Proving Plagiarism

Imagine being the Chair of the Examination Committee of a professional regulator and receiving a report for review that is copied from one you have written. That occurred in Young v Alberta Assessors’ Association Practice Review Committee, 2019 ABQB 740, An investigation ensued and ten practitioners were disciplined for copying the reports of others. On appeal by two of the practitioners, one of the points argued was that plagiarism was speculative and had not been proved. The Court upheld the discipline finding. The Court concluded that the process of identifying potential plagiarism through a computer program and then individually assessing the similarities for those that were unexpected (e.g., in the discussion portion of the reports rather than in the portions summarizing legislation and setting out definitions) was appropriate. The Court said:

They rightly concluded that the identical or highly similar wording contained in those sections of the Reports where analysis and application of concepts were required, coupled with common typographical errors and common mistakes, could only be reasonably accounted for by copying or plagiarism. Given where the similarities and identical wording were contained, and given that the typographical errors and obvious mistakes would be unlikely to be found in a textbook or other student resource, the overwhelming inference is that plagiarism/copying had occurred in relation to the Reports of Ms. Young and Ms. Skolney.

The Court concluded that the findings were based on reasonable inference and not speculation.

In response to the argument that the conduct did not constitute a breach of the Code of Ethics, the Court said:

Not only was copying or plagiarising prohibited under the terms of the course that was required as a condition of membership, copying another’s work and holding it out to be one’s own would generally be considered an act of dishonesty and a lack of integrity. Permitting this type of conduct – specifically permitting students to pass off other’s work as their own in the context of obtaining accreditation/membership in a professional organisation – might well result in a diminishing of public confidence in that professional group.

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