What constitutes plagiarism in HOA publishing?

Those proactive individuals and organizations that publish HOA information and opinion using online blogs or through websites are not immune to copyright infringement, and unprofessional and unethical plagiarism.   Most people understand copyright infringement, but do not realize what constitutes plagiarism.

In beginning of online internet publications, the HOA arena had very little comment about the history of HOA development or constitutional violations.  These ideas and comments were put forth in original works not publicized beforehand.   They are protected and should be recognized and honored as such.  For example, Even McKenzie’s Book, Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Governments is always cited and quoted properly.  Not so with online intellectual property, work product of internet publishers and authors.

Here is some advice on plagiarism:


1.   According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to “plagiarize” means:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)



2.   What Is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of taking another person’s writing, conversation, song, or even idea and passing it off as your own. This includes information from web pages, books, songs, television shows, email messages, interviews, articles, artworks or any other medium. Whenever you paraphrase, summarize, or take words, phrases, or sentences from another person’s work, it is necessary to indicate the source of the information within your paper using an internal citation. It is not enough to just list the source in a bibliography at the end of your paper. Failing to properly quote, cite or acknowledge someone else’s words or ideas with an internal citation is plagiarism.

University of Southern Mississippi


3.  Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

It’s important to note that you need not copy an author’s words to be guilty of plagiarism; if you paraphrase someone’s ideas or arguments without giving credit for their origin, you have committed plagiarism. Imagine that you read the following passage (from Walter A. McDougall’s Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776):

American Exceptionalism as our founders conceived it was defined by what America was, at home. Foreign policy existed to defend, not define, what America was.

If you write the following sentence, you have plagiarized, even though you changed some of the wording:

For the founding fathers America’s exceptionalism was based on the country’s domestic identity, which foreign policy did not shape but merely guarded.

In this sentence, you have borrowed an author’s ideas without acknowledgment. You may use the ideas, however, if you properly give credit to your source:

As Walter A. McDougall argues, for the founding fathers America’s exceptionalism was based on the country’s domestic identity, which foreign policy did not shape but merely guarded (37).

In this revised sentence, which includes an in-text citation and clearly gives credit to McDougall as the source of the idea, there is no plagiarism.


The MLA Style Center   (Modern Language Association)


Published in: on July 5, 2017 at 3:31 pm  Comments (7)  

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  1. Practically all HOA’s rules and regs are plagiarized. Bulilders/ developers dont take the time to set up individual or updated guidelines for each new HOA or condo developement. They copy someone elses. Ours even had another developments name within it. Most are so outdated as they were written many years ago and technology has gone beyond what it references.

    • Good point. It comes under the heading of boiler plate where lawyers agree to share. Not really plagiarism in the sense of unauthorized use.

  2. Yes, I will have to ponder it more. I do get this ” 1) whether one party had knowledge of the other’s works, and 2) used it to imply an original idea by the second party.” very important. I suppose it would also depend on other circumstances. I have known people who have great ideas–and spread them around but are not writers or researchers. Just because a writer is the first to get it in the public arena, doesn’t mean he was the originator of the idea. The way it is expressed maybe–

    For example. For years people knew about the good feelings that come with many repetitive actions–(ie runner’s high). But William Glasser was the first to call it “positive addiction.” He by no means had a corner on the idea, just the way he chose to express it.

    So if I want to talk about the fact that I take a bath every night and almost feel withdrawal when I don’t bathe, I can call it a lot of things but if I say it is my ‘positive addiction’ and pretend that the term originated from me, that is plagiarism? I guess you can say that. If I call it “Bath dependence” and describe it as good for stress, even if it has some of the negatives of addiction–then it’s not? Gary Solomon has coined HOA syndrome–but it is really just a form of PTSD. But because he first used these words to describe PTSD when related to associations then we need to credit him?

    There’s a fine line here and I’m not sure I will always recognize it. I knew HOA confrontation can make you sick–I got sick. My Mom knew it and was frantic to get me away from it, it was so bad. She kept saying I would get really ill. I did–this was long before I knew Dr. Solomon.

    Finally–is there an ethical distinction apart from the legal one? Are you talking ethical or legal? It is perfectly OK to use the same titles on books as others–there are a slew of “Day By Days” And many other titles… but you can’t “own” a title legally. I didn’t think you could own an idea either. Hmmm

    Great intellectual discussion.

