Copying and pasting a few sentences into your essay might seem harmless, but, in the academic and professional worlds, any act of plagiarism can have serious consequences. While plagiarizing a paper can cause you to fail a class or be expelled from school, the world outside colleges can be even harsher, resulting in lost jobs, missed opportunities and even a criminal record. Being aware of the punishments for plagiarism both in and out of school can help you become more responsible and dedicated to the personal integrity of your work.

Addressing Plagiarism in Academia

Punishments for plagiarism in high school and college usually depend on the severity of the offense. If only a portion of the paper is copied verbatim or the student made mistakes with acknowledging sources, for example, an instructor may choose to let the student rewrite the paper for a reduced grade. On the other hand, patchwork essays, which mix the words of other authors with those of the students, could be grounds for failing the course. The most severe circumstances occur when a student submits an entire essay written by someone else as his own work. Such cases can result in not only failure for the course, but also expulsion.

Punishing Professional Plagiarism

In the workplace, plagiarism can be a serious setback in professional advancement or bring a career to a screeching halt. Most companies are looking for employees who are creative, innovative and able to find solutions to problems. Stealing the ideas of coworkers, using images or design elements without copyright or copying and pasting excepts from other documents go against this philosophy of producing new, original material. As a result, professional plagiarists can be demoted, turned down for a promotion or, in the worst case, fired. Gaining employment after the offense may even be difficult, since other companies may be reluctant to hire someone accused of plagiarism.

Looking at Legal Ramifactions

A stolen sentence or plagiarized paragraph can quickly become a legal mess if the author makes a profit from work she's stolen from someone else. Copyright laws come into effect when someone plagiarizes from an author who holds the legal rights to the work. The use of the original content must also fall outside the parameters of fair use, or using the work for educational, personal and nonprofit purposes rather than to make a profit. The penalties for copyright violation vary by the gravity of the infraction, from paying a fine ranging from $200 to $150,000 to jail time.

Revisiting Real-Life Examples

The news abounds with cases of students and authors whose punishments for plagiarism left scars on their careers. In 2008, Ohio University senior Allison Routman was expelled from a study-abroad trip to Greece after she copied and pasted three sentences into an essay. Journalist Jonah Lehrer's was discredited after it was revealed that his book "Imagination: How Creativity Works" contained fabricated quotations, forcing him to resign from his job at the New Yorker. In the music world, singer Robbie Williams was forced to pay $71,000 to the owners of a song he plagiarized in his 1998 recording "Jesus in a Camper Van."