The Difference Between Plagiarism And Copyright Infringement

from the not-a-purely-academic-question dept

Plagiarism is a complex and emotive issue, as previous Techdirt posts on the subject have shown. Perhaps because of that complexity, people often seem confused about the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. The palaeontologist Mike Taylor has put together a short post with this handy explanation of how it works in an academic context:

First, plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation second is illegal, but in truth pretty ubiquitous in academia. (Where did you get that PDF?)

Second, plagiarism is an offence against the author, while copyright violation is an offence against the copyright holder. In traditional academic publishing, they are usually not the same person, due to the ubiquity of copyright transfer agreements (CTAs).

Third, plagiarism applies when ideas are copied, whereas copyright violation occurs only when a specific fixed expression (e.g. sequence of words) is copied.

Fourth, avoiding plagiarism is about properly apportioning intellectual credit, whereas copyright is about maintaining revenue streams.

The post goes on to present some hypothetical cases that illustrate the concrete differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement, again as far as the academic world is concerned. There’s also this handy summary of the central issue:

Plagiarism is about the failure to properly attribute the authorship of copied material (whether copies of ideas or of text or images). Copyright violation is about failure to pay for the use of the material.

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Comments on “The Difference Between Plagiarism And Copyright Infringement”

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38 Comments
Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Copyright violations on a class paper

A student took the same class two years in a row and the prof assigned the same paper. The student used his paper from the previous year unchanged and turned it in to receive an A+.

My comment: you can’t be accused of academic theft, plagiarism, or copyright violations for copying your own work verbatim.

Thanks for explaining the difference between the two 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copyright violations on a class paper

Can’t be guilty of plagiarism in the situation you mention, but you can be accused of many things incorrectly.
If you had assigned copyright to someone else before submitting the paper again you could well be both accused and guilty of copyright infringement.
The greater accusation though would be of such an individual being an utter moron, why would you take a course you’ve already aced a second time, especially without wishing to do anything differently.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Copyright violations on a class paper

Academics have a category called “self-plagiarism” which applies to unacknowledged duplicate publication of the same material. In the worst cases, it’s a form of academic (or scientific) fraud.
I wouldn’t apply it to undergraduate writing, though. And shame on the lazy professor for not varying the essay prompt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Taylor has good examples

Mike Tayor (minor reformat of an excerpt from the link above):

Let?s consider four cases (with good outcomes is bold and bad ones in italics):

I copy big chunks of Jeff Wilson?s (2002) sauropod phylogeny paper (which is copyright the Linnean Society of London) and paste it into my own new paper without attribution. This is both plagiarism against Wilson and copyright violation against the Linnean Society.

I copy big chunks of Wilson?s paper and paste it into mine, attributing it to him. This is not plagiarism, but copyright violation against the Linnean Society.

I copy big chunks of Rigg?s (1904) Brachiosaurus monograph (which is out of copyright and in the public domain) into my own new paper without attribution. This is plagiarism against Riggs, but not copyright violation.

I copy big chunks of Rigg?s paper and paste it into mine with attribution. This is neither plagiarism nor copyright violation.

Plagiarism is about the failure to properly attribute the authorship of copied material (whether copies of ideas or of text or images). Copyright violation is about failure to pay for the use of the material.

I usually talk about my play, Hamlet, to make the same points. Considering, I think we can assume that the Elsevier lawyer that prompted Taylor’s post also knows all these differences, but is intentionally collapsing the categories for “strategic” reasons and thus is pretending that all cases are in the first category, above. You can do a similar list focusing on fair use and quotation, if you so like.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: was there really confusion ?

I’ve seen intellectual property campaigns attempting to convince artists to support efforts against filesharing, under the pretext that they would not feel happy if another person took a creation of theirs and claimed that they created it (misattribution).

So not only are people confused between copyright and plagiarism, pro-copyright enforcement individuals are known to actively promote this confusion to further their agenda.

The difference between butter and margarine is that one’s not vegan.

But obviously you’ve proven yourself too dumb to tell the differences in either example. This is the sort of jackass Australia allows in solar panel engineering?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: was there really confusion ?

next are you going to show us how apples differ from oranges ??

Because TD readers are really stupid, and have to have everything explained to them, as if they have never heard the word “copyright” mentioned here on TD.

Or do you think TD readers would not be able to work out that a copyright hold is not necessarily the author of the works.


But obviously you’ve proven yourself too dumb to tell the differences in either example. This is the sort of jackass Australia allows in solar panel engineering?

You sir, are a sad and bitter person with a lot a jealously combined, but it’s your right to be like that, I hope you enjoy your bitter, twisted, hate filled life.

Lets hope you actually manage to achieve something in your life that is worth wile. Or are you happy to spend the rest of your life being envious of what others have achieved ?

In our labs (here in Australia) where I worked, we developed THE MOST EFFECIENT photovoltaic cell (solar panel for you), IN THE WORLD. INCLUDING THE US..

Not bad for a bunch of jackasses, let me guess, when I was doing that you were bitching on some forum!

