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BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0409326
  1. Lynn Eaton, freelance journalist1
  1. 1BMJ

With modern technology, copying people's work and passing it off as your own is easier than ever--but it is also easier to get caught. Punishments for plagiarism can be severe, yet students are often given little advice. Lynn Eaton investigates

Copying someone else's work is never a good idea, as Prime Minister Tony Blair found out last year when, to everyone's amazement, his government used a previously obscure Californian graduate's doctoral thesis as some of the basis for going to war with Iraq.

In February 2004, Downing Street had to admit, somewhat sheepishly, that it had copied the thesis, written by Ibrahim Al Marashi and colleagues, warts and all, and used it as part of the justification for the war. Journalists knew it had been copied because, although changes had been made, it even included basic spelling and grammatical errors.


Plagiarism at its most extreme may result in you having to apologise to an entire nation or two--unless you just don't do apologies

When the blatant copying was pointed out, a number 10 spokesman confessed that the government should have credited the authors of the articles it used in the document and told Channel 4 News, who broke the story, “We all have lessons to learn from this.” (

The incident was not only highly politically embarrassing but cast doubt on the strength of the intelligence on which the United Kingdom and United States government based their decision to go to war.

But is it ever right to copy someone else's work and palm it off as your own, either deliberately, or unintentionally? And if you do copy chunks of an article from someone else, do you have to acknowledge it?

For most medical students when faced with a 9 am essay deadline the next morning it …

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