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Can the following be considered plagiarized? I am interested in finding out the limit of words one is allowed to use.

Java is a programming platform that's used for developing computer applications.

.NET is a programming platform that's used for developing computer applications.

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Instead of counting the number of words you can get away with stealing, why don't you focus on doing your own work in your own voice? –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 14 '13 at 11:46
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Considering how heavily .Net plagiarized Java, I wouldn't be surprised in this particular case... –  SF. Apr 14 '13 at 15:41
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@Noah I understood perfectly the question you asked. In this instance, there are only so many ways to phrase the same concept. But you didn't ask "Is it plagiarism if hundreds of people are saying the same basic thing in the same basic words?" You asked "How many words in a row counts as plagiarism?" Without context, it's not a leap for me to wonder if you're asking in regards to your own work, rather than analyzing someone else's. If your question is about other people's work, please edit the post to reflect that, and I'll delete my comment. –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 14 '13 at 18:59
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I tried editing the title to reflect what I think is the intent of the question, but please revert my edit if my guess is incorrect. –  Neil Fein Apr 17 '13 at 3:44
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2 Answers

There isn't a technical definition of plagiarism in that sense. The two phrases you've listed as examples may be used by many folks without citation and it would not be considered plagiarism. They are simple statements and certainly not concepts that anyone would believe are originated by any new writers.

A better question might be: At what point should I provide citations to a source for phrases/quotes, which are in common usage?

If the phrase is something you fear will be flagged as plagiarism, then either rewording it or providing context to avoid confusion or mis-attribution would be ideal.

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Well, now, there's stealing which, although normally frowned upon, in our context comes recommended by T.S. Eliot. On his view it consists of taking an author's phrase verbatim, but using it in a different setting where it therefore does something different from the original. It can be done, but sparingly, and I don't wish to be the one to quantify it.

(However, the French-Uruguyan writer Isidore Ducasse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comte_de_Lautr%C3%A9amont) contemplated rewriting an entire Victor Hugo novel; but again, doing it so as to express a different set of ideas. Unfortunately he died before he could pull it off.)

And then there's plagiarism, which in my book consists of stealing an author's ideas and passing them off as your own original work. And for that, rephrazing doesn't even cut the mustard. The maximum legitimate amount you can do is none. Whether that applies to the legal issue as well, I am not qualified to say.

That said, you are of course allowed to use ideas you find in other people's work, with, or without credit depending on the situation. In an academic work, absolutely required. In a work of fiction, not necessarily. You may rely on the public being already aware of the origin of this particular universe or set of ideas. But if you don't bring anything original to it, what, then, is the point?

What you're not allowed to do, is claim ownership or authorship of things that were not yours in the first place.

As for the quote you provide, it seems to me a straightforward descriptive statement of what a product does, that no one could legitimately claim ownership of.

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