On the Code Project forums, user GuyThiebaut posted a thread asking a simple question: "What do you do when someone passes your code off as theirs?" Obviously this presents a question about a simple concept: plagiarism.

Plagiarism is merely taking someone’s creative work and passing it off as your own. So what was going on? Well you can read the forum thread I’ve linked above to find out, but here’s basically what occurred.

On the web site C-Sharp Corner, an engineer by the name of Nikhil Kumar posted code to a project called TeboScreen, a simple screen capture program. The content has since been removed "due to copyright violations", but the comment trail is still visible. He also posted the same content to his blog, and it has also been removed.

Plagiarism is a very serious allegation anywhere. In the academic arena, it will get you expelled from school and you will find it nearly impossible to get into another school. If you are a professor, it will get you fired in a heartbeat and your academic reputation will be forever tarnished.

In the professional arena, you might as well change careers to something that won’t require you to produce anything of a creative nature, like flipping hamburgers.

A lot of people seem to think that "business ethics" is an oxymoron, especially if you listen to some of the rhetoric coming from the United States government and the media. But having a firm foundation of ethics in business is what keeps people honest and employed.

And in this day of the Internet, where much of your professional reputation is available to anyone with access to a web browser and Google, if you do anything considered unethical, it could be just a click away for your next potential employer.

This is especially true with software engineering. Many involved in developing software have an Internet profile somewhere, on some web site devoted to developing software. And if anything is removed from these web sites for copyright violations, your reputation can be tarnished in a heartbeat.

It doesn’t matter if you pass off one small 10-line function as your own. If you didn’t write it, you shouldn’t be passing it off as your own, and if you do and you are caught, the rest of your work can be called into question, along with your reputation. Many workplaces have a zero-tolerance policy on unethical behavior and they will terminate employees nearly on the spot if it is discovered.

As Guy posted in the comment trail to the C-Sharp Corner article:

Passing off code as your own is unethical and you will be found out by your peers.

And when you are found out by your peers, you’d better hope you are given the option to resign instead of being outright fired. If you are outright fired, the reason you were fired will come back to haunt you. Contrary to popular belief, a previous employer can disclose why you were fired, and likely will if it was for any kind of ethics violation, especially if said termination arose from an ethical conflict discovered on the Internet.

Many seem to think that a previous employer cannot say anything other than "name, rank and serial number", to borrow the words of the HR manager for a company in whose employ I was previously, otherwise they risk a lawsuit. But this is not true.

Unless barred by contract or company rules (and possibly the law in some jurisdictions) from disclosing such information, a previous employer can disclose anything about you, including why you were fired, so long as they are telling the truth. Truth is an absolute defense in any case of defamation. And if you try suing a previous employer for defamation, and they can show that what they disclosed is the truth, well… case dismissed.

In short, plagiarism is not worth your reputation.

If you use someone else’s code, make sure you properly attribute it. Say where you got it and you’re covered. But don’t try to pass it off as your own as you will be discovered.

Links

TeboScreen – [homepage] [CodeProject]