What is Accidental Plagiarism – Common Mistakes And Legal Consequences

Even the most professional writers can stumble into accidental plagiarism if he is not careful. Accidental plagiarism refers to the unintentional use of someone’s intellectual work or ideas without proper permission or citation. It occurs when someone performs plagiarism unintentionally rather than intentionally copying someone’s work.

Characteristics of Accidental Plagiarism

1. Unintentional: In the case of accidental plagiarism, the writer does not intentionally use someone else’s idea or work as their own.

2. Lack of awareness: Most of the time, the perpetrator is not aware of the proper methods of citation, paraphrasing techniques, or plagiarism checker tools.

3. Oversight or mistake: In some cases, the writer might forget to mention the source and cause unintentional plagiarism.

Common Mistakes that Lead to Accidental Plagiarism

Write might make some common mistakes that can cause unexpected plagiarism.

Incorrect or improper citation

1. Incomplete Citations: Failure to provide all required citation information, such as names of authors, publication dates, page numbers, or website URLs.

2. Incorrect Formatting: Misinterpretation or wrong use of citation styles, such as MLA, APA, or Chicago, can result in incomplete or erroneous citations.

3. Skipping Citation: Failure to cite sources, especially when paraphrasing or summarizing ideas from outside sources.

Insufficient paraphrasing

1. Poor Rewording: Too closely paraphrasing the original source by preserving the structure, words, or sentence order without sufficiently rephrasing the topic.

2. Failure to Attribute Ideas: Even if the phrasing has been altered, failing to properly credit the ideas or concepts taken from a source might still be deemed plagiarism.


1. Reliance on Common Knowledge: mistakenly believing the information is common knowledge when proper citation is required. When in doubt, the better option is to stick with the correct citation instead of assuming something is common knowledge.

2. Over-dependence on a Single Source: Overreliance on a single source might result in accidental duplication of ideas or phrases without sufficient acknowledgment of other sources

Lack of critical analysis

Failure to thoroughly analyze and produce information from numerous sources might result in accidentally promoting others’ work as one’s own.

Incorrect Quoting

1. Inaccurate or Incomplete Quotations: Misquoting or omitting critical elements of a source when using direct quotations, which can result in misrepresentation or a lack of correct credit.

2. Failure to Provide Context: Failure to introduce or explain the purpose of a quotation, may lead readers to believe that the words are not the writer’s own views.

Inadequate Knowledge of Citation Rules

1. Inadequate Knowledge of Style Guides: Failure to understand the exact rules and norms of citation styles (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) might result in accidental mistakes or inconsistencies.

2. Confusion between Paraphrasing vs. Summarizing: Misunderstanding the differences between paraphrasing and summarizing might be confusing, resulting in unsatisfactory or misleading attribution.

Legal Consequences of Accidental Plagiarism

1. Infringement of Copyright: Plagiarism is the prohibited use of someone else’s work, which can violate their copyright. If the original piece of content is protected by copyright, the rightful owners may be entitled to take legal action against the individual who plagiarized it. This can lead to legal action demanding compensation or orders to prevent the distribution or use of plagiarized work.

2. Reputational Damage: Accidental plagiarism can undermine the reputation and credibility of the person or organization concerned. If plagiarized information is discovered and made public, it can result in negative publicity, a decline in professional relationships, as well as loss of trust.

3. Academic Consequences: Plagiarism in an academic context can have serious consequences. Educational institutions sometimes have severe anti-plagiarism laws, and students who are found guilty of accidental plagiarism may suffer consequences such as failing marks, academic probation, or even expulsion, depending on the standards of the school.

4. Professional effects: In the workplace, unintentional plagiarism can have serious effects. Plagiarism found in published works or professional situations can result in disciplinary measures, job loss, or professional credibility harm.

5. Legal Obligations in Publishing: When publishing their work, authors, students, researchers, and journalists may be obliged by law to properly acknowledge and reference sources. Failure to meet these commitments, even if accidental, might have legal consequences, such as breach of contract or violation of publication agreements.

Legal consequences of unintentional plagiarism might vary based on a number of variables, including the jurisdiction, the degree of the plagiarism, and the facts of the case. While accidental plagiarism is often treated less harshly than intentional plagiarism, it is crucial to keep in mind that legal consequences could still apply.

Prevention Strategies for Accidental Plagiarism

Writers can prevent the risks of accidental plagiarism by taking proper prevention and mitigation strategies:

1. Understand and Educate: thoroughly understand what plagiarism is and its subfields and scopes such as academic, professional, legal, etc. Stay updated on the latest citation guidelines and styles, penalties, and quotation and paraphrasing techniques.

2. Learn Proper Citation Practices: Understand how to appropriately credit and reference sources to develop great citation abilities. Learn about the citation style guides commonly used in your profession (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). Pay close attention to formatting, punctuation, and the placement of author names, publication dates, page numbers, and URLs.

3. Practice Effective Paraphrasing: When gathering knowledge from other sources, use proper paraphrasing strategies to rephrase the concepts in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. Avoid just replacing a few words or rearranging phrases, as this might still be considered plagiarism. Always give credit where credit is due.

4. Use Quotations Correctly: When using quotations directly, be careful to use correct quotation marks, attribution, and citation. Add context for the quotation and explain its value in your own work.


5. Review and Edit: Proofread and edit your work completely before submitting or publishing it. Check to ensure that all sources are correctly referenced and credited. Check your work with plagiarism detection software to find any unintended occurrences of plagiarism.

Remember that while completely avoiding accidental plagiarism is challenging, it’s entirely possible. To ensure that, you have to understand what accidental plagiarism is, its legal consequences, and the strategies to prevent it.

Author Bio

Samsuda Sarker Soma is a content writer, researcher, and avid reader. She writes about almost everything and likes to explore the realms of criminology, ethics, and human behavior through captivating narratives. With a profound curiosity for the intricacies of the human psyche, she delves into the depths of moral dilemmas and the consequences of our actions.

Law Corner