Indian Journal of Rheumatology

: 2020  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 155--158

The true meaning of plagiarism

Sakir Ahmed1, Prajna Anirvan2,  
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

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sakir Ahmed
Department of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Kalinga Institute of Medical Sciences, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar - 751 024, Odisha

How to cite this article:
Ahmed S, Anirvan P. The true meaning of plagiarism.Indian J Rheumatol 2020;15:155-158

How to cite this URL:
Ahmed S, Anirvan P. The true meaning of plagiarism. Indian J Rheumatol [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Sep 23 ];15:155-158
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Full Text

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}

 Direct Plagiarism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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}

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

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}

 Penalty for Plagiarism

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.


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.


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