Cases of plagiarism Overseen By Variety of Confusing Entities

Posted on:August 27, 2010

A persistent problem with cases of plagiarism is that no one body oversees such issues. Since London first enacted copyright legislation in 1710, different cities, states, countries, institutions and agencies have exerted authority in cases of plagiarism. Accordingly, uncertainty and inconsistency persist. Additionally, some institutions and individuals may exert power where not warranted.
 
Who decides cases of plagiarism in academia?
 
Cases of plagiarism which occur in academic settings are usually under the jurisdiction of that school, college, or university. In the United States, the relevant body is generally described in publicly available documents, viewable online. A judicial committee usually handles cases of plagiarism. This group likely consists of students, faculty and administrators. It may have a name such as Honor Board.
 
Membership may be by election, perhaps by the student governing body, or by appointment or by volunteering, or some combination of all three. Membership is likely to last more than one year, since there is certainly a learning curve.
 
This writer never knew that such a group existed, and would counsel any current student to investigate membership in such a body. The experience of hearing cases of plagiarism would be most enlightening, and impressive on a resume. It would also provide opportunities to interact with faculty and students across the campus.
 
This body may meet regularly or it may only be convened when a case of plagiarism is alleged. Such entities undoubtedly feature a due process requirement, and an opportunity for appeal. Sanctions may include failing grades for a paper, a course, or a semester, delay or withholding of a degree, and of course, humiliation. Proceedings are likely to be kept confidential, however.
 
What happens when academic cases of plagiarism are not resolved within academia?
 
If a student or professor wishes to challenge an academic institution’s judicial body, the civil court system is available, at least in the USA. Several cases are recorded of courts looking at decisions made by academe. Their attitude appears to tend towards extreme reluctance to interfere with the policies of the academy towards cases of plagiarism by students. On the other hand, professorial tenure or advancement depends on publishing and being quoted. Thus, cases of plagiarism by mature scholars can destroy careers.

  • The plagiarized author is not cited when they deserve it, while the plagiarizer is potentially cited.
  • The justly accused plagiarizer loses credibility as a quotable source, possibly permanently.

Please note that not everyone thinks that courts should be involved in cases of plagiarism. See, for example, Richard A. Posner’s The Little Book of Plagiarism. He does not feel that cases of plagiarism warrant clogging up the court system. (Useful and interesting links: http://www. wcbs880. com/HARTFORD–Court-Decides-Who-Copied-Whom-in-Plagiar/6544285, http://www. rbs2. com/plag.htm ).
 
Who oversees cases of plagiarism in the post-graduate world?
 
Cases of plagiarism alleged against scholars writing and researching out in the “real world” are governed by a patchwork of organizations:

  • A case of plagiarism may be alleged by the professional organization for their discipline, e.g., the American Historical Association
  • Cases of plagiarism could be detected by a scholarly journal’s peer review committee
  • A plagiarism case may be alleged by a book publisher’s fact checkers
  • Cases of plagiarism where monetary loss is alleged may be brought to civil court under copyright law: this may be considered a tort
  • Cases of plagiarism may result in revocation of certification by licensing entities such as the local bar association
  • There are other types of professional accreditation organizations, which may take action in cases of plagiarism; in the USA, generally boards of licensure

Who says these bodies know how to judge cases of plagiarism?
 
The qualification to evaluate alleged cases of plagiarism on the part of all these different bodies has occasionally been called into question. The instance of Stephen Oates, a historian/biographer, is a disturbing and illuminating example of accusers with questionable expertise. (his own story is at http://hnn. us/articles/658. html). His outrage at the constraints on writing notwithstanding, the plagiarism section of the AHA’s policy is actually rather inspiring. (http://www. historians.org/pubs/free/professionalstandards. cfm).
 
Of course, the safest way to avoid interaction with all these bodies is to avoid plagiarizing entirely!

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