Key Takeaways:

  • Distinguishing between common knowledge and original ideas is crucial to avoid unintended duplication. Common knowledge does not require attribution, but unique contributions must be properly cited.
  • When incorporating a direct piece of code from an external source, use quotation marks and provide appropriate citations to acknowledge the original author and avoid intellectual property theft.
  • Implementing adequate protections, such as plagiarism detection tools, helps ensure that all code is original and respects the intellectual property of others.
  • Simply performing a ‘copy-paste’ action without proper attribution transforms a piece of code into a copyright-protected piece, leading to potential legal issues and ethical breaches.
  • Gaining complete knowledge of copyright laws and consistently using correct references when borrowing ideas or code ensures respect for original work and prevents intellectual property theft.

In computer science, plagiarism encompasses more than just duplicating written material; it also refers to copying ideas, algorithms, and even code.

Plagiarism in the field has the potential to grow as technology does. Knowing what plagiarism is in computer science is important for staying honest in educational institutions, encouraging new ideas, and following the law.

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What is Plagiarism in Computer Science?

The term “plagiarism” is used in the field of computer science to describe the practice of taking another person’s work and passing it off as one’s own without giving them credit.

It involves taking someone else’s thinking and passing it off as your own, copying code word for word, or making minor modifications to it.

The value of original work is diminished by this unethical conduct, which can have serious repercussions for one’s academic record and career.

Types of Plagiarism in Computer

Computer plagiarism goes beyond simply copying entire blocks of code. Here’s a breakdown of the various types you might encounter:

Direct Copying:

This is the most blatant form of plagiarism, involving copying and pasting code from another source without any modifications or attribution.

Mosaic Plagiarism:

This involves piecing together code snippets from different sources to create a new program. While the overall code might seem original, it’s still plagiarism if the borrowed sections aren’t properly attributed.


This occurs when someone reuses significant portions of their own code in a new project without proper citation. While not always malicious, it can be problematic in academic settings where originality is expected.

Code Paraphrasing:

Here, someone modifies existing code slightly to disguise its origin. This could entail adding comments, renaming variables, or rearranging the statements in a different sequence. But the basic logic and operation are still pretty much the same.

Beyond these general categories, computer code plagiarism can be further classified based on the nature of the copied content:

  • Algorithm Plagiarism: Copying the underlying logic and problem-solving approach used in someone else’s code, even if the actual code itself is rewritten.
  • Plagiarism in Data Structures: Copying the structure and operations of data in another programme, even if there are minor differences in implementation.
  • Imitating a graphical interface’s style and layout without authorisation is known as user interface plagiarism. This may entail imitating the menu layouts, button locations, and general style and feel.
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Computer Plagiarism and Copyright Law

computer plagiarism and copyright

Copyright law plays a crucial role in protecting intellectual property, including computer code. Software is protected by copyright, much like music, movies, and books are.

Copyright rules are broken when software code is copied without authorisation. This can lead to fines, penalties, and legal action. To prevent inadvertent violations, computer scientists must be aware of these laws.

Connection between Copyright Law and Code Plagiarism

Copyright law serves as the backbone for addressing plagiarism in computer science. It grants creators exclusive rights to their original works.

Accordingly, the exclusive right of the copyright holder is to:

  • Make the code again
  • Make works that are derivative of the code.
  • Distribute the code in copies.
  • Publicly display the code

These exclusive rights are violated by plagiarism, which is the unauthorised copying of another person’s code.

Therefore, it is crucial to understand how copyright law and code plagiarism are related in order to safeguard intellectual property and advance moral behaviour in the industry.

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Why is Plagiarism a Problem?

Plagiarism in computer science is a significant issue with wide-ranging consequences that impact students, professionals, and the broader technology community. Here are several reasons why it is problematic:

