Plagiarism

As a doctoral candidate and an early stage researcher you will have to deal with matters of the copyright law and plagiarism. This is why we summarised some information in the F.A.Q.s on this topic. For further information click here.

Additionally the Fachschaft Doktorat recommends to read the Code of Conduct of TU Wien. For further information (only German) click here.

You should be aware of the consequences in the case of copyright infringement. For further information (only German) click here.

The following lines do represent the opinion of us, the official representation of doctoral candidates (Fachschaft Doktorat). The Information presented here was just gathered to provide a guideline.

Basics

There are two sources of information:

  • The Code of Conduct  and

In short: Do not publish/present things as your own if you didn't do them yourself. If you use things done by others, use the rules of how to cite them correctly. There are also problems if you use things published together with other people (first author - contributing author - problem when using such things in the thesis). The examination regulations refer to the Code of Conduct, so it has to be obeyed.

In short: You should obey the exploitation rights of other people. There is also a difference between the exploitation rights of using other things and exploitation rights for others using your things (there might be a problem plagiarizing yourself). You should check the law, the defined exceptions and the contracts/licenses you have with the involved publishing company.

The Code of Conduct

For all students and employees of the TU Wien the Code of Conduct is obligatory.  The text is not very long and easy to read, so we recommend reading it.

Scientific misconduct (§2) regarding plagiarism, is the unauthorised use with misrepresentation of authorship of

  • text, pictures and other stuff protected by copyright
  • discoveries, hypotheses, doctrines or research approaches

§3 also mentions: claiming co-authorship of people without their knowledge/acceptance, cognizance and violation of obligatory supervision

Ignoring the Code of Conduct will not lead to a criminal compliant, but it can cause serious consequences regarding to the

  • employment law (esp. employees of the TU Wien)
  • civil law (e.g. depriveing of sponsorship)
  • university (e.g. backdated depriving of academic titles)

The Copyright Act:

regulates and limits the economic relations between creator (author,...), publisher and libraries regarding reproduction and publication of some work. Ideas are not protected by the Copyright Act.

At first, the author owns all exploitation rights (reproduction, publication,...). This rights can be assigned to others. Often these "others" are publishing companies. When publishing papers in Journals or Conference Proceedings, the publishing companies normally expects to get all exploitation rights for the text and the pictures of your publication.  Publishing in Open Access Journals and Wikipedia causes some exploitation rights to be assigned to the general public (s.a. Creative Commons Licenses).

Contracts with publication companies are normally bound to the national law of the country were the company is located. WIPO recommended contracts are international harmonized.

Plagiarism violates the Copyright Act because:

  •     it violates the copyright of the original author
  •     it violates the exploitation rights of the publishing company
  •     you are assigning exploitation rights to the publishing company you don't hold

When such a kind of Copyright infringement is discovered all marred parties can claim indemnity.

Citations are not covered by the Copyright Act, but especially taking pictures can be a problem. When publishing things without Copyright the legal basis should be checked. Also publishing the same thing more than once can lead to (self-)plagiarism, because you can assign an exclusive Copyright only once.

Most contracts  of publishing companies include clauses that allow the use of the publication for your own thesis, postdoctoral lecture qualification, aso. Check in advance.

Open Access Journals often publish under the Creative Commons License. This License allows the fair use of the material. But there are no rules for commercial use. And the publishing companies expect an exclusive commercial license.

Citations:

Basically: As a scientist one is forced to make transparent citations when using things used from others work. Pretending authorship of, for example ideas, concepts, algorithms, formulas, deviations, pictures, texts, aso., is plagiarism.

As everywhere, there are exceptions: scientific basics, as found in books for teaching, are not subject for citations.

There are different types of citations:

  • Using the content: explaining a content in own words
  • Using the text "as is" (literally): taking parts of an others work. This hast to be made clear, by formating the text in a suitable way

Using full text citation is used only, when the text at the source gives an explanation, that can not be done better in own words AND this text fits the context. In all other cases, the context is to be described in own words.

Using full text citations is regulated in §46 Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz ): using literally citations is only allowed to an extend that is legitimated by a special use and is integrated into a major (more extensive) work. US - laws refer to this as "fair use". As the purpose of such a textual citation is the scientific discussion, the extension or the criticism of an others work, parts of this text and even pictures can be used in a way and extend which is legitimated by this use.

