The Consequences of Plagiarism

Provided by the University of Texas, Perry Castaneda Library

Whether intentional or unintentional, plagiarism can lead to serious consequences. Let’s look at some real-life examples of people who had their professional or academic lives seriously affected by accusations of plagiarism.

In 2006, first-time author and Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan acknowledged that she plagiarized portions of her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life from several other sources, including the works of authors Sophie Kinsella and Megan McCafferty. The book was pulled from shelves and the author lost both a two-book deal with Little, Brown and Company worth half a million dollars and a movie deal with DreamWorks. Viswanathan acknowledged that she had read the books that she was accused of plagiarizing, but claimed that the cases of plagiarism found in her book were unintentional and accidental.

In 2005, Thomas Matrka, a mechanical engineer who had earned his master’s degree from Ohio University uncovered 55 master’s theses from the school’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology that appeared to include plagiarized work. Many of the theses contained almost identical paragraphs and drawings. The university responded by revisiting more than 200 engineering papers written since 1980 in search of duplication and plagiarism. After review by multiple university committees, the decision was made to revoke the master’s degree of one of the accused in 2007. The university also recommended that 12 other theses be rewritten. In response to the scandal, the engineering school now uses software to check submitted theses and dissertation for duplication of content.

In 2004, playwright Bryony Lavery was accused of plagiarizing psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis’ book Guilty by Reason of Insanity and Malcolm Gladwell’s 1997 New Yorker profile of Lewis. Lavery’s play, Frozen, is the story of a psychiatrist who works with serial killers. Dorothy Lewis’ book chronicles her own work with serial killers. Malcolm Gladwell himself recounted the story in a 2004 New Yorker article where he details his confrontation with the playwright, who said she didn’t think she needed to credit his story because it was “in the news.” The play includes 12 verbatim passages from Malcolm Gladwell’s article. While the play uses Dorothy Lewis’ life as the basis for its character, it also adds embellishments, like an affair with a collaborator modeled on Lewis’ real-life collaborator. These embellishments caused many to claim that the plagiarism was also a form of defamation.

Each of these stories can help us to understand why you should care about the effects and consequences of plagiarism.

Your individual professional and academic integrity are at stake. While there are certain to be immediate consequences tied to accusations of plagiarism, such as failing a course, you are also devaluing your original work and bringing into question the legitimacy of your other accomplishments.

The academic integrity of your school and the value of your degree are also at stake. Widespread accusations of plagiarism at a university hurt the reputation of that school and its graduates and can affect the value of your degree from that institution in the marketplace when you are looking for a job after graduation.

Your future professional and personal integrity can also be harmed. As the Ohio University story shows us, plagiarized work you submit now can come back to haunt you. Additionally, once you’ve graduated and entered the workforce, there can be legal and long-lasting professional consequences for representing the work of others as your own in a situation where you’re being financially compensated for that work.

For information on Union Institute & University Writing Center.

The Consequences of Plagiarism article is property of the University of Texas, Perry Castaneda Library and is used by UI&U with written permission.