  • Undermines Learning and Development: Plagiarism hinders the educational process by preventing students from fully engaging with the material and developing their own problem-solving and coding skills. Students lose out on the invaluable learning opportunities that arise from taking on challenges and making mistakes when they copy code instead of writing their own.
  • Devalues Original Work: Plagiarism devalues the hard work and creativity of those who produce original code. It deters creativity and demoralises people who witness their labours being unjustly appropriated without credit. The general calibre of contributions made by members of the computer science community may suffer as a result.
  • Legal Consequences: Copying someone else’s code without permission can lead to serious legal issues. Copyright laws protect software code, and violations can result in lawsuits, fines, and other penalties. These legal battles can be costly and time-consuming, tarnishing the reputation of those involved.
  • Reputation Damage: Being caught plagiarising can severely damage an individual’s academic and professional reputation. For students, it can lead to disciplinary actions, including expulsion. For professionals, it can result in job loss and difficulty finding future employment. A tarnished reputation can have long-lasting effects on one’s career.
  • Security Risks: Plagiarised code might not be properly understood or tested by the person using it, leading to potential security vulnerabilities. When code is used without a thorough understanding of its purpose and constraints, vulnerabilities and defects can be introduced, putting software systems’ security at risk from malevolent actors
  • Hinders Academic and Professional Integrity: Academic institutions and professional environments rely on the integrity and honesty of their members. Plagiarism undermines these values, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and dishonesty. Maintaining high ethical standards is crucial for fostering a culture of respect and mutual trust.
  • Impacts Team Dynamics: In collaborative environments, plagiarism can create friction and mistrust among team members. When one member plagiarises, it can lead to conflicts, reduce team cohesion, and negatively impact the overall productivity and morale of the group.
  • Innovation Stagnation: Plagiarism stifles innovation by encouraging a culture of copying rather than creating. When individuals rely on copying existing solutions, they are less likely to develop new ideas and push the boundaries of what is possible in technology.

Real-World Examples of Computer Plagiarism

computer plagiarism examples

Apple’s GUI Imitation of Xerox’s

The first computer graphical user interface (GUI) was created by Xerox in the late 1970s. This innovation transformed the way people interact with computers, which is why Apple designed its own graphical user interface (GUI) for the Macintosh.

Still, the Xerox GUI was not too far from Apple’s. Xerox filed a lawsuit after claiming Apple had violated its copyright. Apple gave Xerox access to its technology and stock in exchange for the litigation being settled.

Windows operating system from Microsoft

Microsoft was accused of stealing code from other operating systems in order to create the Windows operating system. Numerous businesses claimed that Microsoft had utilised their technology without their consent or proper credit, which resulted in a number of legal disputes.

Microsoft eventually agreed to resolve the claims by agreeing to stop utilising specific components of the rival operating systems and paying millions of dollars in damages.

Google versus Oracle

Oracle sued Google in 2010 for allegedly using its Java code without permission when creating the Android operating system.

The Supreme Court heard the matter and finally decided in Google’s favour. The decision cleared Google of the infringement charges by stating that application programming interfaces (APIs) are not covered by copyright law.

Apple versus Samsung

Apple filed a lawsuit against Samsung in 2012 for imitating the iPhone’s design. Both firms accused each other of stealing technology throughout the protracted legal dispute that lasted for several years. Ultimately, Apple was awarded over $1 billion in damages from Samsung.

Apple versus Adobe

Adobe filed a lawsuit against Apple in 2010 for unauthorised use of its Flash technology on the iPhone. After an out-of-court settlement, Apple gave Adobe a licence agreement and money.

Common Misconceptions About Code Plagiarism

Here are some of the most frequent misunderstandings surrounding code plagiarism:

Myth 1: It’s okay to copy code if it works.

Reality: Just because code functions doesn’t mean copying it’s acceptable. Copyright law protects the original work, even if the functionality itself isn’t copyrightable. Additionally, copied code might contain bugs or vulnerabilities not readily apparent.

Myth 2: Borrowing small snippets is okay.

Reality: The amount of code copied isn’t the sole factor. Even small snippets can be considered plagiarism if they represent a crucial part of the functionality or logic, and proper attribution isn’t provided.

Myth 3: Using open-source code is a free pass.

Reality: Open-source projects often have licenses that dictate how the code can be used. Failing to follow these licenses, like not attributing the original author or adhering to sharing modifications, can still be considered plagiarism.

Myth 4: Rewriting code slightly avoids plagiarism.

Reality: Simply changing variable names or adding comments doesn’t absolve you of plagiarism. If the core functionality and logic remain copied, it’s still considered a form of “code paraphrasing.”

Myth 5: Code plagiarism detection tools can catch everything.

Reality: While code plagiarism detection tools are helpful, they might not be foolproof. Understanding the different types of plagiarism and fostering a culture of ethical coding are crucial for true prevention.

By dispelling these misconceptions, we can promote a more responsible approach to using and creating code, fostering innovation and safeguarding intellectual property in the digital landscape.

