Copyright and Plagiarism

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Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement only occurs when the elemental work in question is copyrighted.  While copyright is automatic, it doesn’t apply to every single thing we make.  There are a number of things that you cannot copyright.  Things like lists, useful items, choreographic works (unless they have been recorded), fashion and ideas are all examples of uncopyrightable materials.

Copyright infringement is a legal structure for tracking damages against someone who violates the exclusive rights you have with your copyright.  If someone utilises your copyrighted work without authorization, or under a protected exemption like Fair Use, you have a case and can sue them should you wish to.  If it’s online, you can file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Takedown Notice and get their posting taken down.

Committing copyright violation is instinctive.  If your copyrighted work is used without your permission in any way that defies your exclusive rights, the person or organisation using it is engaging in copyright infringement.

Keys to Copyright Infringement

  1. It starts with a copyrighted work.
  2. The copyrighted work is used without permission.
  3. The copyrighted work is used in a way in which you have sole privileges.


Plagiarism is taking someone else’s work and submitting it as your own work.  It happens all the time: in school, in the office, and on the internet.  There are instances where people have lost their jobs because of plagiarism.  Some students had their college admissions revoked due to plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a moral issue and not a legal one.  It is not illegal in the US.  Plagiarism can vary in severity from a small mistake to a serious offense with substantial implications.

Many companies don’t have a policy regarding plagiarism, but certain industries follow very strict ethical codes.  Submitting someone else’s work may not look like a big offense when compared with other forms of theft, but most people regard plagiarism as a big No-No, and for good reason.

Copyright Infringement versus Plagiarism

  • You can take legal action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for copyright infringement, but not for plagiarism.
  • Copyright infringement doesn’t recognize whether or not you were given recognition. Copyright infringement can happen even if the source, author, or copyright-holder, is explicitly mentioned.  Plagiarism only happens if someone is trying to submit your work as their own.
  • Plagiarism is an infraction of moral, ethical, or society’s customs—not of laws.
  • Plagiarism can happen to things not subject to copyright, or when copyright infringement is excused as Fair Use. Ideas and useful articles which are not subject to copyright can still be plagiarised.
  • Copyright infringement only happens in connection to the copyright holder, which may not be the author or actual creator. Plagiarism is an infraction against the author or creator, not taking into consideration who may have legal rights to their work.
  • Plagiarism can still happen even if there is permission from the copyright-holder to utilise the work in question. The reasoning behind this is that permission to use the work doesn’t mean you get to take recognition and submit it as your own work.  Even if the copyright-holder didn’t indicate anything about giving recognition, you nevertheless have to offer some type of acknowledgement to prevent a plagiarism charge.
  • For online copyright infringement, you may be able to submit a DMCA Takedown Notice. In cases of plagiarism without copyright infringement, the counteractions available are much more limited.

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Both copyright infringement and plagiarism are bad, for similar but disparate reasons.  A discovery of plagiarism may stay with someone much longer than being held liable for copyright infringement.

As a society, the value we have for makers and creators is not always compatible with our actions.  With the onset of social media, it’s easier than ever to be held liable for claiming to have created something when, in fact, you didn’t.