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I have a friend who purchased work (a computer program assignment) from somebody else. He hired them to do it. However, he made a significant effort to make the purchased work into his own (he rewrote everything, he made the whole program into something different while preserving the output after receiving the purchased work), then submitted it. Was what he did ethical?

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    Probably not, but this depends on the instructions and restrictions for the specific teacher, the course, the department, the university, and sometimes even the country. That said, for something difficult it is often a lot easier to revise it after the initial method of solution is known than finding a solution, and in such cases your friend would definitely have had an advantage over others. Why are you interested in "legalities" that concern your friend? Are you planning to tell your teacher about what your friend did? If so, now you have to consider whether losing your friend is worth it. – Dave L Renfro Dec 2 '20 at 14:57
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    I hope, when your friend is caught and confronted, he or she is less argumentative than you've been in your comments to the answer by Captain Emacs. Being argumentative multiplies the offense of cheating, and so has the potential to multiply the penalty. – Bob Brown Dec 2 '20 at 23:53
  • I once got an angry email from someone who was being paid by a student in my class to do their homework for them, complaining that my homework was too hard, which meant that they wouldn't get paid. – JeffE Dec 3 '20 at 19:07
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If he would cite it and then get the marks only for the added value of his own work, then it would be ethical.

If he submits it to get credit for it all, this is highly unethical, in fact in my personal opinion even worse than plagiarism, as it is far harder to prove the misconduct and demonstrates an elevated level of (academia-level) criminal energy beyond the usual misdeeds.

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    And, ethical only if done with prior permission. In addition to the ethical issue it defeats the educational purpose of the assignment. Your friend is not to be trusted, either for ethics or competence. – Buffy Dec 2 '20 at 15:25
  • In this case, in fact, claiming someone else’s work as your own is plagiarism. However, what he did was kind of stealing: to make that idea your own. Taking credit for someone else’s idea is borrowing; understanding an idea and weaving it into your own work, that’s what he meant by theft. – fafadsf fasfdasf Dec 2 '20 at 16:16
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    @fafadsffasfdasf Plagiarism is claiming an idea is one's own. So, this is the same. The difference is that in "normal" plagiarism, the idea may be already out there and - in principle - a naive reader could discover the original. Not sure I see the difference. What I find particularly despicable about the case described by OP is that the person actually actively pays for creating the solution in the first place to appropriate it afterwards and hide its origin, to boot. So, it's "plagiarism on steroids". – Captain Emacs Dec 2 '20 at 16:30
  • Hmm, I'm not sure about that because stealing is much more complicated than plagiarism from somebody's ideas you create it for your own. The person, in this case, stole the idea from the hired. – fafadsf fasfdasf Dec 2 '20 at 16:40
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    @fafadsffasfdasf I never considered that "stealing" (except in Oscar Wilde's humorous definition), otherwise virtually everything that humans created in art or science is stolen in one way or another, which renders the word in the best case meaningless or, in the worst case, turns every act of creation into something ethically dubious because there is no "perfect originality", ever. Not sure this is a sensible use of the word. In addition, unlike the Japanese art, where everyone can check for themselves, in OP's case the origin is, first, commissioned, then deliberately hidden. – Captain Emacs Dec 2 '20 at 17:02

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