Closely associated with intellectual property – but slightly different – is plagiarism.

It can be hard for kids who have grown up in an online “copy and paste” culture to see plagiarism as an ethical issue.

Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not only struggling students who plagiarize, as cheating is known for its universality ranging from the academically struggling students to the overachievers who are terrified to get an A minus.[i] Researchers have identified three situations where this is most likely: when students are under pressure (such as when work must be done with a tight deadline or a work is particularly important for their grades); when students are not interested in the work; and when students feel that the assignment is unfair to the point where they have no hope of success without cheating.[ii]

One 2014 study found a wide range in how seriously youth view plagiarism, with 62 percent of students agreeing that it “is as bad as stealing an exam” while one in ten thought it “should not be considered a serious offence.”[iii] In addition to not seeing some types of plagiarism as being dishonest, some students are confused about precisely how it is defined. This may be in part because youth have grown up in a “copy and paste” culture where collaboration and sharing are the norm and many of their main sources of information, such as Wikipedia, are seen as not having authors. Some researchers have argued that young people have an entirely different attitude towards authorship and ownership than previous generations and that the internet makes it impossible for them to “develop, organize and express original thoughts.” Others, however, feel the issue is more that students are not being taught to respect academic honesty or the technical skills necessary to synthesize and properly cite sources.[iv]

“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author,” said Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University. “It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.”

The study “The Plagiarism Spectrum 2.0” identifies twelve distinct forms of plagiarism.[v]

  1. Inadvertent plagiarism is forgetting to properly cite/quote a source and for improper paraphrasing.
  2. Student collusion is working with another student on an assignment that is meant to be independent.
  3. Paraphrase plagiarism is when a student paraphrases a sources words without proper references.
  4. Word-for-word plagiarism is the “control c”, “control v” mindset of pure copying and pasting from other sources.
  5. Computer code plagiarism is copying and adapting source code without the right to do so from the origin.
  6. Self-plagiarism is reusing your old work without properly referencing it.
  7. Source-based plagiarism is providing “incomplete or inaccurate” information about the sources used.
  8. Mosaic plagiarism is “weaving phrases and text from several sources” into your own and making adjustments without proper referencing.
  9. Manual text modification is when text is changed to mislead plagiarism detection software.
  10. Software based text modification is when text written by another is run through a software to avoid detection of plagiarism.
  11. Data plagiarism is when someone falsifies or fabricates data from another source.
  12. Contract cheating is when someone “engag[es] a third party to complete an assignment” and claims it as their own.

[i] Burmila, E (2019). Welcome to college, you can probably get away with cheating. The Outline. Retrieved from

[ii] Stephens, J. (n.d.). Why Students Plagiarize (webcast). Retrieved from

[iii] Howard, S et al (2014). Measuring students’ perception of plagiarism: Modifivation and Rasch validation of a plagiarism attitude scale. Faculty of Social Sciences – Woollongong University of Australia. 15(4), 372-393.

[iv] Sexton, A (2015). Exploring and preventing accidental plagiarism in a digital age. Georgia International conference on information literacy. 83.

[v] (2020). The Plagiarism Spectrum 2.0. Turnitin. Retrieved from