Is ChatGPT Plagiarism Free? The Answer Isn’t As Clear-Cut As You Think

Best Prompts for ChatGPT

Is ChatGPT Plagiarism Free? The Answer Isn’t As Clear-Cut As You Think

More than a year after its November 2022 release, ChatGPT has become one of the most popular online tools. Between ChatGPT-3.5 and ChatGPT-4, as well as Google Bard and Microsoft Bing, AI is everywhere. While there is plenty of use for ChatGPT right now, including grocery shopping and essay writing, one big question remains. 

With the rise of all the tools that support this AI juggernaut, the lingering question is whether ChatGPT is plagiarism-free. A big topic in the academic world, even in office and home environments, this question remains very important. While it’s arguably okay to use ChatGPT for inspiration or to get the creative juices flowing, what else is okay?

Let’s take a deeper look into the ChatGPT world to try and determine whether you can stay away from plagiarism. 

What Is ChatGPT? 

Before jumping into any plagiarism concerns, it’s important to ground ourselves in what ChatGPT truly is. You may have heard the phrase large language model thrown about lately, which is how to best describe ChatGPT. Using natural language processing and artificial intelligence to mimic human speech, ChatGPT is both a tool and a service. 

So what exactly is ChatGPT? A free version, ChatGPT-3.5, is likely the one most of us are using. On the other hand, ChatGPT-4, is a subscription-based upgrade that offers more features, plugins, and more reliable results. 

Once ChatGPT is loaded, you can select between version 3.5 or 4 depending on the subscription level.

Both ChatGPT-3.5 and ChatGPT-4 use natural language processing, so responses should sound like a real person. The caveat is this “person” is a bot, but still responds as if it were a person. 

What Does ChatGPT Do? 

To understand whether ChatGPT might be responsible for plagiarism, it’s good to know first what it does. Getting started with ChatGPT is done through a “prompt,” which is another word for indicating how you ask ChatGPT to do something. Prompts can be very detailed with long paragraphs, or something as simple as “What is 2+2?”. You can alternatively ask ChatGPT to create New Year’s Eve playlists and it will come up with lists of songs. 

Chat GPT
One popular use case for ChatGPT is creating music playlists.

Another popular use is for people to provide ChatGPT with a job description on their resumes and ask for good keywords to include in a resume update. ChatGPT has also helped people write complicated Excel formulas and create Google Chrome extensions.

With all of these capabilities comes some risk as people can use ChatGPT for more nefarious reasons. It would be very easy to ask ChatGPT to write an essay for school, compose an email, or write a blog article like this one. As you learn all of the things ChatGPT can do, the door swings wide open to using it for more than you may have imagined. This now brings about an issue of how much trust you should put in the results.

What Does Plagiarism Still Mean in a ChatGPT World? 

When you think about the common definition of plagiarism, it’s essentially taking the work from someone or something else and passing it off as your own. ChatGPT defines plagiarism in its own way as you can see in the image below. While definitions might differ between sources, the spirit of plagiarism is the same.  

ChatGPT Defintion
Asking ChatGPT about the definition of plagiarism gives you an immediate response.

For example, Dictionary.com helps define plagiarism as “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.” 

Between these two sources, it should be evident what is and is not okay as far as plagiarism is defined. However, just defining plagiarism in a ChatGPT-friendly world isn’t enough. You have to go one step further and ask whether AI will “copy” the work of others to create what it believes is an original response. 

Will ChatGPT Plagiarize Its Responses? 

If the primary question around ChatGPT and plagiarism is whether ChatGPT will plagiarize, the answer is no. One of the most integral factors around ChatGPT and its growth has been its ability to provide original responses. When a user, like you or me, provides ChatGPT with a prompt, the idea is that because the service has the vastness of the internet to draw upon, it will create an original reply.

However, there is always the risk that AI will create a response that closely resembles other text that already exists. The good news is that by all accounts, the risk is low and there haven’t been widespread instances of ChatGPT directly “copying” from any of its available source material. 

Back in January 2023, a researcher at OpenAI indicated the company was undertaking efforts to help “watermark” source material that would be unnoticeable to users. In this case, OpenAI would be able to detect whether the language it’s returning to the user based on a prompt is being directly pulled from some other source. 

