Opportunity to define plagiarism with the Criminal Code

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) assesses as positive that Ministry of Justice has begun with the amendments of Criminal Code during the process of harmonisation with the acqui communitaire, as well as with the documents of Council of Europe and United Nations, especially considering the importance of progress in meeting the benchmarks set out within the chapter 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental rights. CCE used the process of public discussion in order to introduce the competent ministry with the view related to this rather important legal text.

In this regard, CCE estimates that Article 29, from the Draft of law on the amendments of Criminal Code of Montenegro, in the part “Obstruction of justice”, did not establish the adequate balance between the need to protect the reputation of judiciary and freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. Deprivation of freedom of expression, which also implies the social critique, is not a good option in direction of strengthening the judiciary, which should undoubtedly be one of the pillars of democratic society, and CCE hopes that the norm in this form will not be included in the final amendments of Criminal Code.

CCE used the opportunity to indicate on the necessity of defining plagiarism as criminal offense. Plagiarism has taken a hold of Montenegrin society, and already produces long-term immense detrimental consequences. It is the case of reckless behaviour ought to be sanctioned by this Code, and thus act repressively towards the identified cases, as well as preventively to new and potential ones.

Hence, CCE has decided to propose the following norm which entails clear distinction between the plagiarism and other criminal offenses from the area of violation of moral rights of authors and interpreters:

(1) Whoever knowingly takes particularly any of the following actions, thereby violating the standards of scientific-research work: takes over the material without specifying that it was someone else’s copyright or part thereof, someone else’s important scientific finding or parts thereof, hypothesis, theories, scientific procedures, information acquired based on scientific research, or conducts any other similar actions and presents them as his/her own authentic work, shall be sanctioned with the sentence of imprisonment of up to 3 years.

(2) If the offense referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article was perpetrated by a member of academic community in order to secure academic appointment, or to maintain that position, or progress in his/her line of work, or appointment to public office, shall be sanctioned with the sentence of imprisonment in the duration from 3 months to 5 years, with the imposition of a security measure, thereby banning the professional activities and responsibilities.

The existing defined criminal offenses covered by the Criminal Code protect only the form (expression) of copyright work, but not the content (idea) of work, scientific finding, hypothesis, teaching and theory contained in that work.

This intervention would also help reduce the space for the prosecution to take the side of plagiarists rather than public interest. Given that plagiarism is always perpetrated with the intent, hence it should be prosecuted ex officio in each of its forms, due to the arising consequences. Plagiarism is often a result of joint action by several people who act in an organised and consensual manner in order to implement that illegal action, for the purpose of realisation of certain benefits, we should consider the possibility of rendering this criminal offense under the competence of Special Prosecution.

CCE hopes that competent Ministry of Justice will have understanding for the proposed amendment. That would help establishing adequate mechanisms, primarily of prevention, then of efficient processing and sanctioning of cases of plagiarism. In broader framework, it would improve the quality of education significantly, which is one of the cornerstones of development of each society, including Montenegrin one, and which is all too permeated with corruption and other unlawful and academically dishonourable actions.

Mira Popović, programme associate