What counts as plagiarism and why is it a problem?

Plagiarism means the copying of another person’s material and using such copied material as if it were one’s own work, without citing a quotation or stating a source.

In some cases, plagiarism can be easy to discover. This primarily involves a student copying sources verbatim that are known to the teachers. Reading text itself can be sufficient in order to expose the intentional or unintentional cheat.

In other cases, plagiarism can be very difficult to discover. The student may have put some effort into revising the text to thwart detection of plagiarism. Plagiarism markers that insinuate plagiarism have been removed, source material selection may have been such that the source is not available to the teacher. The text might also be a translation from another language, and so forth. It is especially in these cases when URKUND is a powerful tool.

The fact that plagiarism is difficult to screen for is a problem in itself, but only if there is consensus as to plagiarism being wrong to start with. So why is plagiarism wrong?

Legal problem

Plagiarism is consequently a legal problem. It can be illegal in certain circumstances to plagiarise copyrighted material without the consent of the copyright owner.


The fact that cheating occurs is a direct threat to the quality of education and research. An academic degree should mirror the knowledge and skills of the person being examined; qualities that cannot be acquired through cheating.

Academic integrity

Academia is built on the tradition of a concept of intellectual honesty – academic integrity. The trust that our world has in education and research is founded on this concept. However, the occurrence of plagiarism risks the breakdown of this trust and subsequently constitutes a basic threat to academic integrity.

Working environment

It is an unpleasant task for a teacher to confront a student with suspicions of plagiarism. This is particularly the case if the teacher does not have access to the original source material. Conversely it means, of course, that the student finds the situation difficult to cope with if he/she is wrongly suspected of plagiarism.

Do you want to learn more about how to avoid plagiarism?

Our Plagiarism Handbook is a lecture with a run-through of what constitutes plagiarism and how texts can be handled to avoid this. Based on the URKUND Plagiarism manual, we also provide tips and advice about how pupils and students can plan the writing process in order to get it done in time and to achieve the desired result.

We recommend the Plagiarism Handbook to pupils and students in primary and secondary schools, universities and colleges.

Download our Plagiarism Handbook.