The Need to Redefine Plagiarism in a ChatGPT World

With the meteoric rise of ChatGPT over the last year, there is a strong need to potentially redefine plagiarism. Based on what we have learned so far, it’s arguably safe to say ChatGPT isn’t plagiarizing its source material. Unfortunately, especially for academia, questions of plagiarism still stand. There needs to be more discussion about how someone can use or source AI-created results. This issue has caused a global headache in the academic world throughout all of 2023.

To help better define the issue, what would have happened if I had used ChatGPT to write this article and drafted all of my emails today? If I took the exact language ChatGPT provided me from a prompt asking me to write an article about ChatGPT and pasted the results word-for-word, I don’t think my editors would think very much of that. While it might be morally wrong, it’s also a gray area where if I am copying word-for-word from another source and not citing anything, isn’t that plagiarism?

If I had used this intro for this blog, would that be considered plagi



Unfortunately, this is where things get less than clear-cut. According to the definitions I included above, plagiarism is when you “steal” someone else’s work. Does the definition then allow me to steal from something that isn’t real? There are academics out in the world fighting to make the case that taking language word-for-word from ChatGPT and passing it off as your own should constitute a new modern definition of plagiarism. 

How to Determine What Is Written by AI

While academics fight to extend the definition of plagiarism to cover AI in the future, there are tools to help right now. These tools are not perfect, but they represent the best opportunity to determine whether something has been written by AI. 

A personal favorite of mine is gptzero.me, which is a tiered website that offers an AI text checker. All you have to do is drop at least 250 characters into the text box and click on “Check Origin.” It’s really that simple and the website will give you a percentage-based result back. The score provided will help you check your work and make sure it passes the human test. Better yet, it will help an editor, professor, or colleague determine if something is created by AI. 

ChatGPT Zero
Using a service like ChatGPT Zero will help determine human versus AI writing.

However, there is a definite risk with using these sites as you may not get reliable results. All too frequently performing an AI check will say your text is returning as AI-generated. The use of these websites was famously frowned upon after many such sites reported the U.S. Constitution as an AI text. 

Of course, we all know this isn’t the case but it’s worth noting so you approach the results of these websites with a sense of caution.

How to Prevent Plagiarism with ChatGPT

At this point, it’s difficult to accurately look at a piece of text and say whether it’s human or AI-generated. This is the exact reason why the ChatGPT detectors like gptzero.me exist. The reality is that taking AI-generated text and using it exactly as written without any changes should likely be included in the definition of plagiarism moving forward.

This might not be a major concern outside academia or professional environments, but a new definition is necessary. It stands to reason as AI grows more popular, there should be a new plagiarism definition to help prevent ChatGPT text from being passed off as someone’s work. For now, using ChatGPT detectors is the best way to quickly determine what is human or machine-generated. 

The best case for AI is that people use it for inspiration and then reword results to fit their needs. In these cases, I think the use case of ChatGPT will become the norm. It’s when results are being used verbatim that policy should be enacted to help prevent scenarios where accusations start flying. 

Closing Thoughts

For better or worse, AI is here to stay. Artificial intelligence technology is already helping with many different opportunities to enhance how we work and live. Even so, there are still plenty of questions about how much AI should be integrated into our lives.

Plagiarism, for example, is one such topic that needs to be properly reviewed by experts. Someone, somewhere has to begin the process of laying down concrete rules around its use. Until then, using ChatGPT for inspiration remains the best use case that poses the least amount of risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does ChatGPT plagiarize content from other sources?

The long and short answer is no, ChatGPT does not plagiarize content from other sources. 

Can you use ChatGPT content and claim it as your own?

This is a very gray issue but the reality is that you should at least put ChatGPT results into your own words. 

Who is most concerned about plagiarizing content from ChatGPT?

For the moment, academics and those in the teaching profession are top of mind when it comes to plagiarism concerns. 

Do other AI services like Google Bard or Bing Chat have a similar plagiarism issue?

ChatGPT competitors like Bard and Bing both have similar issues with content and potential flags around plagiarism. 

Will the definition of plagiarism be changed in the future?

This is a question that can’t be answered as of yet, but academics are hoping to see an updated definition. 

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