Types of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is not always a black and white issue. The boundary between plagiarism and research is often unclear. Learning to recognize the various forms of plagiarism, especially the more ambiguous ones, is an important step towards effective prevention.

The Plagiarism Spectrum was developed as a way to define and distinguish the common ways in which plagiarism can take form. The Spectrum makes these forms memorable by tagging the types with “Digital 2.0” monikers, a gesture that both acknowledges the role that the internet plays in instances of content copying and makes the types more meaningful for a generation of younger writers.

As part of the Plagiarism Spectrum project, a May 2012 survey of nearly 900 secondary and higher education instructors was also conducted to assess the frequency with which these types appear as well as the degree to which each type is problematic for instructors.

Each of the 5 most common types of plagiarism are defined below. The types are ranked in order of severity of intent.

#1 Copy Cat
Submitting another’s work as one’s own

Paraphrases from multiple sources, made to fit together

#2 Duplicator
Contains a lot of material from the same source without revisions

Borrows generously from the writer’s previous work without citation

#3 Replacer
Changing key words and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source


Using an image, video or piece of music in a work you have produced without receiving proper permission or providing appropriate citation is plagiarism. The following activities are very common in today’s society. Despite their popularity, they still count as plagiarism.

  • Copying media (especially images) from other websites to paste them into your own papers or websites.
  • Making a video using footage from others’ videos or using copyrighted music as part of the soundtrack.
  • Performing another person’s copyrighted music (i.e., playing a cover).
  • Composing a piece of music that borrows heavily from another composition.

Certainly, these media pose situations in which it can be challenging to determine whether or not the copyrights of a work are being violated. For example:

  • A photograph or scan of a copyrighted image (for example: using a photograph of a book cover to represent that book on one’s website)
  • Recording audio or video in which copyrighted music or video is playing in the background.
  • Re-creating a visual work in the same medium. (for example: shooting a photograph that uses the same composition and subject matter as someone else’s photograph)
  • Re-creating a visual work in a different medium (for example: making a painting that closely resembles another person’s photograph).
  • Re-mixing or altering copyrighted images, video or audio, even if done so in an original way.

The legality of these situations, and others, would be dependent upon the intent and context within which they are produced. The two safest approaches to take in regards to these situations is: 1) Avoid them altogether or 2) Confirm the works’ usage permissions and cite them properly.

What Is Plagiarism? (n.d.) Retrieved May 11, 2015, from