Using secondary literature: Sometimes citations of a "famous" paper are found in the literature used. Citing the famous paper is acceptable, if only the content of this primary source is used and no work done by the secondary source is claimed as own work. Just finding primary literature is no scientific work itself, but giving arguments, finding correlations, giving an evidence, aso. is. In this case the secondary literature is to be cited. In doubt, it would be fair to cite a young scientist as he/she can gain some Inpact-factor, also if this secondary literature is a diploma thesis or dissertation.

A correct citation looks (slightly) different in every scientific discipline (or even faculty). Detailed information about this can be gathered from members of the own working group or institute.

But I can explain the same thing only in finite different ways!

Differing from humanities and arts, where there is a focus on the literary quality, technical publications focus on experiments, theories,  results, aso. Publications located in the same thematic field often use very similar/identical formulations for the introduction. This is often not cited, because finding the originally source of such formulations would be very difficult or nearly impossible. Also finding such a source would not bring any additional value to the publication. There are only some ways to describe the basics, and it is worth nothing to reformulate such basics every time.

As long identical text is in an acceptable amount (1 to 2 paragraphs) and used for introduction only it is an commonly accepted thing as long a publication  contains new and independent content contributing to science. This kind of plagiarism is acceptable to the Code of Conduct.

BUT: identical, not cited content is violating the copyright-law. As claimed "no harm, no foul" - normally nobody is interested to fight because of such sentences when they contain no new science. So normally short sections containing common knowledge will not be treated as plagiarism. This is a discrepancy between law and life.

Using your own publications for your thesis

Code of Conduct says: You should use your publications. As it is your job to publish, you also can use such things in your thesis. Work of other people has to be marked with cites.

Copyright-law, in this case, is no problem as it is your work, and others involved have to be mentioned.

Exploitation rights of publishing houses are the problem, especially when a cumulative thesis is written. You sign a contract with them when publishing. This contract normally regulates a possible use for such things. This has to be checked in advance.

Students writing a cumulative thesis should pick their publishing journals by checking their author's contracts in advance.

There is also a difference if something is published in libraries or on the web.

Types of plagiarism:

Short version of  GutenPlag (German):

  • full(text) plagiarism: parts of the text or drawings are completely the same without citation.
  • concealed plagiarism: parts of the text are used but reformulated without citation. Trying to pretend this ideas are your own.
  • plagiarism of translations: using translated text without citation of the source or, if not translated by you, the translator.
  • pawn offer: some small parts of the used things taken from one source are cited a bigger amount of them is not cited.
  • increased pawn offer: suggesting own work and formulation by citation but copying the whole part.
  • copied citation: taking citations out of a secondary literature, hence citing the primary literature correctly but using the description to this citation from the secondary literature without citing it.

When evaluateing a case of doubt plagiarism not only the technical fact of plagiarism has to be considered, but also if plagiarism was done to pretend someones work as own work. An example where the university decided a particular case of plagiarism as a case of fraud is documented here (German).

Ghostwriter

Providing work, which was done by a ghostwriter is a fraud of copyright and so prohibited by the Code of Conduct and the examination regulations. If uncovered a loss of the academic title may happen.

Actually, using payed services as e.g. research, lectorship, translations, formatting, aso. should be possible.

Self-plagiarism

Using the same content for more than one publication is not allowed, because

  • publications have to be a new contribution to science and
  • the exploitation rights of one work can only assigned once.

The law says:

  • Copyright law (UrhG): Nothing. This law regulates the use of third party work. But using printed versions or proofs may violate the rights of a publishing house.
  • University act (UG 2002) is not prohibiting self-plagiarism. But the rules for the postdoctoral lecture qualification forbid the use if self-plagiarism (see A. Gamper, Zeitschrift für Hochschulrecht 8:2-10, 2009 (German)).
  • Code of Conduct prohibits self-plagiarism:
    §7 says that already published content should only be used to clarify a case or things and has to be cited/marked as formerly published.

Using own work for a cumulative thesis is not a case of self-plagiarism. If a copy of printed articles is used, eventually the exploitation rights of a publishing house have to be considered. Most publishers allow the use of their printed version in this special case.

In some working fields there is no problem using articles also as a part (chapter) in a monograph (if these are marked). The new ethics in science changes in a way, that this kind of practice is no longer accepted. It is not clarified, if using an article as a chapter in a monograph violates the Code of Conduct or if the Code of Conduct has or has not to be considered in this case. It is argued, that a thesis is only in library and so not distributed to the whole public. (also in german: A. Gamper, Zeitschrift für Hochschulrecht 8:2-10, 2009). In case of doubt the supervisor of the thesis should be contacted.

