What do we mean by self plagiarism?

09/15/2014 14:26

While plagiarism is the act of using the research or content of other individuals without attribution, self-plagiarism entails re-using one’s own work. In some circles, self plagiarism is a debatable concept. Some might dispute that one cannot steal from one's self. Nevertheless, there are certain instances in which recycling one’s own content is as improper as regular plagiarism. While self-plagiarism does not involve theft of intellectual property in the same way that regular plagiarism does, the act of self-plagiarism does promote quite a few ethical challenges in certain contexts. Largely, self-plagiarism becomes an issue when work is submitted that should be original. This means, for example, that the majority of work published in magazines or newspapers is unlikely to be regarded as self-plagiarized even when writers recreate some of their own work. Self-plagiarism is largely a problem in academic environments.

Many schools have written guidelines against pupils’ reuse of their work in separate lessons, and handing in the same material for two different classes is generally not approved. The demands of academia and the importance of publications for academics can produce another kind of self-plagiarism in which studies are recycled for a number of separate reports. In answer to this, some journals and organisations have designed rules or ethical codes that condemn self-plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism is also a concern when the writer no longer retains copyright to the material. In cases like this, a writer is breaking not just ethical but legal codes. Once a copyright belongs to another individual or organization, writers are no longer authorized to use work as though it is their own.

However, there are a lot of situations in which reusing one’s work is approved or even necessary. Academics constantly build on earlier work, and reference to that work is typically inevitable and even expected. Academics may also quote themselves. Allegations of self-plagiarism can be better deflected by revealing that the work is recycled although some have suggested that even this is unnecessary when one is writing for a completely different audience of readers.

Eliminating self-plagiarism is best done by stating the context in which the writing appears, the expectations of the audience and the guidelines surrounding the piece.