Back in school, we were taught never to copy other kids' work, or peek at our classmates' test answers. The intent, of course, was to instill the concepts of things like doing your own work, honesty, and fairness in us at an early age, and hope to God that it took.
Judging by the fact that plagiarism remains a relevant issue, it seems that the results of those formative years were mixed at best.
These days, though, as adults, the ramifications and repercussions of plagiarism go far beyond getting a failing grade or detention. Here's what you need to know about plagiarism.
If you sell an app called "Bad Beer Bars" to one company, then sell "Bars With Bad Beer" to another, and it's the same app, that's plagiarism.
Just What Exactly Is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism goes beyond simple copying. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines plagiarism as a host of different things, including stealing the words and ideas of someone else and passing them off as yours, committing literary theft, using someone's material without giving the source credit, and passing off an idea or product as original and new despite it already existing somewhere else.
So not only are you stealing someone else's words, work, and ideas, you're actually telling the world "These are my ideas, words, and work!"
The article "What Your App Developers Need to Know to Avoid Plagiarism" notes, however, that while plagiarism itself isn't illegal (though it sure as Hell is unethical!), stealing someone else's intellectual property IS.
It should be noted that it's awfully difficult to actually point at some words and say "That's plagiarism". Sure, if you're lifting entire sentences or paragraphs verbatim and passing them off as yours, that's plagiarism. But what about ideas? If someone writes a blog about how having a good password is important, does that mean that it's plagiarism if someone else writes about that same subject a month later?
Of course not! As it happens, exercising good password judgement is a universally held good idea. Even if both articles give some of the same advice (use alpha-numeric characters, make it tough to guess), that's not plagiarism. What IS plagiarism is copying the original writer's own exact words and passing them off as yours.
Plagiarism And Apps
If you develop an app for a client, say for example an app that warns you about local bars that have poor beer selections, then turn around and use the same app for another client, perhaps changing the name, then that's plagiarism, even though you're not stealing from anyone, per se. After all, you can't steal from yourself, right?
The problem in the above example is if the client paid you for an original work that was then placed under a copyright, in effect making the app the client's property, and you did in fact then sell another version to another client, that's a copyright violation, since the first app was purchased from you and meant to be used exclusively. Not only could you be in for some serious legal trouble, your professional reputation could take quite a hit, and word travels fast these days on the Internet (especially in social media networks!). If you're a freelancer, your career could be ruined.
Take The Warning To Heart
Companies and individuals are more concerned than ever about plagiarism and have little tolerance for it. Your best bet when you create something original is to put it away and never touch it again once you're done with it. It's no longer yours; it belongs to the client.
The only possible qualifier to this advice is that if you've compiled research on a particular topic, it could still be used for future projects, with the assumption that you won't use the same words and overall tone that you employed in the original piece.