Copyright infringement and plagiarism would seem to go hand in hand, but they might be more different than you think. In fact, you can plagiarise something without infringing copyright and you can infringe copyright without plagiarising.
In this blog we look at the differences between the two terms.
Copyright infringement is when you use or reproduce someone else’s work without their permission. Copyright protects many forms of intellectual property and rightsholders have exclusive rights to their work, which among other things include the right to:
- Reproduce or make copies of the work
- Distribute copies of the work
- Display or perform the work publicly
- Create a derivative work
Copyright infringement is backed up by law, and copyright owners or agents acting on their behalf can make a claim of copyright infringement. Copyright protects original work fixed in a physical form, i.e. written down or recorded, and lasts for a limited time.
Plagiarism is where you use someone else’s work or ideas and attempt to pass them off as your own by incorporating them into your own work without properly crediting the original creator. Any form of content can be plagiarised – whether it’s a piece of writing, music or performance, product or idea and includes copying material from the internet.
Plagiarism is an ethical issue rather than a legal one and is largely prohibited in academic institutions to protect academic integrity.
The main differences
The main difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism is that it is possible to plagiarise a work without infringing copyright and vice versa.
For example, works by Shakespeare are too old to fall under copyright so you could technically copy one of his plays without infringing copyright, but it would be considered plagiarism if you failed to credit Shakespeare. A reverse example would be if you distributed copies (published) of a piece of work without seeking permission from the rightsholder. In this case you would not be trying to pass the work off as your own, but you would be infringing copyright as the act of distributing the work without permission could be damaging to the original author.
Other differences between copyright infringement and plagiarism include:
- You can plagiarise almost anything, including work that does not fall under copyright. For example, ideas and thoughts can be plagiarised, but these cannot be protected by copyright.
- Copyright infringement tends to have one victim – the rightsholder or content creator, but plagiarism has multiple sets – the individual who was copied and the individuals who were misled about the origin of the work.
- Plagiarism largely tends to be an ethical issue, whereas copyright infringement is a legal one.
It’s important to remember that while there are key differences between these two terms, they can occur at the same time and both can be done unintentionally. Both can be damaging to the reputation of the original content created by an individual. It is therefore good practice to always check if you have permission to reuse a work and properly reference any works you may have used.
Disclaimer: Please note that this blog post should not be considered as legal advice and should not be relied on when determining whether a particular use of work would infringe copyright. It is always best practice to seek the permission of the intellectual property owner.