While plagiarism is the act of using the research or words of others without attribution, self-plagiarism involves reusing one’s own work. In some circles, self plagiarism is a controversial concept. Some might argue that one cannot steal from oneself. However, there are certain cases in which reusing one’s own work is as unacceptable as regular plagiarism. While self-plagiarism does not involve theft of intellectual property in the same way that regular plagiarism does, the act of self-plagiarism does raise a number of ethical issues in certain contexts. Primarily, self-plagiarism becomes an issue when work is submitted that should be original. This means, for example, that most work published in magazines or newspapers is unlikely to be considered self-plagiarized even when writers reproduce some of their own work. Self-plagiarism is primarily a problem in academic environments.
Many schools have written policies against students’ reuse of their work in different classes, and turning in the same paper for two different classes is generally not permitted. The pressures of academia and the importance of publications for academics can lead to another kind of self-plagiarism in which studies are recycled for a number of different articles. In response to this, some journals and organizations have developed guidelines or ethical codes that condemn self-plagiarism.
Self-plagiarism is also an issue when the writer no longer holds copyright to the material. In this case, a writer is violating not just ethical but legal codes. Once a copyright belongs to another person or company, writers are no longer permitted to use work as though it is their own.
However, there are a number of situations in which reusing one’s work is acceptable or even necessary. Academics frequently build on previous work, and reference to that work is often inevitable and even expected. Academics may also quote themselves. Charges of self-plagiarism may be best deflected by acknowledging that the work is reused although some have argued that even this is unnecessary when one is writing for an entirely different audience of readers.
Avoiding self-plagiarism is best done by noting the context in which the writing appears, the expectations of the audience and the guidelines surrounding the piece.