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Plagiarism vs. Copying: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on October 14, 2023
Plagiarism involves taking someone else's work and presenting it as your own, usually in academic or professional settings. Copying is the act of duplicating content or behavior, not necessarily with the intent of deceit.

Key Differences

Plagiarism and copying both involve using someone else's work or ideas, but their implications and applications can be quite different. Plagiarism is a serious ethical violation that involves stealing someone else's intellectual property and claiming it as your own, often without permission or acknowledgment. Copying, on the other hand, can be a neutral act, like taking notes from a board or making a photocopy of a document, and does not always imply deception.
Plagiarism often carries legal consequences and is considered an academic offense in many institutions. It undermines the principles of integrity and trust. Copying, meanwhile, can be benign or even encouraged in some contexts, like art classes where you copy a famous painting to learn techniques. However, if copying is done with the intent to deceive, it can also be considered plagiarism.
Grammatically speaking, "plagiarism" is a noun that often stands alone or with a qualifying adjective such as "academic" or "literary." "Copying" is also a noun but can serve as a present participle verb ("He is copying the document"). In sentences, plagiarism is often introduced by the verb "commit," whereas copying is often paired with verbs like "is," "are," or "was."
In essence, while plagiarism is a subset of copying with the specific intent of deceit, not all instances of copying qualify as plagiarism. Copying could be a mere duplication of content, while plagiarism is the unethical appropriation of someone else’s work as one's own, often with serious consequences.

Comparison Chart


Deceptive, with intent to claim as own
Not always deceptive


Academic, professional
Varied, can be benign

Legal Consequences



Usually a standalone noun
Noun or present participle verb


Academic papers, published works
Notes, sketches, photocopies

Plagiarism and Copying Definitions


Stealing and publishing ideas without consent.
Plagiarism of copyrighted material is illegal.


Reproduction of original content.
She was copying notes from the board.


Imitation that claims originality.
His plagiarism cost him his job and reputation.


Duplicating material for reference.
Copying the article was easier than handwriting it.


Unacknowledged use of another's intellectual property.
The student committed plagiarism by copying from the internet.


Replicating actions or behavior.
The younger sibling was copying his brother's dance moves.


Presenting someone else's work as one's own.
Her article was retracted due to plagiarism.


An imitation or reproduction of an original; a duplicate
A copy of a painting.
Made two copies of the letter.


Academic dishonesty involving copied work.
The professor detected plagiarism using specialized software.


(Computers) A file that has the same data as another file
Stored on the server a copy of every document.


The act or behavior of plagiarizing.


One example of a printed text, picture, film, or recording
An autographed copy of a novel.


An instance of plagiarizing, especially a passage that is taken from the work of one person and reproduced in the work of another without attribution.


Material, such as a manuscript, that is to be set in type.


(uncountable) Copying of another person's ideas, text, or other creative work, and presenting it as one's own, especially without permission; plagiarizing.
Even if it's not illegal, plagiarism is usually frowned upon.
Copy from one, it's plagiarism. Copy from two, it's research.


The words to be printed or spoken in an advertisement.


(uncountable) Text or other work resulting from this act.
The novel was awash in plagiarism, with entire passages lifted verbatim.


Suitable source material for journalism
Celebrities make good copy.


(countable) The instance of plagiarism.


To make a reproduction or copy of
Copied the note letter for letter.
Copied the file to a disk.


The act or practice of plagiarizing.


To follow as a model or pattern; imitate.


That which is plagiarized; a work which has been plagiarized.


To include as an additional recipient of a written communication
Please copy me when you reply to her.


A piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work


To make a copy or copies.


The act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own


To admit of being copied
Colored ink that does not copy well.


To hear clearly or understand something said by radio communication
Mayday. Do you copy?.


Present participle of copy


(countable) an instance of the making of a copy


(uncountable) the practice of making one or more copies


An act of copying


Imitating a form or style.
The artist was copying the techniques of the masters.


Creating a facsimile of an item.
Copying the document was necessary for the meeting.


What are the consequences of Copying?

Copying can vary from harmless to punishable, depending on intent and context.

What is Copying?

Copying is the act of duplicating content, whether textual, visual, or behavioral.

How do Plagiarism and Copying differ?

Plagiarism involves deceit and claiming ownership, while copying doesn't necessarily imply deceit.

Is Plagiarism always illegal?

Not always, but it often violates academic or professional ethics and can carry legal consequences.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of using someone else's work and presenting it as your own.

Is Copying always unethical?

No, copying can be benign or even encouraged in some contexts.

What verbs often accompany Copying?

Verbs like "is," "are," or "was" are often used with copying ("He is copying").

What verbs often accompany Plagiarism?

"Commit" is often used with plagiarism ("commit plagiarism").

Can Copying become Plagiarism?

Yes, if copying is done with the intent to deceive and claim ownership.

Is Plagiarism only text-based?

No, plagiarism can also involve images, ideas, music, and other forms of content.

What are some examples of Plagiarism?

Academic papers, copyrighted text, and replicated artwork can be examples of plagiarism.

What are the consequences of Plagiarism?

Plagiarism can lead to academic penalties, job loss, and legal consequences.

What are some examples of Copying?

Photocopying, note-taking, and replicating a painting for practice are examples of copying.

Are there tools to detect Plagiarism?

Yes, there are specialized software tools designed to detect plagiarism.

Is Copying ever permissible?

In some cases, like note-taking or learning, copying is permissible and even encouraged.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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