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Workplace Plagiarism Examples

businessmanProfessional plagiarism can be as simple as copying a paragraph from a book or is devious as stealing a colleague’s entire report. Merriam Webster defines plagiarizing as “to use another’s production without crediting the source”. Unfortunately, workers are not always educated on what exactly constitutes plagiarism and may commit this fraudulent act without even realizing what they are doing. What exactly constitutes a plagiaristic act may surprise you.

Just a Couple of Lines

Taking a couple of lines of text from another person’s e-mail and sending those words out as your own is plagiarism. It might seem like just a couple of sentences and of course it saves time to simply explain whatever problem or process in the words of the original person who brought it to your attention. However, unless you directly credit that work to the original writer, you are plagiarizing. The biggest danger with this type of copying is that the original writer will feel you are trying to take credit for his work. If you must copy and paste those two lines, be sure to put them in quotes and indicate who wrote the words. Example: Bob Smith stated, “We must change our customer service policy immediately and train sales staff that the customer is always right.”

Copying Research Sources

When you have a big report due, it is tempting to copy factual information from various research sources and include that material in your report. Even if you attribute the information, if you are using more than a paragraph or two, you are in a very gray area. There are fair use laws when it comes to adding work directly into your own work. For example, quoting and attributing a short paragraph in a 10 page report is usually acceptable, but using five paragraphs in a two page report is likely too much. While the U.S. Copyright office does not give a specific amount you can use under the fair use laws, a good rule of thumb is not more than 15 percent of your text should be directly quoted from other sources.

Stealing Ideas

Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so some debate whether they can be plagiarized. However, most businesses from on this activity and will punish employees who are caught stealing ideas from others. If you are a leader in your organization and an employee comes to you with an amazing idea, it is always best to give that employee credit when you take the idea to the higher ups. Those under you will be more likely to bring good ideas your way if they know they are going to receive credit fro them and your managers will know that you are a team player who knows how to delegate and recognize good contributions.

Making Unauthorized Copies

You just finished reading a training manual that you want to share with your team members. The manuals cost $245 each and you don’t have enough in your training budget to cover the cost. It is tempting to copy that manual for your employees. However, this is against copyright law and can get you, and your company, into trouble if the author or publisher find out about it. One or both could file a lawsuit. If the item is copyrighted, they may seek financial retribution.

Photographs and Music

Photos and a bit of music can add interest to a Power Point presentation. It seems simple enough to grab some related photos from the Internet and plug them in. After all, the report has your own words. However, photographs are also copyrighted, creative property. Unless you have specific permission from the photographer or musician, it is best to stick with royalty free photos and music. You can purchase photos from sources like iStockPhoto or Dreamstime. Music can be found at Royalty Free Music and Music Bakery.


Taking parts of speeches written or spoken by others and using them in your own speech is a form of plagiarism. If you feel someone else said it better, always credit the source for the actual words.


Lori Soard has worked online designing websites, writing, editing and promoting clients since 1997. Through Promo Warriors, she's consulted with over 100 clients to help them figure out what online presence works best for them. In addition to helping people learn how to start their own businesses, she writes feel-good books about the way love and the world should be.