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No universally adopted definition of academic plagiarism exists, making it quite hard to pin down. However, plagiarism is the use of the ideas and words of another passed off as one's own. Issues here include similarity of work, theme, and characters. Plagiarism is not always a crime, but in academia and industry it is seen as a serious ethical offence. Cases of plagiarism can also constitute copyright infringement.

Within academia, plagiarism (by students, by professors, or by researchers) is considered "academic dishonesty" (or in some cases "academic fraud"). Offenders are usually subject to academic censure, which may include expulsion.

Plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. While both terms may apply to a particular act, they are different concepts, and false claims of authorship may constitute plagiarism regardless of whether the material is protected by copyright.

According to U.S. law, the expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws.

According to Bela Gipp, academic plagiarism encompasses:

"The use of ideas, concepts, words, or structures without appropriately acknowledging the source to benefit in a setting where originality is expected."

— Citation-based Plagiarism Detection: Detecting Disguised and Cross-language Plagiarism using Citation Pattern Analysis.1

According to Wikiepdia, Teddi Fishman's definition of plagiarism abridges Gipp's and defines five elements characteristic of plagiarism. By this definition, plagiarism occurs when someone:

  1. Uses words, ideas, or work products
  2. Attributable to another identifiable person or source
  3. Without attributing the work to the source from which it was obtained
  4. In a situation in which there is a legitimate expectation of original authorship
  5. In order to obtain some benefit, credit, or gain which need not be monetary

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