Our most valuable capital in the academic world, whether we are students or researchers, is ideas. Yes, the personal and economic rewards (present or future) are there, but deep down it’s the ideas we produce that give meaning and essence to our time at university. As Loaeza (2015) already stated, these ideas are an intangible and temporary property, which includes the principles of originality, imagination, critical thinking, and hours of work dedicated. When someone steals an idea that is not theirs, they are taking away all that intellectual process as well. That is why plagiarism is so sad… and serious, especially if we consider that it can lead to an undeserved assignment of employment contracts, research positions, or scholarships.
Even so, detected cases show that it has become a massive practice.
In case you didn’t hear the gossip, I’ll tell you about two famous cases in Germany: the former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was accused of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation. On 2011, the University of Bayreuth withdrew his doctorate title, leading to what’s known as the “Guttenberg plagiarism scandal”. The same thing happened to former Education Minister Annette Schavan, who resigned when her Ph.D. degree was revoked by Heinrich Heine University. These cases happened years after the aforementioned graduated. That’s why I urge you to be very careful with dupe decisions. The future is a mystery and every paper counts.
What do we mean by plagiarism?
In the strictest contexts, plagiarism is classified as a crime, whether of a moral, civil or commercial nature. At Uni Bremen (the environment that really interests us) plagiarism is classified as “academic malpractice” and is defined as “the use of another person’s words or ideas (in any kind of printed or online material) without appropriate acknowledgment” (https://www.uni-bremen.de/fileadmin/user_upload/fachbereiche/fb10/fb10/pdf/Verwaltung/Information_on_Plagiarism_translated.pdf).
The following is stated under §18 (2) in the general information sections of the BA/MA examinations regulations of the University of Bremen (since December 2021): “Any unacknowledged use of someone else’s work, i.e. incorrect or missing information on authorship, is seen as an attempt to deceive if the passages taken from previously published work are not identified as citations.”
Direct translations without acknowledgment of authorship classify as plagiarism too.
What are the consequences in Uni Bremen for plagiarism cases?
The consequences at Uni Bremen are not as severe as those at other prestigious universities around the world. However, they exist. These can range from failing a test to expulsion, in the most severe cases. The first thing a professor should do in case of suspicion or detection is to talk to the student (at least here the benefit of the doubt is given; in other universities, the expulsion is immediate when the evidence is unappealable, even if the reason is negligence and not malicious intent). If the incident escalates, the responsible Examination Board must be notified. This will be followed by an interview with the expert counselors of the Academic Advisory Office and, perhaps, the opportunity to retake the exam.
Serious or repeated cases are referred to the university legal department, under §42 (4) of Bremen’s Higher Education Act and §11 (3) of the Application Regulation of the University of Bremen.
What can we do to avoid plagiarism?
The first thing I recommend, when in doubt, is to review the Indiana University Tests and Tutorials, which I have always found very useful: https://plagiarism.iu.edu/index.html. There you will find a decision table, step-by-step guides, examples of the 15 types of plagiarism (word-for-word and paraphrasing plagiarism), and documents with correct citations. Our article on the 4 phases of creativity is also interesting to spark writing inspiration: https://blogs.uni-bremen.de/eule/2021/11/12/die-4-phasen-der-kreativitaet/.
In addition, there are many plagiarism detection apps. The most common is Turnitin. Grammarly also has the tool. Uni Bremen has an agreement (which includes Data Protection) with the PlagScan software. It is important to discuss with the professor if the work can be passed through this software beforehand. Sometimes tools detect when it has already been passed more than once and this can generate alerts.
While the above can be cumbersome, we should do the extra work to foster that culture. I wish we didn’t have to distrust authorship, wish there was no need to ask: is this really yours? But since that ideal world does not exist, it is realistic to think about ways to prevent it, exact definitions and regulations, and possible consequences or sanctions to curb plagiarism. Ultimately, we all benefit from more rigorous academic ethics.
Referenced in this article:
Loaeza, S. (2015). “El ataque de los plagiarios”. La Jornada, Opinión. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2015/07/16/opinion/021a2pol [Consultation date: 05.11.2022].