] Up to 90% of researchers have self-reported resorting to ethically questionable practices in a survey.[5] A survey of retracted rheumatology articles on PubMed has revealed plagiarism to be the second most common cause, the first being concerns about data validity.[6]

Beyond national and institutional policies, plagiarism needs to be combated with awareness. Potential authors need to understand what it comprises and why it is necessary to avoid. The different types of plagiarism need to be known to get the complete picture [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Demonstration of different types of plagiarisms

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  Direct Plagiarism Top

As the name suggests, direct or word-to-word plagiarism is direct copy–paste. Search engines and various dedicated software can easily detect this. However, by mere paraphrasing, or replacing some of the words with synonyms, one can still be guilty of plagiarism.

  Image Plagiarism Top

This form of plagiarism comprises not only the pixel-by-pixel duplication but also the repetition of the scheme or layout or idea behind the graphic. Image plagiarism and manipulations have been implicated in retractions from very well-known and reputed journals.[7] Now, both humans and software are becoming adept at detecting this sort of plagiarism.[8],[9] Many journals now require unedited, original images to be submitted along with edited ones to look for plagiarism and manipulation.

  Find–replace or Paraphrasing Plagiarism Top

Often, in an attempt to escape matching by search engines or simple plagiarism software, one may replace certain words or phrases with others of similar meaning. They also may rearrange the order of sentences. However, modern plagiarism detection software may be able to detect such practices. One colloquial name for this practice is rogeting (after Roget's thesaurus).[1]

  Mosaic or “remix” Plagiarism Top

A cleverer plagiarist might mix three different sources with some paraphrasing in between. This can be difficult to detect, but artificial intelligence (AI) for detecting such plagiarism is being developed. Understandably, there may be a gray area, and sometimes, it is challenging to define mosaic plagiarism. However, if the author systematically quotes the same sources in the same order as in a previously published article or articles, it may be a pointer to mosaic plagiarism. One variant of mosaic plagiarism is termed “patch writing.” Patch working is defined as intertwining of original and borrowed texts.[10]

  Self-Plagiarism or Recycle Plagiarism Top

Self-plagiarism or text recycling is when one uses the same phrases or sequence of ideas across the different manuscripts. The author may be the copyright owner of the material (unless the copyright has been transferred to the journal or publisher) and thus has the legal right to re-use the material. Many authors do not realize this as plagiarism and keep re-using their own words and writing.[1] Therefore, it may be accidental or even intentional. However, it is still plagiarism as it is morally incorrect to reap duplicate benefit without addition or novel effort.

  “Accidental” Plagiarism Top

This is an ill-defined entity and the most common defense, for those who have been implicated in plagiarism. However, lack of knowledge or lack of intent does not absolve one from the act. Thus, it may make perfect sense for authors to rule out “accidental” plagiarism in all manuscripts before submissions. All authors should be advised to check their manuscripts on at least one plagiarism software, even a freely available one.

  Other Types of Plagiarism Top

Citing nonexistent sources or wrong citations can also be considered plagiarism. Colloquially referred to as “404 Error Plagiarism,” this phrase borrows the internet nomenclature for error when a link leads to a broken or missing destination.

  The Gray Area in Plagiarism Top

As mentioned above, there is a spectrum from direct to mosaic plagiarism. This spectrum extends beyond mosaic plagiarism and merges with ethical publishing practices. This gray area between mosaic plagiarism and ethical publishing will need to be addressed soon as editors and academic institutes as becoming more vigilant and proactive against plagiarism. Currently, there is no acid test, and each case will have to be judged on an individual basis. Guidance may be sought from the Committee on Publication Ethics and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors when such gray areas are encountered.

  Detecting Plagiarism Top

With various search engines and the availability of scientific literature on the internet, direct plagiarism is not hard to detect. The different advanced plagiarism software can also detect some amount of paraphrased text. [Table 1] mentions some common plagiarism software. Citation-based plagiarism detectors may be used to look for mosaic plagiarism.[11] AI (machine learning)-based software is coming up that can detect image plagiarism as well as mosaic plagiarism. Beyond matching words, they compare synonyms, similar phrases, and syntactic and semantic features.[12]
Table 1: Differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement

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These are useful tools in the right hands. However, these are not infallible.[13] Many of these software report high false positives such as common phrases, institutions with long names, or references.[14] Often, in the methods section, case definitions, methods for specific experiments, statements about ethics, and other such information have similar wordings as alternatives are limited. Often, these are flagged by the software. Thus, editors, administrators, and review boards must interpret these in the context. Rather than looking at the overall “percentage of similarities,” the focus should be on whether the idea or concept has been presented as original without giving due credit to the correct source.

Different source language and nononline sources may escape plagiarism software.[15] The clever plagiarist also has access to these software and may manipulate words to evade their detection thresholds.[14] Many “predatory” journals have soft or no peer review and avoid plagiarism checks as an inconvenience.[16] It is also a moral duty of peer reviewers to inform editors whenever they suspect any plagiarism.

