Plagiarism, which in its most basic form consists of using someone else’s text without acknowledgement, is generally considered a fraudulent activity, in both academic and non-academic contexts, with ethical and legal implications. On the ethical side, plagiarists can be demanded public apology; more severe, legal implications can involve student-plagiarists being failed, academic degrees being rescinded, or plagiarists being pushed to resign. However, some official documents are apparently immune to charges of plagiarism, and traditionally remain unchallenged.
This paper presents the results of an analysis of four sets of texts, only two of which were considered to be plagiarism. All texts were analysed against three criteria (quantitative and qualitative) used in forensic linguistic analysis of plagiarism: directionality, volume of textual overlap and linguistic markers. The comparison of the features present, the quantification of overlap and the determination of the direction of the borrowing demonstrate that all texts share the same type of criteria, and that in some instances these criteria are even more marked in the unchallenged texts – indicating that all texts should be considered plagiarism. Hypothesising that the legitimacy of some texts and the illegitimacy of the others are apparently dependent on the respective textual genre, as well as on the common practice, this paper challenges the legal and ethical principles behind this legitimacy, and concludes by arguing that all texts are equally fraudulent, both from a legal and from an ethical perspective.