"Accidentally" occurring plagiarism?

Plagiarism of text or pictures is not occurring by contretemps. Without beeing wantonly negligent plagiarism can be ruled out.

The Code of Conduct longs for best care of people working in science. A person working sloppily, like forgetting to name co-authors, using old text in a new publication or forgetting to rewrite a paragraph, has, as a scientist, chosen the wrong job.

It becomes a  little bit more complex when we talk about ideas. Solving the same problem. scientists will get to similar or identical results. So propper research should be done to check, if others have found similar results. But even identical ideas will not lead to plagiarism. Two papers crated with the same ideas will be different in style, arguments and structure.

Am I allowed to take content out of a diploma thesis supervised by me?

Actually the Code of Conduct says that you can't publish work not done by yourself. As a diploma thesis normally is done with hint and also ideas of the supervisor the generated content is of property of supervisor and student. So what to do:

If an paper is written, the student has to be named as coauthor. (there are no exceptions, see Code of Conduct §7). If only parts of the thesis are used in a paper with similar but not same content a citation of the thesis would be permissible.

If parts of a supervised diploma-thesis should be used in the own dissertation the following describes one possible way:

  •     Using footnotes or a note in the text like e.g. "The following chapter contains (measurements / work / whatever) done by XY during his diploma thesis and was supervised by the author of this dissertation"
  •     Independent of the above mentioned note all text taken out of the diploma-thesis  has to be cited correctly.

Special rules for pictures

The copyright law mentions slightly different rules for photographical images (e.g. photos). Photograohical images normally do not play a big role in scientific publications. According to §3 of the copyright law such pictures in scientific publications are treated, like scientific text, as literature. So they have to be treated as they were text.

Pictures contain a lot of information in a compact way. In worst case one picture represents/contains the work of many years. So, citing images is equivalent to a very long literal citation.

In scientific publications the amount of literal citations used is only allowed in an extend where there is a good reason for them. Putting pictures to the work just for their existence is actually not a good reason. If there is a good reason, (e.g.doing a discussion about it) it is accepted to use them. (as in US - "fair use").

Redrawing of pictures

Redrawing pictures without citation is plagiarism according to §2 of the Code of Conduct. Using a citation will bring us to a situation, which is not really defined: The copyright law only protects the work, not the idea. It has to decided if the "new" picture is a copy or a new one. A "new" picture is only possible, if some own ideas/changes are made. Just drawing the same by yourself is not enough.

In doubt a picture should be treated as a copy of the original. So the same rules have to be taken: Using pictures has to be done because of a good reason.

Using pictures, which are used in the same or slightly different form many times in different publications: No former publisher could claim to be the source of the used picture and also claim (financial) harm because of this particular use.

Software for automated check against plagiarism

Some faculties of the TU Wien are using such a software for all bachelor- and master-theses and dissertations. These programs basically use an error tolerant comparison between character strings and compare the given text with scientific databases. They mark found text and link it it to the found source. Typically 5 to 10% of the text are found to be equal, especially the bibliography (the title of cited papers) and literal citations. Also incidental equalities of small groups of words, gap fillers and sentences for leading the readers mind to the next point.

The interpretation of this result is done by the person doing this check. Correctly cited texts are clearly distinguishable form texts with "sloppy" citation style and mostly plagiarized texts.

Consequences of plagiarism

  • Plagiarism and the criminal law --> is not part of this discussion. Please note e.g. "Die Presse 26.06.2007: Zwischen Zitat und Plagiat; Parlamentarische Anfrage und Antwort von Frau BM Beatrix Karl, 2011.)
  • The civil law e.g. enforces compensation when violating exploitation rights, it may lead to the loss of sponsorship (and repayment of money), consequences because of the violation of contracts (sponsorship/publishing houses/aso.)
  • The labor legislation is relevant for employees of the University because they have to obey the Code of Conduct.
  • The university can deprive the title(s) granted.
  • Some professional associations (e.g. IEEE) have lists of persons which are convicted of plagiarism. These persons are not allowed (for some years or sometimes over lifetime) to publish in the journals produced by this association.

My work was plagiarized! What can I do?

There is a good text about this topic from the Association for Information Systems: "Guidelines for a Victim: Dealing with Plagiarism".

A student I am supervising has plagiarized! What's next?

Good information about this topic can also be found here (German, pdf, about 82 kB).