Fraud sentence

September 6, 2012

Christopher Bigsby is wrong ("Copycat criminality", Opinions, 30 August): plagiarism is not theft. Theft only occurs when someone takes property without permission, intending to deprive the owner permanently. Plagiarism is invariably copy and paste, not cut and paste, a different offence entirely.

Plagiarism is a form of fraud, a sub-clause of the Ninth Commandment rather than the Eighth. Since it is hard to prove intent, we require students to use due diligence by showing precisely where we may find copied or paraphrased work.

If the disciplinary offence of plagiarism makes us choose between a punishment too severe or none at all, then we should penalise the academic offence of poor referencing, too. Bigsby's facetious examples (Wikipedia, the whole works of God) illustrate the point.

John D. Lamb, Peterhead

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