sealPurdue News

October 1998

Web weaves new concerns about plagiarism

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The World Wide Web is the home for millions of pages of information on every topic that the human mind has been able to conceive. It also is a home for plagiarism.

Stuart Offenbach, a professor of psychology at Purdue University and a national expert in dealing with academic misconduct, says: "The area of professional misconduct has actually changed quite a bit over the past two, two and a half years. The Internet is a whole order of magnitude of a new kind of problem."

Offenbach and others are pointing to the Web as one reason for an increase in plagiarism. "Now to be a good plagiarist it helps to also be a technician and know how to use a computer," he says. "While it's true for words, it's also true for data and photographs. As of now there is no good form of electronic protection to prevent someone from just copying what's on your Web site. With a mouse and a few clicks, you can write the classics."

Plagiarism is the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own work, according to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

Offenbach says that as a psychologist, he understands why plagiarism is considered such a large offense in academia and journalism. "It helps if you look at the roots of the word plagiarism," he says. "It means a kidnapping. To the author, it's the equivalent of stealing a child; there's nothing more precious for a writer than his or her own words. It gives you that same sinking feeling as when you walk into your house and find that someone has broken in and stolen a family heirloom that can't be replaced. The emotional impact is devastating to the person who was plagiarized."

Offenbach says the emotional impact for those who are the victims of plagiarism continues when they accuse the plagiarist. "This is an ethical matter, and perhaps a civil legal matter, but there will be no grand jury investigation," he says. "So the accuser has to be the victim and the prosecutor, too, and this takes a large emotional toll."

An on-line plagiarist may get away with the ethical infraction for a while, but Offenbach says that he or she eventually will be found out. "People read everything in their own field, and if plagiarized material is put on the Web, at some point the author will notice," he says.
CONTACT: Offenbach, (765) 494-6223;

Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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