18

I just rememebered a case when I was still in school: we had to write an essay about a specific topic and one guy put big parts of his essay on Wikipedia before handing it in. When the teacher checked for plagiarism she indeed found big parts of his text in the Wikipedia article and thus accused him of plagiarism.

How would that situation be with journal papers (or other "official" ways of publishing)? Can I reuse part(s) of texts I wrote myself but that are available publicly/online like on Wikipedia, my Blog, university homepage, etc.?

(Maybe consider that pseudonyms are used on Wikipedia, Blogs, etc.)

  • 2
    I don't think this has a single answer. It will depend on specific journal policies. – MJeffryes Oct 27 '17 at 10:21
12

I think this is an interesting question that depends on separating three concepts that sometimes get intertwined:

  1. plagiarism
  2. copyright
  3. legality

Plagiarism refers to using something without properly indicating its source.

Copyright refers to having the right to use material elsewhere.

Legality refers to whether you're violating a law or committing a crime by doing something.

If you've posted something anywhere (and especially to an openly editable place like wikipedia or SE), then there's possible issues with reusing it on each of the fronts.

With respect to plagiarism, what matters is if the prior posting counts as "published" or "submitted" for the purposes of the item in question. (The former being the standard for journals and books; the latter being the standard for classes -- though I suspect most classes would care if you submitted something you already had published).

For copyright, you may not have the legal right to use something in its entirety even if you're the one who wrote it. This would depend on which copy rights your retained from your first publication. If it's SE, for instance, you're under Creative Commons. Wikipedia seems to have their own thing (I'm not a lawyer and can't entirely parse their policy).

Finally, none of this means that you're doing anything criminal, but if you were publishing for money, you could have liability if you violate the copyright.

Two confusing issues are that copyrights can speak as if they create citation obligations (they don't) and act as if their violation is a crime, but at least in the US its only a crime when done for profit.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 11
    Wikipedia's policy is that the user retains the copyright but agrees to licence their contributions under a non-exclusive CC-BY-SA licence. There should be no legal trouble there (but IAalsoNAL) – georgewatson Oct 27 '17 at 14:46
  • 4
    The discussion of criminality/legality could be clearer. While a profit motive is necessary for criminal prosecution, copyright violation without a profit motive is still illegal and potentially subject to civil penalties. One might not get that impression from your answer. – user24098 Oct 27 '17 at 15:47
  • 2
    @dendodge This indeed, without explicitly handing over copyright (or implicitly under some jurisdictions as part of a paid contract) you can't lose copyright. Doesn't matter under what license you decide to publish your work, the copyright stays with you. I can license any text I write under a million different licenses and none of these licenses can limit me in what I can do. At least that's the case in my jurisdiction. – David Mulder Oct 27 '17 at 20:26
  • 2
    I think there is a fourth concept, "originality", and "plagiarism" is simply not a problem when you quote your own earlier work, because you are the author, exactly as claimed. Reuse/republication generally should be accompanied by citation of the earlier work, but it is not plagiarism of any sort. ("self-plagiarism" is not a type of plagiarism at all) – Ben Voigt Oct 27 '17 at 21:16
  • 2
    With Wikipedia, it's simple: you grant them a non-exclusive CC-BY-SA license to your work, but you retain copyright. You're free to do whatever you want with the work elsewhere, so long as it doesn't involve granting exclusive rights. – Mark Oct 28 '17 at 1:22
5

Plagiarism essentially covers illicit appropriation of credit and its benefits (and possibly depriving the author of them; this particularly includes omission of the original author's credits).

In your case, what is described in the brackets is not relevant, as whoever "lifted" the text from the internet is the author themselves. The only problem can arise when credit is claimed twice: e.g. the work has been separately prepared for one journal article/exam and later is re-used for another for double credit.

I think it is not ideal to publish a piece of coursework solution before submitting it (for precisely the reason OP lists), but it is not plagiarism provided it has not been used to gain credit for original work anywhere else. Some teachers permit resubmission of work executed for a prior opportunity by the same author in the sense that it is the authors' work itself; in which case, also, it is not plagiarism, because the re-use has been deemed by the teacher to be legitimate.

