Plagiarism is stealing other people's ideas and pretending they are your own. When you plagiarize, you are stealing someone else's intellectual property. Unfortunately, when people do research online, it seems more likely to that they might plagiarize...probably because they think that if the information is online, it's available for free and anyone can claim it.

It's important to remember that using other people's ideas is actually all right in some situations--like school. There are exceptions to copyright law called "fair use;" under fair use rules, students especially have the right to use other people's intellectual property as long as they give credit to the source. Basically, this means properly documenting the source of the information and being as specific as possible when using ideas that aren't your own. Basically, plagiarism is breaking the rules for fair use.

What could happen to you if you plagiarize? Are you going to jail? Well...that's pretty unlikely. More likely is that you'd get in trouble at school--have to redo the assignment, fail the assignment, fail the class, get suspended, or even expelled, depending on your teachers' or school's policy about dealing with plagiarism. For adults who steal other people's intellectual property, they are likely to get a big fine instead--they'll pay for their theft somehow.