  Plagiarism Versus Copyright Top

Although there is a good deal of overlap between plagiarism and copyright infringement, the two are different [Table 2]. For instance, making a copy of The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is not a copyright violation on two counts:First, the copy will always have some difference from the original, and second, the copyright has expired after the death of Leonardo da Vinci. However, if someone makes a copy and claims it to be one's own creation (without crediting Da Vinci), then it is plagiarism.
Table 2: Commonly available plagiarism detection software

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  Penalty for Plagiarism Top

Often, plagiarism can be challenged on the basis of copyright infringement depending on prevalent laws. However, plagiarism is more of an ethical issue and is taken very seriously as academic misconduct. Journals that find evidence of plagiarism can retract articles, inform the academic institution of the author, and even blacklist the authors.[17] This may destroy the reputation of the author and also dents the reputation of his or her institute. Many institutes view it strictly and may terminate positions of authors.

  Conclusion Top

Plagiarism is a breach of ethics due to uncredited appropriating of others' intellectual work. Academic journals, institutions, and societies have little tolerance for plagiarism. The plagiarist risks losing reputation, having papers retracted, being blacklist, and even losing grants and jobs. Moreover, the matter can be taken to court based on the infringement of relevant copyright laws. However, accidental plagiarism is never an excuse. Thus, authors must ensure that their manuscripts do not contain elements of accidental plagiarism. On the other hand, editors and other figures in authority must ensure that plagiarism checks should be in detail and not just be dependent on similarity checks by single software.

  References Top

Gasparyan AY, Nurmashev B, Seksenbayev B, Trukhachev VI, Kostyukova EI, Kitas GD. Plagiarism in the context of education and evolving detection strategies. J Korean Med Sci 2017;32:1220-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
Misra DP, Ravindran V, Wakhlu A, Sharma A, Agarwal V, Negi VS. Plagiarism: A Viewpoint from India. J Korean Med Sci 2017;32:1734-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
Chaurasia A. Stop teaching Indians to copy and paste. Nature 2016;534:591.  Back to cited text no. 3
Fargen KM, Drolet BC, Philibert I. Unprofessional behaviors among tomorrow's physicians: Review of the literature with a focus on risk factors, temporal trends, and future directions. Acad Med 2016;91:858-64.  Back to cited text no. 4
Artino AR Jr., Driessen EW, Maggio LA. Ethical shades of gray: International frequency of scientific misconduct and questionable research practices in health professions education. Acad Med 2019;94:76-84.  Back to cited text no. 5
Misra DP, Agarwal V. Integrity of clinical research conduct, reporting, publishing, and post-publication promotion in rheumatology. Clin Rheumatol 2020;39:1049-60.  Back to cited text no. 6
Bosch X, Hernández C, Pericas JM, Doti P, Marušić A. Misconduct policies in high-impact biomedical journals. PLoS One 2012;7:e51928.  Back to cited text no. 7
Shen H. Meet this super-spotter of duplicated images in science papers. Nature 2020;581:132-6.  Back to cited text no. 8
Butler D. Researchers have finally created a tool to spot duplicated images across thousands of papers. Nature 2018;555:18.  Back to cited text no. 9
Cameron C, Zhao H, McHugh MK. Publication ethics and the emerging scientific workforce: Understanding 'plagiarism' in a global context. Acad Med 2012;87:51-4. [Doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31823aadc7].  Back to cited text no. 10
Gipp B, Meuschke N, Breitinger C. Citation-based plagiarism detection: Practicability on a large-scale scientific corpus. J Assoc Inf Sci Technol 2014;65:1527-40.  Back to cited text no. 11
Foltýnek T, Meuschke N, Gipp B. Academic plagiarism detection: A systematic literature review. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR). 2019;52:1-42.  Back to cited text no. 12
Misra D, Ravindran V, Agarwal V. Plagiarism: Software-based detection and the importance of (human) hardware. Indian J Rheumatol 2017;12:188-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
  [Full text]  
Weber-Wulff D. Plagiarism detectors are a crutch, and a problem. Nature 2019;567:435.  Back to cited text no. 14
Baydik OD, Gasparyan AY. How to act when research misconduct is not detected by software but revealed by the author of the plagiarized article. J Korean Med Sci 2016;31:1508-10.  Back to cited text no. 15
Gasparyan AY, Nurmashev B, Voronov AA, Gerasimov AN, Koroleva AM, Kitas GD. The pressure to publish more and the scope of predatory publishing activities. J Korean Med Sci 2016;31:1874-8.  Back to cited text no. 16
Luksanapruksa P, Millhouse PW. Guidelines on what constitutes plagiarism and electronic tools to detect it. Clin Spine Surg 2016;29:119-20.  Back to cited text no. 17


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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  In this article
Direct Plagiarism
Image Plagiarism
Mosaic or “...
Self-Plagiarism ...
Other Types of P...
The Gray Area in...
Detecting Plagiarism
Plagiarism Versu...
Penalty for Plag...
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