TL;DR: For the purposes of the present question, plagiarism is the attempt to gain illicit credit for a task requiring original work by copying an existing text (from others or oneself).

|improve this answer|||||
  • You've described the potential issue using the correct terminology, so why confuse it with representation of someone else's work as your own by (incorrectly) calling both "plagiarism"? – Ben Voigt Oct 27 '17 at 21:21
  • @BenVoigt How would you call representing other people's work as your own? Or do you mean reuse of your own work? This is often called "self"-plagiarism which many consider a wrong term, unless you view it in light of appropriation of illicit credit appropriation, when the "plagiarism" term makes sense again. So, since this is the topic of the question, I was under the belief that concentrating on the pure "plagiarism" component in that particular sense (of illicit appropriation of credit) would make the response clearer and less cluttered. Or did you have something else in mind? – Captain Emacs Oct 27 '17 at 21:56
  • So-called "self-plagiarism" doesn't make sense even then. The problem is the lack of originality. Let's consider the case where a student submits, whether for course credit or publication, an entire reprint, with full meta-data, of his sole-author journal article. I think we can agree that the recipient is completely within his rights to refuse to give duplicate credit... but an accusation of plagiarism would never hold up. In the uncited case, can punishment be greater for hiding the lack of originality? Sure, but that's simply originality-related fraud, still not plagiarism. – Ben Voigt Oct 28 '17 at 0:47
  • @BenVoigt I did not invent the term self-plagiarism, in the sense of hiding lack of originality rather than stealing credit. There are many discussions about whether this is the right term. Whether I like it or not, this is the word I see commonly used for that. I do not consider a fight about the use of words for which there is a more-or-less general consensus time well spent. I am here to help the OP and therefore tried to explain the term in a perspective I saw that would co-opt the consensus use of the term in a way to enable OP to interpret it and decide what to do. – Captain Emacs Oct 28 '17 at 7:13
5

Don't reuse material you have contributed to Wikipedia (or other sources where you aren't clearly attributed).

It's too difficult to establish that you are the source of the Wikipedia material (and in some cases impossible). Some authors are anonymous or use pseudonyms. In addition, content on Wikipedia often can't be straightforwardly attributed to one author, due to the community process of creating and revising text.

A further problem is that most Wikipedia content is under a license that allows redistribution "if and only if the copied version is made available on the same terms to others and acknowledgment of the authors of the Wikipedia article used is included". In many cases this will not be compatible with the terms of a journal you wish to publish in.

Wikipedia is very commonly used and very easy to find, and if someone does find it, it raises unnecessary ethical concerns. Even if you believe that there is no actual problem and you are able to provide evidence of that, it is simply best to avoid any suspicion of wrongdoing on this. Someone might get the wrong impression, and you might not have a chance to correct it (for example, what if a hiring committee finds it and assumes you have plagiarised, discarding your application?).

Therefore, I would simply avoid this. Even though in some cases it would be technically allowable, it would raise too many possible concrens. If you need content similar to what you have previously written up on Wikipedia, just rewrite it.

Reusing material from other sources like blogs is less clear.

There isn't an absolute ethical rule against republishing your own material. However, claiming something it is new when it is actually recycled typically is a problem. This is sometimes called "self-plagiarism" (though that term is controversial). Wikipedia has more detail on this.

Journals typically expect your paper submission to be previously unpublished work. However, whether previously publishing something informally on a blog falls afoul of this requirement is a gray area, and probably dependent on individual journal policies.

If you want to reuse some material from a blog or similar source, be sure you know the policy of the journal you are publishing. Contacting an editor would be a good idea if you aren't sure.

In some cases you may be able to reference your blog post, though whether that is considered an acceptable source to cite will also probably be journal-dependent.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 1
    As note in particular about Wikipedia, their policy discourages original research, so it wouldn't really be useful to directly quote Wikipedia but rather the sources it's based on. – eques Oct 27 '17 at 15:06
  • 1
    @eques I don't agree--it's often useful to cite material that is a distillation of other sources in an academic paper. Especially for things like background discussion. – user24098 Oct 27 '17 at 15:49
  • 1
    Really? from an encyclopedia? I recall a rule of thumb that encyclopedia articles aren't typically meaningful sources. They are decent for determining what sources to check though. – eques Oct 27 '17 at 16:09
  • 2
    @eques I interpreted your comment as suggesting any secondary sources are not useful. Anyway, Wikipedia is so much bigger than a traditional encyclopedia that it often has very good, detailed introductions to field-specific topics. You still can't cite it (mainly because it's not trusted) but often it has exactly the sort of material one would like to cite as background information. – user24098 Oct 27 '17 at 17:02
  • 2
    It's too difficult to establish that you are the source of the Wikipedia material (and in some cases impossible). Some authors are anonymous or use pseudonyms. — I don't understand this. What does it matter what other authors do? If you are the author of the Wikipedia material and you did not do it anonymously (and you used a username that convincingly identifies you), why is this hard? You can just point to the diff where you added the material. – ShreevatsaR Oct 27 '17 at 22:39
4