So what else have you got ?? As although you appear to have spent your life bitter and trying to insult people, it is clear you are not very good at it !!!

If you want to insult me, you are going to have to try much, much harder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 was there really confusion ?

Ah, so it’s a company that did it, not you. Considering copyright fanboys treat all industries and jobs as IP-intensive, including red carpet rollers and supermarket cashiers, one has to wonder just how much input you were permitted to have on such a project, even if the assertion was true. You couldn’t input a letter into an alphabet, never mind a solar panel.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: was there really confusion ?

It’s funny you think that the only reader demographic of TechDirt is a scummy little basement-dwelling teenager from the US.

Lad, it doesn’t matter how high you go; make a mistake and if your credentials are high enough, you will be and deserve to have people leaping down your throat. “EFFECIENT”? Really? Can’t spell “efficient”? Put that in your research papers and they’ll look like they were made in China.

It’s rich that you’re claiming that others insult people, because every single post you make has been nothing but insults. You can’t even link to your products – well, no surprise. You haven’t proven a single shred of credibility and publicly refuse to.

Insults fly over your head and your best response is a big fat “neener”, so I’m not expecting to get anywhere. Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But hey, if you want to continue acting like making a few panels entitles you to be a royal douchebag, by all means go ahead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In addition, I can pay for something all I want, and still commit copyright infringement if I allow someone else to use it without paying- all that’s required is that the terms of usage (civil contract) say I can’t.

Yet another example of how copyright holders are allowed to define crimes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

yes you’ve just explained how you pay for the product, not the rights of that product. Perhaps TD could do an article explaining that basic fact !

the price split between buying a COPY of a work and buying the COPYRIGHT is huge.

yes, correct you are infringing copyright if you make a copy with the right, that what copyright is.

When you purchase a book or movie, you purchase a COPY, not the right to copy, that is a right reserved for the owner of the right to copy it, the copyright owner.

See how simple it is when you think about it !!

Also, I am not pro or anti copyright, nor do I believe that if it’s easy to commit a crime then it’s not a crime. I just care about the facts.

I just thought a web site like TD would not allow such a simple confusion to exist here, that owning a copy of a work is somehow equivalent to owning the copyright of that work. No matter how easy it is for you to copy, simply the law says you purchased a copy of the work, and not the copyright of the work.

Huge difference, why is that never clarified here on TD? I would of thought Masnick legal skills would be able to understand that. In fact I am sure he does. But facts like that are clearly not you want to hear.

After all, it’s so much better to provide justification after justification to do something you are not legally allowed to do. No matter how easy it is to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So if I bought a “copy” of a book and that book is protected by “copyright”, and then I let someone else read the book, that could be considered a copyright violation if the copyright owner had included a terms of service agreement that prohibited letting others read the book?

Feel free to answer in whatever tone you prefer, I got thick skin. I just want to better understand how the terms of service effect the legality of using, sharing, selling the “copy” I bought.

And what if instead of sharing or selling the book to a friend I just verbally told the person the contents of the book but never did mention to that person that I had got the information I was verbally communicating to them that it had came from a published work with copyright protection, would that be copyright infringement/violation?

Then say that person published the information I had verbally told to them in their own book, while never knowing it had already been published with copyright protection, would they then be in violation of copyright or would I be?

Thanks for the clarifications!

Alan Abel (user link) says:

BMI collects licensing fees and keeps them!

February 2, 2016

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MUSIC AND ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY

John Bowe’s past article about BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) in the SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES Magazine Section seemed disingenuous to me and a number of my friends who compose and publish music. His comprehensive report on licensing establishments, utilizing BMI music, failed to address the many thousands of composers and publishers who share very little in royalties, especially when millions of dollars are dispersed by what seems to be a closely guarded secret magic formula, protected and hidden by BMI.
I have been a member of BMI as both a writer and publisher for more than five decades. The early years were remunerative, especially with a novelty song I wrote for Art Carney (“The Honeymooners”) recorded on Columbia Records, and featured by Julie Harris in June Havoc’s Broadway play, “Marathon 33.”
My disappointment with BMI concerns the past ten years when an
award-winning documentary, “Abel Raises Cain,” for which I wrote and published all the music through BMI, has continued to be cleared for network performances and played worldwide in theaters, cafes, on radio, television (BBC-TV), cable TV and over the internet.
Unbelievably, I have received less than $200 in total royalties! And an investigation by BMI remains unresolved. I wonder why?

Sincerely,

AA:ej Alan Abel
cc BMI SAG- AFTRA (abelalan2000@yahoo.com)
ASCAP SESAC
Associated Press
Huffington Report

michael11 (profile) says:

Though plagiarism is not referred to crimes, it is closely connected with copyright and may result in the same lawsuits. Both plagiarism and copyright have many ethical issues. In any case, if you try to use one’s work, idea or statement and avoid citing it is considered a literary theft. So when we speak about ethics of these, both avoiding copyright and plagiarism is stealing. Each original work is protected by copyright laws and violating intellectual property you commit a crime.

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