Importance of Recognising Computer Code Plagiarism

code plagiarism

Recognising computer code plagiarism is crucial for maintaining academic and professional integrity. It ensures that original work is properly credited, fostering a culture of honesty and respect within the computer science community.

Identifying plagiarism helps protect intellectual property rights, encourages innovation, and upholds the value of genuine contributions.

Moreover, it prevents legal issues associated with copyright infringement and mitigates security risks arising from misunderstood or improperly integrated code.

By detecting and addressing software plagiarism, we promote ethical practices, enhance learning experiences, and support the development of reliable and secure software solutions.

Spotting Examples of Plagiarism Involving the Use of Computers

Here are some red flags that might indicate computer code plagiarism:

Code characteristics:

  • Unusually complex or perfect code: If the code seems far too advanced for the supposed author’s skill level, it could be a sign of plagiarism. Students new to programming might not be able to write highly optimised or complex algorithms on their own.
  • Identical code structure or commenting style: Across different projects, if the code structure (organisation and layout) or commenting style (way the code is explained) remains identical, it suggests potential copying. Developers often have their own preferred ways of structuring and documenting code.
  • Lack of understanding about the code’s functionality: If the person presenting the code struggles to explain how it works or the logic behind different sections, it raises suspicion. True understanding allows for clear explanations of the code’s purpose and functionality.

Behavioral signs:

  • Hesitation or difficulty answering questions: If the individual avoids explaining the code or seems hesitant to answer questions about specific functions, it could be a sign they don’t fully grasp the code and may have copied it.
  • Sudden shift in coding style: In a series of assignments or projects by the same student, a sudden and unexplained change in coding style or level of complexity could indicate copied work.
  • Inability to adapt or modify the code: If the individual struggles to modify or adapt the code for different purposes, it suggests they may not have written it originally.

Availability of source code:

  • Freely available code with minor modifications: If the code closely resembles readily available open-source code with only minor changes, it might be a case of plagiarism without proper attribution.
  • Code snippets matching online tutorials: Sometimes, students might copy code snippets directly from online tutorials without understanding the underlying concepts. While tutorials are helpful resources, copying them verbatim is plagiarism.

Remember: These are just some examples, and a single red flag might not be conclusive evidence. However, noticing a combination of these indicators can strengthen the case for potential plagiarism.

Consequences of Code Plagiarism

Academic Penalties: Students found guilty of code copying can face severe academic consequences, including failing grades, suspension, or expulsion. Academic institutions have strict policies against intellectual dishonesty to maintain integrity and uphold educational standards.

Legal Repercussions: Copying code can result in legal action, including lawsuits and significant financial penalties. Copyright laws protect software code, and violating these laws can lead to costly and time-consuming legal battles.

Reputation Damage: Being caught duplicating code can severely damage an individual’s academic, professional, and personal reputation. This can affect future educational and career opportunities, as trust and credibility are critical in the field of computer science.

Loss of Professional Opportunities: Professionals found guilty of code imitation may lose their jobs and face difficulties finding new employment. Employers value originality and integrity, and a record of copying can be a significant barrier to career advancement.

Hindered Learning and Skill Development: Imitation deprives individuals of the opportunity to learn and develop their own coding skills. Relying on copied code prevents meaningful engagement with the material and hampers personal growth and expertise in the field.

Reduced Innovation: Intellectual theft stifles innovation by promoting a culture of copying rather than creating. Original work drives progress and technological advancements, while imitation discourages new ideas and solutions.

How to Avoid Plagiarism in Computer Science?

avoid plagiarism in code

Proper Citation: Always give credit to the original authors of the code, algorithms, or ideas you use. Include detailed references, such as the name of the text, author, publisher, edition, date, and page number for textbooks, or the name of the original programmer for code obtained from others.

Document Your Code: Make sure you clearly mark the sections of the code that you wrote and the sections that you borrowed. Describe any changes you made to the original code in the comments. Acknowledging the original inventors and maintaining openness are two benefits of proper documentation.

Understand the Code You Use: Before incorporating someone else’s code, ensure you understand it thoroughly. This allows you to modify and adapt it appropriately, making it genuinely part of your work rather than a direct copy.

Write Your Own Code: Strive to write your own code whenever possible. Developing your solutions enhances your learning and reduces the risk of unintentional plagiarism.

Use Plagiarism Detection Tools: Utilise tools like MOSS (Measure of Software Similarity), Turnitin, or JPlag to check your code for similarities with existing sources. These tools can help you identify and correct potential plagiarism before submission.

