The following is an unsubstantiated and uncorroborated opinion, lacking any authority. Its sole virtue is that I wrote it.

Plagiarism is not a crime. Originality is not the only criterion for intellectual honesty. For factual nodes, originality isn’t as important as accuracy. To be accurate, you must not only cite your sources, but check them. Citation may imply authority where there is none, as when an author is cited out of context. This is not plagiarism, but it is dishonest.

Other values: Ownership

First, Plagiarism isn’t a crime. Copyright infringement is a crime, but differs from plagiarism in significant ways. “I cited the source” is not a defense to an infringement lawsuit. The owner of a copyright does not want “credit”, the owner of a copyright wants money. Fraud is a crime, but plagiarism is not fraud. “Fraud consists of the intentional misappropriation or taking of anything of value which belongs to another by means of fraudulent conduct, practices or representations.” New Mexico Stat. Ann., § 30-16-6 (1987). The typical plagiarist does not obtain any money or thing belonging to another for the plagiarized work. While a grade or honors might be something “of value”, it is not a thing of value “which belongs to another”. Academic honors and degrees cannot be transferred to another person. Copyright can be transferred, and thus has a value in the marketplace.

Other values: Accuracy

Second, let’s consider journalism. In journalism, accuracy is more valuable than originality. Except in feature writing, the last thing you want to do is imply that an idea is original with you. You might accurately quote and diligently cite someone’s opinion, but if you fail to check or corroborate it, you have been dishonest to the reader. Just by including it in your report, you imply that the source is credible and was corroborated.

Other values: Authority

Finally, in legal writing, the last thing you want to be is original. If an idea is new with you, and unsupported by legislation or precedent, it is worthless. On the other hand, in legal briefs you must cite your sources. The citation indicates that your expression is the Law: law which is legally binding on that court and factually “on point”. Note well: you cite the court, not the author. Court opinions are frequently written by some clerk fresh out of law school. The important thing is not who wrote it, but which court adopted it. Only the court and legislature of your jurisdiction should be cited. Moreover, the factual context of a quote is critically important. When the facts of a case are roughly analogous to the facts of the case at issue, we say the case is “on point”. You may accurately quote, and perfectly cite, a phrase from a case which is not on point. You imply the case supports your point when it does not. This is bad: worse than plagiarism really.

Sources: New Mexico Statutes Annotated (Lexis Law Publishing, 2002)