Self-plagiarism: an oxymoron or ethical violation

Seemingly out of nowhere, a new moral dictum has emerged calling outrage and fraud for those who hack and dice their writing, resubmit articles to many sources, or forget to reference older publications in recent works. Known as “self-plagiarism” or “recycling fraud,” modern authors who engage in such cheapness can find themselves the victims of having their writing redacted, rejected, or deleted by their publishers. They may also lose their social standing, academic status, and possibly their livelihood. The fundamental question here is whether those involved in this modern witch hunt are justified in their analysis and their conclusion to set the culprits on fire. To address the topic properly, let’s examine the notion of plagiarism and its underlying ethical dimensions to outline where the problems with self-plagiarism lie.


From biblical times to the present it has been accepted that stealing is wrong. It doesn’t matter if one is stealing food, money, the neighbor’s wife or the neighbor’s land, such acts are unethical and in most cases illegal. As ethical history unfolded over time and man began to write, steal other’s writings, or ideas – plagiarism – without giving credit to the original source, he has entered the moral compass and the legal world. . Copyright laws make this kind of theft illegal, and academic circles view such ventures as violations of academic standards. Plagiarism as an infraction has the same weight as stealing the laptop or pen from the student neighbor. The academic world has clearly defined plagiarism as the failure to adequately reference the thoughts, concepts, or writings of another in one’s own writings. If such sources of authorship are not provided, the writer uses the writings of another subject to violate the writing standards of the given scholarly organization. The universality of immorality and/or illegality is that such brain violations are genuine thefts of another’s property that fall into the same category as theft of concrete objects belonging to another. This universality of acceptance is remarkable because ethical theory and practice require that sound ethical pronouncements meet the criterion that they can be applied universally. If a disjunction arises between cultures in the application of an ethical principle that makes it relativistic, it can be said that such principle has failed the universality criteria. If the setting or culture considers plagiarism to be acceptable, it can be argued that since there is a conflict of applicability between cultures, the concept is relativistic and therefore not universal.


An oxymoron?

The first question that arises in the analysis of self-plagiarism is its ambiguity or lack of logic. It has been recognized by Bloom (2004) that the concept is really an oxymoron since one cannot at the same time steal another’s writings and concepts and be the other. A cannot be robbed if A is the thief. The illogical development of the concept of self-plagiarism forces the argument that the concept lacks logical foundation and, as such, makes no sense. It is an oxymoron. As bad as plagiarism is, meaningless constructions can be worse in moral enterprises.

Recycling, an artistic tradition

A second consideration that challenges the concept is that in other fields of artistic activities, such as fine art, “multiples” or the production of exact or similar artistic works is an acceptable process (Warhol, Grooms, Katz). Making smaller works from the larger works of others is also acceptable and recommended as “embellished”. Artists have also been known to create prints from their works found in other media, such as oils or acrylics. In fact, in the world of fine art, artists slice and dice, and make multiples now and have been for centuries. Writers are artists who create with words, and since it is acceptable for other artists to use a different medium rather than words to create, why should it be the case that writers who follow the accepted process of multiples and cuts and dices be scolded and labeled as scoundrels? It can be reasonably argued that those who hold the position of recycling fraud are misguided in their analysis, since their notion is really an aberrational position that is opposed to a historical and common cultural practice. Indeed, recycling is an accepted mode of behavior and artistic process.

Missing fraud marker

Furthermore, the identification of self-plagiarism as fraudulent is misplaced, as there are no laws to support such a position. Artistic fraud falls under the conditions of intentionality, benefits for the fraudster, loss for the buyer and a structure labeled as a law that guides the process of identifying the fraud. Since these are absent in the self-plagiarism concept, the fraud note is unfounded. Note here that art fraud laws are rarely enforced, except when federal mail and wire fraud statutes can be used to prosecute the offender (Daab, 2010). Copyright infringement and publisher standards make it clear that saying the same thing twice has limits and not staying below limits leaves one open to litigation and retaliation from the publisher – your work ends up in the disposal can .

Ethics and Universality

Another consideration has to do with ethics and the notion of universality. The ethical statements are based on the principle of universal application. If murder is a moral violation, it is wrong globally 24/7. Not only is it wrong in New York, but also in Russia, Cancun and Remy. As we observed in the case of artists and multiples, the application of self-plagiarism does not have and does not apply. By failing to apply in the world of fine art, self-plagiarism loses the standard of universality. The lack of application universally cuts the concept of the moral family adrift as an editor or specific rule for the presentation of articles. Writers have reasons to multiply their submissions or slice their works, which are not unlike those of anyone trying to make a living in a society that seems focused on building an army of billionaires. For those who haven’t gotten into writing, saying the same thing in a different way is like wearing lace-up shoes: it’s an inefficient waste of time, uncreative, and basically amounts to drudgery. If it’s good to go the first time, why waste time repeating it?

Moral right and copyright

Writers like any other artist have the right to do what they want with what they create. Moral rights in Europe and copyright laws in the United States grant almost unlimited power to the artist and his work, and upon his death pass those rights to his heirs. Directing a writer to produce one-size-fits-all work is against the Western canon of artistic mores and a clear violation of the laws that underpin artistic property. The power over the creation of artistic works does not end when the work is finished.

wake up the populace

From an ethical point of view, posting your caveat emptor article in many different places reaches more people, and as a consequence, more people may become aware of a shoddy operation and therefore not be defrauded. The underlying ethic is that multiple submissions serve to provide an enhanced good to those who would not have been served had the multiple submissions not been published.


As books become movies, movies become books, characters become toys, and toys become household necessities, a multiplicity of uses is seen for a given entity. Writers and those who create works of various media engage in both the market and the secondary market to combine this tradition of multiple successes with a single product. Those who invent a nefarious background as an identifier of this historical, traditional and creative process do so without any substance or foundation. Armed with nonsensical notions, an apparent lack of historical or current knowledge of what creative individuals do and how existing economic structures and processes promote such actions, the best that witch hunters can do is to falsely argue that an act has been committed. crime of fraud under the law. self-plagiarism name, or recycling fraud. Unless a better analysis emerges, the inquisitors may want to rethink a different concept to burn at the stake.

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