Self-plagiarism is a thing. I was unaware of this until a few years ago when I decided to return to school and complete my bachelors. The plagiarism guidelines from my school specifically called out using previously published (or submitted in the case of a class) work, even if the work is yours, as plagiarism. However, this didn't mean that you couldn't use your previous work. The solution was to quote and properly site your previous work as a reference. I expect that this would be acceptable in your case as well.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 2
    This. +1 OP needs to be clear on the assessment regulations OP's institution. In mine, submitting any previously written work for course requirements would be a case of academic misconduct. The work submitted must be written for purpose. As you point out, any previously published work can be used in the same way as any other resource: clearly demarcated, cited, attributed, etc. – Dɑvïd Oct 27 '17 at 20:48
1

There are four views on plagiarism here.

The first is the broad view. Here, plagiarism simply means taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own. In that sense, this is not plagiarism.

In a formal academic context, there are three additional perspectives of which you should be aware.

The first is that plagiarism can further extend to failing to properly attribute a reference, even if you don't claim it as your own work. Using a statistic or a simple, "I read somewhere" without the corresponding citation can be seen as a form a plagiarism because, while you didn't try to pass the work off as your own, you still failed to cite the source and deprived them of due credit for their work. In this case, it does not matter that you are your own source, because without the citation the reader has no way to know this.

The second is that plagiarism can extend to re-using your own material on successive assignments. Personally, while I can understand this as a policy violation, especially for undergraduates, I don't feel this should be called plagiarism. Nevertheless, in academic context this is often called and treated as a plagiarism, because you failed in the practice of the objectives of the assignment. From the instructor's point of view, in failing to cite yourself, they feel like you tried to deceive them by hiding that you did not do original work for this assignment. And even if you do cite yourself, what kind of paper just has one citation to another paper which it copies word for word? It is seen as academically dishonest, even it's not quite "pure" plagiarism, and speaks to personal integrity.

The final perspective on plagiarism is to falsify a source or research. This is similar to your situation in that if it were okay to put information on wikipedia yourself and then immediately cite it in your own paper, you would be able to create a circular source of authority, with no real citation or reference behind it. You cite Wikipedia, but wikipedia is just your own words. This might be credible in the real sense, but it breaks the proper attribution chain, making research down the road impossible to verify. Moreover, it's seen as an attempt to artificially inflate an argument by adding a meaningless citation, which is again about misplacing credit for the work.

|improve this answer|||||
  • Your last paragraph is called Citogenesis. xkcd.com/978 – Shane Oct 27 '17 at 20:55
  • I certainly hope "in academic context this is often called and treated as a plagiarism, because you failed in the practice of the objectives of the assignment" is not true. I certainly marked many homework assignments with failing grades as a result of "failure in the practice of the objectives of the assignment", but I would never have thought to begin misconduct proceedings simply because a student turned in too many wrong answers. (I'm not disputing that some treat this as plagiarism, but the reasons appear to be e.g. those given by Captain Emacs in his answer) – Ben Voigt Oct 28 '17 at 0:55
  • I agree with Ben Voigt on point two. I think you might have mis-phrased what you intended to say, because you're currently saying that it's plagiarism because you "failed in the practice of the objectives of the assignment". But that would mean getting an F (which is failing in the objectives of the assignment) is plagiarism . – Patrick M Oct 28 '17 at 4:35
0

Many publications insist that they be the first place where your work is published. It may not actually matter if it is plagiarism if it violate's the journal's policies on that count.

And, yes, as others pointed out, there is such a thing as self-plagiarism.

When it comes to plagiarism, context matters a lot. For instance, it matters if the overlap between your publication and the Wikipedia page is only one paragraph in a 100-page book, vs. whether it's 90% overlap.

|improve this answer|||||
  • I believe all that is necessary in your first case is to reference the original source on the internet. That should be enough for any publisher. – TheDoctor Oct 28 '17 at 6:20
-2

If you quote your source than it is not plagiarism, for example According to John Adam "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence". You can also paraphrase and site your source, plagiarism is the practice of using someone else writings or work and trying to say it's yours without giving them credit according to Dictionary.com. Also I would avoid any and all wiki's when writing papers;however, most credible wiki pages site sources at the bottom of the page, you can often find the original article that the information came from,allowing you to go right to the source. Using paraphrasing will often get you past a plagiarism checker, although teachers read so many papers that they often know when they have heard something before and expect you to site where the information came from.

|improve this answer|||||
  • This doesn't really respond to the specific issues in the question, and ironically you rely on two sources that you haven't adequately cited. – user24098 Oct 27 '17 at 18:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.