We all learn from books and our environment.

I was trying to teach my kids what is money so I told and wrote:

"Money is the third good that everyone wants."

The above is an idea that I read in some book long time ago (I cannot recollect the name of the book) or some teacher/friend told me in class/conversation (I could not even remember).

If I was writing that statement in the school or some other public settings, who should I give the credit to?

On a more simple level, if I write following two statements.

Earth is larger than moon.

Sun is larger than earth.

Then who should I give credit for so I am not blamed for plagiarism?


4 Answers 4


Plagiarism is an academic category about the thoughts from another scholar/author. Copyright is a legal category about the words of another writer.

  • When a student or a degree candidate present a paper or a thesis, they implicitly or explicitly claim that it is their original work, except for sections which are marked as the work of others. With a thesis for a degree, there may be a form where the candidate confirms this in writing, which brings the law back into the academic sphere.
  • There are many situations in a school or even university context where there is no such claim of originality. Imagine the exam question "what is the third law of thermodynamics?" There would be no need for the student to give a source, because nobody asked for it and nobody could possibly believe that the student just invented that law. If the question was about who discovered the third law, they should say so.

Schools which prepare their students for academic work should introduce both concepts and train their students in proper citation at some point. But not too early.

  • 3
    @DaleM, I understand social sciences and humanities as sciences. When I want the distinction, I add the qualifier 'hard sciences' to physics, engineering, etc. I believe that is sufficiently common usage to use it here.
    – o.m.
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 9:36
  • 2
    @o.m. Taking the ideas of a non-academic and presenting them to the academy as your own original ideas would still be considered plagiarism though.
    – bdsl
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 12:27
  • 2
    @supercat I’m told you do the best you can. Things I tell you over lunch, never published: cite as “Private communication”. Second hand story: Quote it as that. It’s nice if others can check the original source, but if they can’t, they can’t. Essential is that you don’t claim you came up with your idea yourself.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 18:38
  • 2
    @o.m. While "the social sciences and the sciences" are not distinct categories as Dale suggests, "scientists" does not normally refer to people in the humanities. I would suggest "scholars." Commented Mar 18, 2023 at 19:51
  • 1
    Plagiarism is not restricted to academia. If you present someone else's work as your own, then you plagiarized them. If I write a book of fiction and include passages stolen from some other book, then I would be plagiarizing that book. If I write a stack exchange answer, copying the text of this one, then I would be plagiarizing you. If I I published a blog post with a cooking recipe which I just copied from a cookbook, then I plagiarized the cookbook. If I make a political speech using passages from another politician's speech without attribution, then I plagiarized the other politician.
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 14:04

Plagiarism is not a legal concept

Copyright violation is. Patent infringement is. Plagiarism is not.

Plagiarism is academic misconduct - it has no legal definition. It is a matter for the academy in general and any specific institutions involved to deal with.

Just like cheating in a sporting event is not a matter for the law. Lance Armstrong faced no legal sanction for doping, just sanctions within the sport of cycling and the court of public opinion.

What is plagiarism?

Oxford University defines it as:

Plagiarism is presenting work or ideas from another source as your own, with or without consent of the original author, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition, as is the use of material generated wholly or in part through use of artificial intelligence (save when use of Artificial Intelligence - AI for assessment has received prior authorisation e.g. as a reasonable adjustment for a student’s disability). Plagiarism can also include re-using your own work without citation. Under the regulations for examinations, intentional or reckless plagiarism is a disciplinary offence.

Other institutions will have slightly different definitions but the general concept is that plagiarism is failure to give credit where credit is due.

If you credit work and ideas you aren’t committing plagiarism. But you might be committing copyright violation if you copy work without permission even if you credit it.

Similarly, you aren’t committing copyright violation if you have permission, the work is public domain, or are only copying ideas (because ideas don’t have copyright). But you will be committing plagiarism if you don’t credit it.

What is the domain of plagiarism?

