Catching up with Campus: Is self-plagiarism wrong?

Olivia Shackleton, Campus Editor

Tuesday nights in the newsroom often lead to contentious debates, such as whether Simon & Garfunkel’s song is entitled the “Sound of Silence” or the “Sounds of Silence.” Amidst these heated debates, I heard a term that immediately made me roll my eyes: self-plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism is a concept I have heard mentioned many times before. Apparently if I use research and writings that I have used for another class that counts as a form of plagiarism just like using others’ work and claiming it as my own would be.

I have always been bothered by this idea. If I, at any point, put the time and effort into researching and writing on a topic and can transfer it to another project I am working on, then I should be able to apply the knowledge and work to my current situation. For example, if I had to write a story for a journalism assignment in class, but also wanted to share it as a piece of writing in The Carroll News, why is that an issue? Because I used it for one purpose (class) and then republished it for another (The Carroll News), I would be engaging in self-plagiarism.

When thinking about self-plagiarism in the context of professional research,  I  can see where ethical issues may arise.  An article entitled, “Self-plagiarism: Oxymoron, fair use or scientific misconduct?” published in Nursing Outlook in 2004, explains a concept closely linked to self-plagiarism called duplicate publishing. The author defines this term as “when an author submits (and has accepted and published) the same manuscript to different journals with very little change in any of the text.”

The author argues that there is an ethical dilemma posed by this. “Duplicate publishing is a clear violation of ethical practices and rules. Essentially, the core issue in duplicate publication is that the author misrepresents their work as ‘original and a contribution to the literature’ when, in fact, it has already been in another article, with only the title or small sections rewritten. In almost every case, the author does this intentionally and does not even cite their previous work.”  This explanation is convincing because the person engaging in self-plagiarism, in the case presented, is deceiving the second publication into believing that the work being published is a new finding in the literature.

However, it is difficult to tell if this concept is the same as self-plagiarism. Some scholars argue it is the same, while others contend it is not.The author of the article says that there is no clear line between the two terms. Either way, legal standards still apply.

Copyright laws prohibit the re-use of “original work of authorship from any tangible medium of expression” without consent from the copyright holder. If you publish your work in a journal, the journal now has the copyright; therefore, the legal lines are fairly clear.

Researching the topic of self-plagiarism has allowed me to gain a broader perspective on the topic. When I think about self-plagiarism and duplicate publishing on the professional research end of the spectrum, I now can see there are ethical and legal implications that I had not previously considered. However, I still believe, in the context of being a student, we should be able to use our work in a variety of projects and situations.