Paraphrase and Adapt: When using ideas or logic from another source, paraphrase and adapt them into your own words and coding style. Ensure that the resulting code is sufficiently different from the original to avoid direct copying.

Seek Permission: If you need to use significant portions of someone else’s code, seek permission from the original author. This not only avoids software plagiarism but also builds professional respect and collaboration.

Maintain a Learning Log: Keep a log of all the resources you consult while working on a project. This practice helps you track sources and ensures that you can provide accurate citations when needed.

Understand Copyright Laws: Familiarise yourself with copyright laws and fair use policies related to software and code. Understanding these regulations helps you stay within legal boundaries and respect intellectual property rights.

By adhering to these practices, you can avoid plagiarism, uphold academic integrity, and contribute original and valuable work to the field of computer science.

How is Proper Credit Given?

Giving proper acknowledgment is accomplished by explicitly noting in the source code:

  • The algorithm’s or code’s original creator.
  • The source from which the code or algorithm was received. Provide a complete bibliographic reference for a textbook that includes the text’s name, the author, the publisher, the edition (if it’s not the first), the date, and the page number. Provide the original programmer’s name if you receive code from another student or teacher.
  • An explanation of any changes the current programmer has made to the code or algorithm.

Programmers should generally clearly mark the portions of their code that they have developed themselves and the portions that have been authored by others in their documentation. Documentation is also customary when utilising one’s own code from an already written programme.

Resources and Tools:

In computer science, you can prevent plagiarism by using the following tools and resources:

Checkers for Code Plagiarism: These programs compare your code against already published web code. While effective, they shouldn’t be the only method employed to prevent plagiarism, as they may overlook subtleties and context. Examples include MOSS, Turnitin, JPlag, and Codequiry.

Tools for Managing Citations: These tools help you organise and arrange your citations according to different styles, ensuring that you properly credit all primary sources used in your work. Popular citation management tools include Zotero, EndNote, and Mendeley.

Open-Source License Databases: These repositories provide details on the licensing conditions of various open-source projects. Understanding licensing terms helps ensure that you use and credit open-source code appropriately. Examples include the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Choose a License.

Online Forums and Communities: Numerous online forums and communities dedicated to computer science can offer helpful information and assistance. Engaging with these communities can provide guidance on best practices, coding standards, and ethical issues. Examples include Stack Overflow, Reddit’s r/programming, and GitHub Discussions.

What’s Next?

In computer science, plagiarism is a major problem that compromises both professional and academic integrity. This includes both direct plagiarism and the improper use of online sources.

It is essential to be familiar with copyright law examples and to comprehend that using online information without proper citations is a type of copyright infringement. This not only protects intellectual property but also supports efficient code development and innovation.

It is imperative to provide accurate attribution and thorough understanding of code that is protected by copyright. Make sure all of your code is unique and correctly cited by scheduling a demo with Bytescare plagiarism checker today to protect your work.

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How can I avoid committing duplication when writing code?

To avoid committing duplication, always give credit to the original authors when using their code or ideas. Use comments in your code to cite sources and provide references in your documentation. Additionally, make a genuine effort to understand and write your own code instead of copying it from others.

What are the consequences of academic dishonesty in computer science?

The consequences of academic dishonesty in computer science can be severe, including failing grades, academic probation, suspension, or even expulsion from educational institutions. In professional settings, it can lead to job termination, legal action, and damage to one’s reputation.

Is it duplication if I modify someone else’s code and use it in my project?

Yes, it can still be considered duplication if you do not properly acknowledge the original source. Even if you modify someone else’s code, you must give credit to the original author for their contributions and clearly indicate what changes you made.

What are some common types of duplication in computer science?

Common types of duplication in computer science include direct copying of code, paraphrasing code without attribution, using another’s algorithms or data structures without credit, and submitting joint work as individual work without acknowledgment.

How can I check if my code is original and free of duplication?

You can use duplication detection tools and software designed to compare your code against a vast database of existing code. These tools highlight similarities and help you identify sections that may need proper citation. Additionally, seek peer reviews and feedback to ensure originality.

Why is it important to avoid duplication in software development?

Avoiding duplication in software development is crucial because it promotes originality, intellectual honesty, and respect for the work of others. It fosters a culture of learning and innovation, ensuring that credit is given where it is due, and helps maintain the integrity of the software development community.