Primarily academia. A work submitted for assessment or publication should be free of plagiarism. If it isn’t, that would generally be considered academic misconduct and expose the perpetrator to, at least, criticism and possibly sanction. How strictly plagiarism is enforced depends on both the author and the institution- a professor will be held to a higher standard than an undergraduate who will be held to a higher standard than a high school student and so on. Pre-school students are hardly ever sanctioned for plagiarism.

Secondarily in literature or art. An author or artist whose work is highly derivative (even if not copyright violation) might be accused of plagiarism. For example, at the time of publication, The Lord of the Rings was criticised for plagiarising Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Must everything be cited?

Back to Oxford:

If you are substantially indebted to a particular argument in the formulation of your own, you should make this clear both in footnotes and in the body of your text according to the agreed conventions of the discipline, before going on to describe how your own views develop or diverge from this influence.

On the other hand, it is not necessary to give references for facts that are common knowledge in your discipline. If you are unsure as to whether something is considered to be common knowledge or not, it is safer to cite it anyway and seek clarification. You do need to document facts that are not generally known and ideas that are interpretations of facts.

Your examples

"Money is the third good that everyone wants" definitely needs citation. It’s a pithy little quote and you don’t want people thinking it’s yours. So, despite your best efforts, you can’t find who said it; what do you do?

  1. Don’t use it.
  2. Cite it as “Author unknown, circa. 1975”. That way you aren’t claiming credit for it and you give further investigators somewhere to start.

The relative size of heavenly bodies can be considered “facts that are common knowledge in your discipline” as these would be learnt very early in any academic career and can be safely uncited. Of course, any publication that relies on such basic facts is probably not sufficiently “academic” that plagiarism is an issue.

  • Totally tangential, but it's not entirely correct that Lance Armstrong did not face legal issues as a result of his doping. The US Dept. of Justice sued him for making "false claims for sponsorship payments". The case was settled (for $5 million) and Lance Armstrong claimed that the "lawsuit against me was meritless and unfair". But the lawsuit happened and the possibility of legal sanctions was real. justice.gov/opa/pr/… Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 11:43
  • @user2705196 fair enough - but that was not for breaking the rules of the sport. That was for lying about not breaking them.
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 20:37

Plagiarism is assuming your authorship of what you did not write/create.

who should I give credit for so I am not blamed for Plagiarism

You don't have to give credit to anyone. Just don't give it to yourself.

For statements that bear originality (like the one about money) it would be always nice of course to give credit to the actual author.

Mere statements of well-known facts (like about the sizes of celestial bodies) lack originality and do not need credits.

Note that not committing plagiarism does not mean not committing copyright infringement: you are not allowed to make copies just by virtue of being sincere as to who the real author is.

  • In short, it's misrepresentation: any legal consequences derive from additional actions e.g. applying for a job on the basis of a plagiarised thesis. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 13:12

Plagiarism is an academic concept, which in some cases is formalized in a rule or contract that has some legal force. The penalty is normally to allow the school to take some action on its own, without the legal system ever getting involved, such as expulsion.

A court might get involved in a situation where your publisher claims you violated your book contract and wants to get back the advance it paid you, where you sue someone for defaming you by falsely calling you a “plagiarist,” or where you sue a college that punished you. All of these would be civil cases, not criminal, and typically the accused plagiarist is the one who would sue over the harm done by the allegation.

If the case turns on the semantics of whether what you did constitutes “plagiarism,” a judge would first look for some specific definition that applies to this context, such as a written policy on academic misconduct that the student agreed to abide by. If there isn’t one, the judge often consults one or more dictionaries and then decides what the word means, or it might be up to the jury to decide whether what someone said is legally defamatory in the context where they said it.

Sometimes, a jurisdiction makes an official regulation against plagiarism, relating to a school it runs. For instance:

There is one official regulation about Plagiarism in the state of Oregon. Oregon Administrative Rule Rule 259-012-0010 , covering “Standards of Student Conduct” for the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, lists “plagiarism” as a form of misconduct that “may result in dismissal from the Academy.” It’s not defined further.

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