Plagiarism in Coding

Can you plagiarize code? Take a closer look at plagiarism in coding, what it involves, and detection methods. Then, learn tips to prevent code plagiarism.

You may remember your school teachers’ warnings about the consequences of plagiarism (taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own without their permission or citing them), but what about if you’re a developer writing code? 

Can you plagiarize code? As it turns out, you can. 

Code plagiarism differs from the traditional type of plagiarism, which involves copying and pasting text and then passing it off as your unique idea or creation. 

Code plagiarism involves using someone else’s code without proper attribution

Take a closer look at plagiarism in coding, what it involves, and how to detect and prevent it. 

What Exactly is Code Plagiarism?

Similar to traditional text plagiarism, code plagiarism involves using someone else’s code without their permission or giving them credit — then presenting it as your work. 

There are different types of code plagiarism

  • If you directly copy someone else’s code from another source (without giving credit to the author), that’s considered plagiarism.
  • If you make slight changes to someone else’s code, like changing the variable names or how the code is formatted, it is still considered plagiarism. 
  • Even if the code comes from a repository like GitHub, if you don’t acknowledge the source, it’s plagiarism. 

Why Does Code Plagiarism Matter?

Code plagiarism violates intellectual property rights. In severe cases, it can lead to academic penalties, expulsion, or legal actions. When groups of developers share code in a team without proper documentation, and it’s not clear who actually owns the code, it can lead to problems. 

Code plagiarism also undermines trust and credibility within the coding community. What’s more, writing original code is necessary for new developers to gain and improve their programming skills. Simply copying and pasting deprives the learner of that experience and the knowledge they need to become more proficient. 

In the development and coding industry as a whole, plagiarism has a ripple effect of stifling innovation and progress. Original ideas drive momentum in the tech industry. So, when developers simply copy the code of others, it limits progress. 

What Causes People to Plagiarize Code?

People plagiarize code for the same reasons that they plagiarize text, images, and other content. Their reasons may differ, but oftentimes, it adds up to a combination of a lack of knowledge and a lot of pressure.

  • When involved in high-pressure work environments or academic settings, individuals may rely on shortcuts to help them complete the assignment or project. 
  • The repercussions and types of coding of plagiarism may not be clear to inexperienced developers or students studying code. 
  • Individuals may not know how to properly cite sources
  • They may not have an understanding of how to write code and may rely on the work of others to produce the end result. 

Sometimes, particularly when it comes to Open-Source software or code, there’s a misunderstanding about the licensing terms. To avoid potential confusion and prevent plagiarism, carefully review Open-Source licensing to determine the proper attribution methods.

How to Detect Code Plagiarism

How then do administrators or other professionals detect code plagiarism? Similar to plagiarism text detection, there are numerous tools available that identify coding plagiarism.

  • Consider using MOSS or Measure of Software Similarity and JPlag
  • Experienced developers who review the code manually may be able to spot the tell-tale signs of plagiarism, such as a sudden jump in coding quality or differences in coding style.
  • Advanced techniques include using algorithms that calculate the similarity between different files. The algorithms look at the structure, logic, variable names, and other facets of the code to determine (within a percentage), the likelihood of the code being plagiarized. 

Then, another option is code fingerprinting, which is similar to text fingerprinting, used by advanced plagiarism detectors like

With code fingerprinting, small snippets of code are created based on its structure. These ‘fingerprints’ are then compared to identify similar code segments.

How to Prevent Code Plagiarism

Preventing plagiarism in coding requires a combination of policies and tools.

Create clear guidelines around code plagiarism

Education and awareness about the implications of plagiarism and its consequences are at the top of the list for students and developers alike. Provide accessible resources on how to properly attribute sources and why it’s important to give credit to the original author.

Then, establish a set of rules and communicate the penalties, legal, professional, and otherwise. Offer your developers or students support such as peer code review or tutoring, to help struggling students. Provide plenty of resources, such as coding examples and tutorials, to help individuals learn concrete skills. 

Vary code assignments

You can also prevent plagiarism in code by switching assignments or projects regularly to encourage more creative problem-solving. Update the solutions to assignments to prevent the possibility of answers being reused. Then, conduct manual reviews of code periodically to deter would-be plagiarizers.

Use technology

Last but not least, enlist technology to help you. Automated tools like MOSS and JPlag can check code submissions to verify authenticity. Encourage good coding practices like proper documentation and commenting as well as version control. 

Final Thoughts

Keeping these points in mind, you can minimize the chances of finding plagiarism in code. At the same time, you can support and encourage students or developers to create original solutions. 

By using technology, manual oversight, implementing ethical coding practices, and teaching coders how to properly cite their work and give credit, you’re helping to instill good intellectual property practices.

Sherice Jacob

Plagiarism Expert Sherice Jacob brings over 20 years of experience to digital marketing as a copywriter and content creator. With a finger on the pulse of AI and its developments, she works extensively with to help businesses and publishers get the best returns from their Content.

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