Plagiarism v/s Ordinary theft

Is using chatgpt a crime, if it is then what is the difference between ordinary attempted theft and this crime?

Ordinary theft is depriving an owner from possession of his movable property without consent whereas submitting an essay written by artificial intelligence (commonly referred to as extreme plagiarism) is taking undue credit of someone else’s intellectual property without his consent but the owner is not usually deprived of his skilled creation.

The societies are clustered with pursuits of diverse traditional values, norms, and beliefs which foster a culture of people’s conduct. Socially disagreeable acts are oftenevaluated together under two different lenses of law and morality. “Law is a body of rules and regulations that all people are obligated to adhere mandatorily. Morals, on the other hand, refer to general behaviour that define human conduct within society but are not to be followed compulsorily. This is often believed that both of these are closely related because non abiding a moral protocol is socially seen almost as offensive as breaking a law is. However even while abiding moral protocol is seen socially compulsory, it does not attract any direct punishment. Not abiding an act of law attracts some kinds of punishments like prison sentences, fines, community probations, forfeitures of property etc.

In many scenarios, commonly practised, appreciated and unaccepted moral conducts have served as the basis for being protocol to enform few acts in the law of land. In democratic countries elected members of assembly often try to enform act or to amend an existing law pursuant to the likings, concerns and priorities of their people. Further the decisions of the court of law in any such matter can also direct punishments for moral conduct issues if there is establishment of evidence in support that the deed is not in essence with the constitution. In non- democratic countries’ laws are formed at the crotchet of the monarch or dictator, so in such countries moral conduct and ethics are often codified as law of land.

While we observe the act of writing an essay using Artificial Intelligence to be submitted in a competition versus an ordinary theft from both points of view, there are majorly three ways to look at it:

  • Foremost people look at it as Cheating (doing plagiarism using advanced technological tools like AI and while this technology is further making a copy out of published work by numerous people without their permission, and even recognition of efforts, the act is commonly referred to as extreme plagiarism). Even if the user wishes to obtain proper citations, commonly used AI engines are not designed to provide correct information. However, using AI for such purposes is recent development and there are strong hopes that as the technology grows further with time; more regulations, ethics and codes of conduct are in place, these tools would be designed to provide exact information like bibliography and in text citations etc. This is surely an ethical issue on moral grounds, like ordinary theft it could also attract trial in the court of law under acts like cheating, impersonation etc.
  • Another interesting and positive way is to consider the fact that most developments are incremental to someone’s prior work. One cannot keep reinventing the wheel, society grows by discovering ways to improve the prevailing information and products. Lots of prevailing information and products are protected from use by people except owners without written consent using patents, copyrights and intellectual property rights etc which may be seen as hurdles in further development but it is also necessary to protect the rights of owners otherwise businesses would refrain from putting their money into research and development. However, the duration for such protection of rights often concerns other people who are interested in pursuing incremental developments using such protected information and products. This positive developmental outlook is an ideal scenario as far as this is harmless and goes good with the original owner. In current times and social scenarios this looks optimistic as it would require financial inclusion and willingness of the owner but such a society would outgrow all.
  • A diminished yet focussed way to look at it is just around violation of the rules of a competition. In writing competitions these things are not reported illegal but can lead to serious consequences such as barring participation. In more serious scenarios, like copyright infringement, Intellectual Property Right infringement, it could indeed be illegal. This could also attract trial in court of law on many other grounds like cheating, impersonation and even direct theft in some cases. Considering moral grounds it is surely unfair, the individual can’t just steal anyone’s intellectual property and hard work without taking consent from the owner but it is not direct violation of a law as Chatgpt, wordkraft and all other AI secured platforms do not give citations as well as information about the owner of the information due to which the credit for the reproduced work does not overwhelm the real legatee of it. Moreover this is an educational activity but not a business setting hence serious implications like sentences are unusual.

Also in case of ordinary theft the owner usually soon gets to know about his loss while the same is not always true in such scenarios like for writing an essay, where AI has used a portion of the owner’s published work. Plagiarism and committing a theft both are offensive but the main difference observed here is about gravity of legality and morality. Both are clearly wrong on moral grounds while acts are more clearly defined against common theft. Theft actually is stealing someone else’s personal intellectual property and the owner gets devoid of it without any information. UK’s “Theft Act 1968” states the consequences of attempting this and explicitly tells that carrying out a theft is breaking a law. Plagiarism, a term synonymous to unauthorised copying, means using someone’s work without his consent but the owner still has access to it. These days it is practised by many individuals specially by students appearing examinations, by the ones participating in quizzes, contesting in essay competitions etc. The John Locke essay competition already has a plagiarism policy which restricts plagiarism in essays and also states clearly about usage of many tools to detect plagiarism in submitted essays.

