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What Is The Difference Between Inspiration And Plagiarism?

They say that quoting one source is plagiarism, but quoting many is research. This is pretty true and the scary thing is that modern colleges work on essays with sourced facts. People are essentially standing on the shoulders of giants without enough knowledge of what they are doing and they are diluting the intellectual zeitgeist without knowing it. Modern essays are nothing more than curated pieces of the hard work other people have done. This article explains plagiarism so that you may understand how inspiration is similar to it and different to it.

Plagiarism and the law

You may have read that you can change a sculpture or a piece of writing (creative works) by 10-20% and it is all yours, but it is not true and is a gross simplification of the law. It is like saying you can put a large digital clock onto a Panasonic TV and call it your own design, or that you could copy the Venus de Milo statue, give it arms and call it your own design. You cannot copy a newspaper article, change 20% of the words and call it your work. Here is a quick list of what the law considers to be plagiarism/copyright infringement.

  1. Create derivative works based on other work
  2. Display copied work publicly
  3. Distribute copies of other people’s work without permission
  4. Reproduce copies of other peoples’ work without permission
  5. Publicly perform the work of another without permission

This is only a brief look at plagiarism in the eyes of the law. There are also fair use rules, specific rules for specific formats, international rules and thing such as if a patent or copyright has expired.

Plagiarism and Google

In the eyes of Google, your content cannot match that of another indexed website. If it does then it punishes both websites because it cannot determine which has copyright; who posted first is no indicator. You can get around the Google plagiarism checker. Google checks for plagiarism with strings of three or more words, so you can technically change one third of the piece and get away with plagiarism, but it must be every three words. This is also known as spinning. Below is a piece of spun text.

Original - It must be every three words or so.
Spun - It must happen every 3 words or more.

Plagiarism and your college

It is a sticky subject in college, so here are the basics. If your text matches text seen online or text that has been submitted by another student in the past then that is plagiarism and you are out.

If your text seems to copy that of another student in theme or topic then that can be seen as plagiarism if the themes and topics appear to mirror each other in the text. One may call this a re-write, and many times a re-write will count as plagiarism in college. If you are not rewriting but updating, then you need to clearly mention it when you create your work.

Quoting from other sources is okay if you show where you got the quote from. If you show themes, topics, ideas, etc, that are similar to that of other works then you need to show your reference/source. You need to say where you got that idea. If you try to pass it off as your own then that is considered to be plagiarism.

What is inspiration?

When it comes to your college work, inspiration is nothing more than curating facts for you research. There is however a driving force that you can use to create your essays. This force is your own inspiration and it works like this: Normally you may find a piece of research and add it into your work, but what you should do is come up with an idea and then find research that supports it so you can put it in your essay.

Your job should be to come up with a bunch of ideas, find supporting evidence and then change your ideas as you find your evidence. So obviously, if you find out that your ideas are completely wrong through your research, then you can amend your ideas and then check to see if there is more supporting evidence or if there is another angle or opposing evidence.

How do I know if I am inspired or just copying?

If you find something and you take it at face value and add it to your essay then you are copying. If you find something and you do research into it, put thought into it, reason it out, consider the source, check the logic and bias then you are being inspired. You are looking at an idea and considering it as oppose to looking at an idea and using (stealing) it.