Merriam-Webster defines plagiarism as “the stealing or passing off the ideas or words of another’s as one’s own.” Many people confuse plagiarism with copyright infringement, but they are not the same thing. Plagiarism is much broader and encompasses not only the stealing of someone else’s words, but also the stealing of ideas - including legal analysis. Plagiarism is the passing off of someone else’s intellectual creativity, drawn conclusions, recognition of patterns, and/or brilliant ideas as one’s own. It is taking credit where no credit is due. And it is an easy way out when times get tough.
Plagiarism requires no intent. Cheapening someone else’s idea, inadvertent fraud, beating someone to the punch, and other copying instances can cause harm regardless of intent. When work is plagiarized, damage is done whether someone intended it or not. Additionally, there is no fair use exception with plagiarism. If plagiarism has occurred, regardless of intent or use, it must be acknowledged and remedied. Reporting and remedying plagiarism is a moral issue, a professional issue, and it is just the right thing to do.
Plagiarism harms everyone. Law students are learning to think like lawyers, to think critically, figure out problems, analyze existing knowledge, etc. and then to go one step further by adding additional analysis and predicting outcomes. Plagiarizing achieves none of this. It harms all parties involved and can cause tremendous harm to morale. Plagiarism harms the person plagiarized whether they know they've been plagiarized or not. It also harms the student who learns that he or she can get away with stealing ideas. That taking shortcuts can be okay and that other people are not as perceptive as they are. These are dangerous traits that can often breed arrogance and inflated egos. Professors who don't act when plagiarism is suspected are personally harmed in that they lose the respect of their students, miss out on a teachable moment, and actively allow a young lawyer to start down an unethical path. Classmates are also harmed by the lack of fairness that arises from plagiarism which can lead to bitterness and snuff out their enthusiasm for the class, the professor, or their Emory Law education altogether.
Prevention is easier than detection. Plagiarism can be avoided by stressing to students the right of attribution and the importance of giving credit where credit is due. Once it is suspected, however, it can be difficult to root it out.