What Counts As Plagiarism?

Page 9 from the Plagiarism Documentation of Schavan’s Dissertation

Note: The remark at the bottom of section 1.4. says that Annette Schavan did not give any reference to the philosopher Hannah Arendt in her entire dissertation.

Source: Anonymous. “Dokumentation von Plagiaten in der Dissertation von Annette Schavan.” schavanplag.wordpress.com, June 15, 2015

URL: https://schavanplag.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/plagiatsdokumentation_diss_schavan_1980.pdf (Accessed September 11, 2018)

Screenshot: September 11, 2018



A year after German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg admitted plagiarism, another member of the German government, Minister of Education Annette Schavan, was accused of plagiarism. Schavan never admitted plagiarism, but in 2013 the Universität Düsseldorf took away the doctorate that she had earned in 1980.


Less than the equivalent of 20 complete pages out of Schavan’s 335 page dissertation, are said to be plagiarized, but the accusers made their case by speaking in terms of the high number of pages (97) with plagiarism – this equals 29% of all pages. Here is an example from the blog schavanplag and its list of “unambiguous” plagiarism cases. The words in red are from the Schavan text that match words of Hannah Arendt. The words in blue in the Arendt text are those that do not match those of Schavan.



“Durch die Gründung und Erhaltung politischen Gemeinwesen schließlich schafft menschliches Handeln die Bedingungen für eine Kontinuität der Generationen und damit für Geschichte.” (schavanplag [2])


“[…] das Handeln schließlich, soweit es der Gründung und Erhaltung politischer Gemeinwesen dient, schafft die Bedingungen für eine Kontinuität der Generationen, für Erinnerung und damit für Geschichte.” (schavanplag [2])


In this passage, 17 out of Schavan’s 23 words (74%) match those of Hannah Arendt, and 17 out of Arendt’s 26 words match those of Schavan (65%). The overlap is considerable, but not simple copying of whole sentences. The accusers apparently feel the overlap suffices to rule out chance selection.




Diehl, Jörg and Oliver Trenkamp. “Schavans Plagiatsaffäre: Doktorin auf Abruf.” Spiegel Online, March 20, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/job/annette-schavan-verliert-kampf-um-doktortitel-vor-gericht-a-959776.html.


lgr; jdl; AFP; dpa. “Plagiatsaffäre vor Gericht: Schavan Scheitert im Kampf um Doktortitel.” Spiegel Online, March 20, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/job/annette-schavan-doktortitel-vor-gericht-verloren-a-959597.html.


schavanplag [1]. “Dokumentation von Plagiaten in der Dissertation von Annette Schavan.ˮ Accessed August 15, 2018. https://schavanplag.wordpress.com/.


schavanplag [2]. “Dokumentation von Plagiaten in der Dissertation von Annette Schavan. Seite 37.ˮ Accessed August 15, 2018. https://schavanplag.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/seite-37/.


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