There is a settled law and a large number of verdicts are available for ordinary theft as such cases have been dealt with since framing of constitutions started with development of modern societies and evidences are easy to record and produce. Whereas the developments on artificial intelligence are recent, the societies and courts have started dealing with the conflicts, soon the settled cases and arising concerns would automatically devise a framework which over period usually forms a law. This is how the legal system evolves with developments of societies. We cannot let go plagiarism using artificial intelligence. These days using AI tools to find answers, to write essays etc. is very common. While this hampers an individual’s creativity, many just use this in almost every task. To optimise its use UNESCO has also suggested a set of rules called AI ethics which should be adopted for making constructive use of AI. It should be used as an inspiration, to gain knowledge, to fetch insights out of previously done work but not just to plagiarise.

Copyright on softwares is also quite a similar issue, but provisions of prevailing copyright infringement act are clear and can be put to trial on accused. Copyright and Intellectual Property infringement is also a kind of theft, while these have different legal ethos but both are clearly illegal. According to UK laws, if a copyright claim is made and is taken to the court, the courts can-

  • stop that person making further infringing use of the material by granting an injunction
  • award the copyright owner damages
  • make the infringing party give up the goods to the copyright owner

A very famous case of Hart- Fuller debate, explains morality and law with respect to the difference between plagiarism and theft. Two philosophers HLA Hart and Lon Fuller, aimed at achieving justice but their way of achieving it was different.

Suppose, a law says that it is prohibited to park a vehicle at some particular place. Now parking your vehicle in that place is not morally wrong, but is against the law. This means that law can exist exclusive of any moral obligation, which is what has been claimed by Hart.

On the other hand, let’s take the Nazi regime in which the laws enacted by Adolf Hitler were devoid of ethics. The Nazi regime, we all agree, was cruel and unfair to humanity, and as a result it was not justice. When laws were not in conformity with morals, it led to injustice and that, in a nutshell, is Fuller’s opinion.

On careful examination of their opinions, it can be understood that the ideas of the two philosophers can be met halfway. Morality and law don’t have to be two far-fetched ideas; they can have a certain amount of overlap between them. However, the legal world will have to prevail over what people might believe since morality is influenced by personal feelings.

The UK government defines theft under the Theft Act 1968 as “A person is guilty of committing a theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it”. The UK theft laws believe theft to be triable both the ways with maximum penalty in Crown court of seven years of imprisonment or an unlimited fine. The law body has divided theft into various sub parts like robbery, TWOC, blackmail, retention of wrought credit etc. While we talk about TWOC and consider it as theft it again contradicts us not taking plagiarism as illegal. TWOC, short for Taking Without Consent, refers to a condition in which one person takes away another person’s vehicle without his consent. Using AI to write this essay also delivers the similar case of the participant copying others intellectual property without the owner’s consent. The difference between both of them is that TWOC is only applicable if someone is taking a vehicle to travel without the owner’s permission or other lawful authority. It cannot be used for taking or stealing any other kind of material like intellectual property theft. Whereas, using AI to write the essay will be counted more as a moral issue as it does not have an established law against it and TWOC will be clearly a legal issue because it is about breaking a law which the Crown Court has gazetted.

Using AI for productive inspiration is not wrong, it’s not offensive to learn, to take support or to enrich knowledge with available resources and especially using tools which are made available out of recent technological developments. But abusing technology purely for the motive of undue personal benefits shall never be practised. Such actions not only contravene the purpose and positive spirits of competitions but also sabotage the purpose of technological advancements like AI. On its profuse usage, we diminish our creativity, thinking capability and observe that we lose the fine ways to express our opinion and to write effectively. In the short term, the choice to submit an AI written essay may seem appealing but ultimately it deprives individuals of their own thoughts, also hinders their chances for success in the long run. Therefore, one must uphold the importance of academic integrity and discourage dishonest behaviour in all forms.


The decision to write essays using Artificial Intelligence is surely a serious ethical dilemma as this disrupts the foundation of personal and professional growth, also impedes integrity and diligence. While such chances in undergraduate settings are very minimal; still this may attract legal consequences under different provisions of law like copyright infringement, IPR (Intellectual Property rights) infringement, cheating, impersonification, even theft etc depending on gravity of matter and secured rights over the used text. Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionise learning and writing, thus it should be used as a tool for enhancing creativity and gaining knowledge rather than replacing it.

One Reply to “Plagiarism v/s Ordinary theft”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *