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Research & Engineering Ethics

What is plagiarism?

  • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Ed.) defines plagiarism as "a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work."
  • The American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Ed.) defines plagiarize as "to take and use as one's own the writings or ideas of another."
  • IEEE defines plagiarism as the reuse of someone else's prior processes, results, or words without explicitly acknowledging the original author and source.

Is there an acceptable, minimum-level of copying where crediting the original is not required?

Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable and is considered a serious breach of professional conduct, with potentially severe ethical and legal consequences.

If I should discover an example of suspected plagiarism in an IEEE publication, where can I find information that will help me determine my best next step?

  • If you are an IEEE volunteer editor (the person responsible for any IEEE publication is termed "the editor") and have either discovered on your own or have been contacted by someone concerning an apparent case of inappropriate copying, Section 8.2.4 of the PSPB Operations Manual provides detailed guidelines for dealing with instances of plagiarism and guidelines for proper referencing.
  • If you are an IEEE author and have discovered that your IEEE work was inappropriately reused either in another IEEE publication or in a non-IEEE publication, then you should prepare a "case" by collecting as much material as possible. For example,
  1. A marked copy of your original paper showing the specific text that was reused
  2. A marked copy of the paper in which your uncredited work appears highlighting your specific text
  3. A written description of the alleged misconduct
  4. Copies of any communications you might have already had with the "authors" who may have misused your work.

Once you have collected all the necessary material, you should submit your case to the editor of the publication (or the sponsoring IEEE Society of the publication) in which the misconduct occurred. If the contact information for the editor is unavailable, you should send your claim to the IEEE Intellectual Property Rights Office (see below).

  • If you are an IEEE reader and have discovered an apparent case of inappropriate copying, you should contact the editor of the publication or the IEEE Intellectual Property Rights Office.


As an IEEE volunteer editor, I'm concerned about the potentially explosive nature of plagiarism. Is IEEE prepared to support me in the event an alleged plagiarist should respond with a threatened lawsuit?

  • IEEE maintains liability insurance at limits deemed appropriate by the IEEE Insurance Committee for IEEE's current business activities
  • Volunteers are included as "Additional insured's" on this insurance.
  • From IEEE Bylaw I.300.3. Indemnification.

"To the extent permitted by law, IEEE shall indemnify… each person who serves as a duly authorized voluntary member or employee of a duly authorized IEEE activity… against judgments, fines, amounts paid in settlement and reasonable expenses, including without limitation attorney's fees and expenses, actually and necessarily incurred by such person in connection with the defense of any action, suit, or proceeding to which such person is made or threatened to be made a party by virtue of such service…"


Do the Guidelines make any distinction between plagiarism found in a journal, magazine or conference proceedings?

Except where statements are limited to a specific publication type, Section 8.2 applies to all IEEE publications.


What are the levels of misconduct described in the Guidelines?

  • Level One pertains to the uncredited verbatim copying of a full paper, or the verbatim copying of a major portion (> 50%), or verbatim copying within more than one paper by the same author(s).
  • Level Two pertains to the uncredited verbatim copying of large portion (between 20-50%) or verbatim copying within more than one paper by the same author(s).
  • Level Three pertains to the uncredited verbatim copying of individual elements (paragraph(s), sentence(s), illustration(s), etc.) resulting in a significant portion (up to 20%) within a paper
  • Level Four pertains to uncredited improper paraphrasing of pages or paragraphs
  • Level Five pertains to the credited verbatim copying of a major portion of a paper without clear delineation (e.g., quotes or indents)


What if the review of a claim results in a decision that plagiarism did occur?

There are several possible Corrective Actions that are available. Depending on the level of misconduct, one or all may be applied:

  • Notice of violation in Xplore
  • Prohibition from publishing in IEEE or periodical
  • Rejection and return of papers in review and queues
  • Referral to the IEEE Ethics and Member Conduct Committee
  • Repeat offenders subject to increased penalty


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