    • Shelly, our dialogue is very helpful in clarifying the issues, which I raised as one of ethics and professionalism. The simple maxim “Give credit where credit is due” applies. Plagiarism lies with the writer. “Accidental” or unknowing plagiarism can occur, but not if the writer had knowledge of the earlier work and has repeatedly reworded or paraphrased the works of others. Legality is not the main issue.

      Your example with Glasser above gets to the point. To apply the term “positive addition” to repetitive actions could be considered plagiarism if, as you say, no one earlier applied it to feeling good. “Repetitive actions” has been around, but generally applied to exercising — I am not sure. Again, it all depends on how you used the term. People would not normally use that term in an everyday description of frequent bathing. Why did you use it, is the key?

      HOA examples. Solomon’s use of the term “HOA Syndrome” is a protected intellectual product. It didn’t exist for all those prior years of HOA existence until he made the connection. Likewise, speaking of HOA foreclosure as a constitutional violation is not protected, because it is an idea readily concluded by the public; but arguing that HOA foreclosure is cruel and unusual punishment or defining planned communities as “a real estate package defining . . . .” are also protected ideas for the very same reasons.

      Let’s not belabor the point. Let’s move on. Writers should be more careful when using concepts that they read elsewhere as if it were common knowledge. If they feel that they coined the description or idea themselves, then it would depend on the phrasing of the writer’s wording or explanation, and how closely it matched the earlier work.

      Let’s keep in mind, “Give credit where credit is due” solves the issue if the writer is not sure. Saying “so and so” used or advanced the idea is not an obstacle. If the writer wishes to claim “first to”, then he should be even more extra careful not to plagiarize, as your editor so informed you.

      • Thank you. I enjoyed the
        exercise and gave me lots to consider.

  3. Wow–I learned a few things. You do such a good job with this blog–i love it.

    The “idea” thing still eludes me but will certainly give it more consideration. I believe writing, like research, is built upon other people’s work–so plagiarism. must be carefully considered and weighed–before thinking others are “taking” ideas from us, we have to be realistic— we know that often people come up with the same solutions simultaneously around the world without having worked with each other. I found a discussion about it on the web.

    “It is known as ‘Zeitgeist’ when two things of the same nature are thought of or done independently of each other.” And on this website they used the term “Hundredth Monkey Syndrome.”

    I was trying to get the reference and “Multiple discovery” came up. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_discovery

    I believe it is often the same with writing and now I could say advocacy work too. We do come up with similar ideas at the same time, George.

    On another note, I remember an editor once who wanted my first HOA Warrior book but did not like all the citations, telling me that “the reader doesn’t care about that.” So she took them out. I was naive thinking she knew what she was doing. In a few weeks she contacted me and claimed that I had plagiarized Evan’s work! I was horrified and went back to the original manuscript and found that I had cited him but she had taken the reference out–I sent her the original manuscript and explained her mistake–she didn’t respond. I was so angry that I took my work back and self published.

    I have a hard time with the “idea” thing. But I will definitely self examine. Thank you thank you for giving me something to think about.

    • The concept of using another’s “ideas” without credit is a difficult one to grasp, but important to understand. An idea is not a label like “private government,” or an isolated word like “rogue,” or a commonly used term like “HOA.” It is generally the expansion of the word in combination with other concepts to generate a new view or belief.

      “Private government”, along with mini or quasi government has enter the common public arena, but was first used, as far as I know, by Prof. Dilger in his 1992 book, Neighborhood Politics: Homeowner Associations and American Governance. This created the idea linking politics and pubic government to HOAs. That’s Dilger’s work product and protected intellectual property. McKenzie, in his 1994 Privatopia: Homeowners Associations and the Rise of Private Residential Government, expanded the HOA concept into new areas raising constitutionality, or the lack of, in HOAs. Donie Vanitzian and Stephen Glassman in their 2002 voluminous book, Villaappalling: Destroying the myth of affordable housing, continued expanding and exploring the defects and damages to homeowners created by the HOA concept.

      All the above are old words and ideas rearranged and applied to create new concepts and views and therefore constitute an idea that . . . .. Furthermore, the use of the term “CAI Manifesto” is a new idea, and using it without citation is plagiarism. Viewing HOAs as “independent principalities” is another first idea. Arguing that HOA foreclosures are a cruel and unusual punishment is an application of the Bill of Rights to HOAs.

      Yes, two persons may come up with the same idea at the same time. The determination of whether or not plagiarism exists would depend on 1) whether one party had knowledge of the other’s works, and 2) used it to imply an original idea by the second party.

      Failing to properly use and cite prior works is harmful to the advocate movement as it robs the movement of long-standing history and tradition, which affects credibility.

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