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Plagiarism: Does it really matter?

Consequences of Plagiarism for Professionals

By Erin Schreiner, eHow Contributor - updated: February 23, 2010

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Don't risk your reputation by plagiarizing.

Plagiarism, or the attempt to pass off the work of another as your own, is a serious offense that can have long-lasting ramifications. Though this form of intellectual property theft is predominantly found in educational institutions, it can also occur within the workplace. When a professional commits plagiarism, he runs the risk of suffering serious penalties. These penalties can extend outside of the office environment and place the individual at risk of legal action.

Employer Sanction

Depending upon the severity of the plagiarism and the amount of information that was stolen, employers may decide to sanction their employee. Sanctions are most commonly given when the plagiarism is minor and could be accidental. If there is a chance that the employee simply used a similar turn of phrase or sentence structure, employers will frequently give their employee a warning, reminding him to be more diligent when working to avoid plagiarism in the future.


If it is apparent that work was deliberately plagiarized, many employers elect to terminate the plagiarizer. Depending upon the state in which the individual is employed and the specifics of the contract, plagiarism can be seen as just cause of firing, meaning that the fired employee would not be eligible for unemployment benefits.


In some industries, employees who plagiarize can be blacklisted. Commonly, companies will share information about employees who have been terminated for a plagiarism-related offense with sister companies or other prominent industry leaders. This negative attention can result in the fired employee not being hired by other companies within the industry.

Criminal Charges

Plagiarizers can be subject to criminal charges. The type and severity of the charges depends upon the amount and type of material unlawfully copied. Most commonly, plagiarists receive stiff fines. However, they can be subject to jail time if they fail to pay the assessed fines, or if the incidence of plagiarism is considered severe. In some instances, plagiarism can be a felony, and the plagiarizer can be assessed a penalty of $250,000 and receive up to 10 years in jail, according to These penalties are the responsibility of the individual who perpetrated the plagiarism, and not any organization with which the plagiarizer is affiliated. As technology makes piracy and plagiarism more easily perpetrated and prevalent, legal authorities take a more firm stance on detecting incidents of plagiarism and prosecuting perpetrators.

Real Life Examples

Unfortunately plagiarism isn't unique to academic settings. Learn from these individuals' experiences with plagiarism:

The Individual What Happened Consequence
Jayson Blair

From 1999-2003, almost half of the articles written by
Blair during his tenure at the New York Times included
made up quotes or quotes plagiarized from wire services.

Blair was forced to resign.
More information from the
New York Times.

Doris Kearns Goodwin The Weekly Standard accused historian Goodwin of
plagiarizing content in her bestselling 1987 book,
The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. She took respon-
sibility for the plagiarism, which she said was accidental,
and had any unsold copies removed from bookstore
shelves so that a corrected version could be printed.
In addition to the negative
publicity, Simon & Schuster, the
book's publisher, was forced to
reach a financial settlement with
one of Goodwin's sources after
the book's publication in 1987.
More information from Forbes.
Sen. Rand Paul

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has been accused of plagiarizing
Wikipedia in a speech he made, an essay from The Week in
an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Times and
Hertiage Foundation study in his book.

Although he emphasized no one
would be fired, Paul's office was
"restructured" to "prevent future

Fareed Zakaria After it was determined Zakaria plagiarized material from
an article in the New Yorker for his own August 2012 column
in Time, another instance of plagiarism was found in
Zakaria's 2008 best-selling book, "Post-American World."

Zakaria was suspended from both
Time and CNN, where he had a
weekly program. More from The
Washington Post.