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Has the concept of plagiarism changed in the Internet age?

The Web makes it easier to steal someone else’s work but also easier to get caught. Has the Net changed cheating?

Plagiarism is the act of using others’ ideas without attribution. It’s as old as writing, but in the digital age, it’s easier to do — and easier to get caught.

John Walsh is a Democratic Senator from Montana, appointed to the seat after Max Baucus became the ambassador to China. Walsh is a decorated Iraq War veteran, a former adjutant general of his state’s national guard and a candidate for re-election in November.

In 2007, he got a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. Last week the New York Times reported that large sections of his final thesis appeared to have been lifted from a published academic paper.

The senator’s campaign has not acknowledged plagiarism but said that citations in the paper were not all done correctly and that it was an unintentional mistake. The Army War College is investigating.

It’s hardly the first time a politician has been accused of taking someone else’s material. In 2008, then–presidential candidate Barack Obama was called out for using parts of a speech from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Sen. Rand Paul faced criticism for using elements of a Wikipedia page on the movie “Gattaca” in a speech. He said he will use footnotes for speeches now if “it will make people leave me the hell alone.”

When Joe Biden ran for president in 1988, he ended his campaign after allegations that he used speeches from British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden called it a “tempest in a teapot.” It didn’t hurt him in the long run, and now he’s the vice president.


“I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor … My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment.”
— Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., on allegations of plagiarism

Journalists are not immune to such temptations either. Case in point: popular Buzzfeed viral politics editor Benny Johnson was just fired over 40 instances of plagiarism.

David Fleishman, superintendent of the Newton school district in Massachusetts, just lost a week’s pay for using Patrick’s words in two graduation speeches. Fleishman admits he was wrong to not cite the source.

When you talk about plagiarism, you probably think not about adults but about children and students.

In a survey conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles, more than a third of high schools students admitted to plagiarizing material they found on the Web.

When it comes to education, both in and out of the classroom, the Internet is a mixed blessing. It is an inexhaustible source of information as well as a tempting pot of facts and ideas acquired as easily as highlight, copy and paste.

Is there more plagiarism than there used to be?

Has the Internet changed the rules?

What are the tools to protect ideas?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

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