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Citing Sources: Self-Plagiarism

DISCLAIMER: Material provided is only intended as a guide. This guide is not a substitute for professional legal advice.

What is "Self-Plagiarism"

Thought experiments:

If I use an online service to post the same picture or news item to multiple platforms at the same time, is that self-plagiarism?  Yes.  

Fair Use - 4 Factor analysis:

1. The purpose and character of your use
Fairer: Non-profit.  Educational. 

2. The nature of the copyrighted work
Fairer: Facts. EX: New books available at the library.

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
Fairer: Just a quote, a few pages. EX: Title and publisher date.

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market.
Fairer: One article for personal, non-profit, educational use.

Does anyone care if I am re-using content? No.


If I hand in an essay to meet the needs of an assignment, and it is just a re-write of an essay from another course, is that self-plagiarism? Yes.  

This would only be permissible IF YOU GOT PERMISSION FROM YOUR TEACHER.  

Iff  (if and only if) the reason for the assignment is to prove you can do the assignment, the teacher may allow it.  If the purpose of the assignment is for you to learn something new: then, of course re-using an old assignment is a waste of time and does not do what the assignment is supposed to do.


If you get credit for publishing something as "new", even though  the "new "part is not enough to publish on its own, is that self-plagiarism?

That depends on "how much needs to be new to be worthy of publishing."  Which is subjective.  

It is more ethical to cite your previous works and then leave it up to the publisher/audience to determine whether the new material is significant.

Authors are usually seeking status or tenure in a competitive environment; students are usually trying to get a good grade as an indicator of status. Relational status indicators are only useful if everyone is following the same rules and expectations for status indication.  

When status indicators are based on subjective judgments, such as with tenure and grade granting, discrimination and bias are apt to cause unfair results.  

Fair Use - 4 Factor analysis:

1. The purpose and character of your use
Fairer: Educational. 
Less fair: Trying to gain value (more status) for less or no original work.

2. The nature of the copyrighted work
Fairer: Facts. New research using new variables or new subjects.
Less Fair: Re-using old without self-citing. Re-using old summaries and methods, no changes to methods.  Re-doing old work. 

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
Fairer: Just a quote, a few pages. 
Less fair: The whole thing, or the main point of the book, article, etc. EX:Re-publishing under different name in differnt journal. (See #1)

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market.
Fairer: One article for personal, non-profit, educational use.

Less fair: Preventing content owner an opportunity to make money. EX: Person can get same article from cheaper journal. Only a problem if publisher owns content.

Does anyone care? Yes. Universities that try to treat faculty equally and fairly for granting tenure. Other competitors that lost out on tenure because they acted ethically, will certainly try to uncover your unethical behavior.

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