Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Short Collated Primer On Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

The two terms stand for two distinct and different behavior.

Plagiarism: Definitions and Facts

Plagiarism is using someone else's work without giving proper credit - a failure to cite adequately.

If you use someone's exact words without putting them in quotes and giving credit, you've committed plagiarism. If you've paraphrased someone's work and haven't given credit, you've committed plagiarism. If you've included a photo or illustration in your report but didn't give credit, you've committed plagiarism.

Schools enforce plagiarism by giving the cheaters academic consequences.

Plagiarism is typically not illegal. In fact, plagiarism is typically not recognized in law. But the State of California, for example, has incorporated and defined in its legal codes a kind of plagiarism (of term papers) as illegal behavior and thus punishable by law. Other states have also acted similarly.

However, plagiarism wears different masks as:
• Copyright infringement
• Unfair or illegal competition
• Outright fraud
Being found guilty of any of these offenses could result in significant financial penalties or expensive out-of-court settlements to the offending party.

And it is also unethical. It can get you in trouble at school (for breaking the rules about Academic Honesty). It can get you in trouble at work (by giving you a bad reputation or getting you fired).

Copyright Infringement: Definitions and Facts
First, a definition of copyright:

Copyright is a type of law that exists to protect intellectual property. Copyright -- the "right to copy" -- is an exclusive right. It excludes everyone except the person who owns the intellectual property.

Next, a definition of intellectual property:

Intellectual Property: something you created with your mind that has commercial value, including written, artistic, and musical works.

Copyright infringement is using someone else's creative work, which can include a song, a video, a movie clip, a piece of visual art, a photograph, and other creative works, without authorization or compensation, if compensation is appropriate.
The courts enforce copyright infringement. The courts assign consequences for copyright infringement. This means someone may come after you with a lawyer if you violate his copyright. Your school can report copyright infringement to people who have the legal power to take you to court. Students have been sued for copyright infringement before. In some cases, the court may require you to pay the fees for both your lawyer and the copyright owner's lawyer.

A more comprehensive definition follows:

Copyright infringement is using someone else's work without getting that person's permission. The author of any original work, including books, essays, Web pages, songs, pictures, and videos, automatically gets the copyright to that work, even if she doesn't label it with the copyright symbol and her name. The work must be fixed in tangible form, which means it must be stored on something physical, such as paper, canvas, a CD, or a hard disk. This makes college students copyright owners, since they've already written many original works for school.

The owner of a copyright gets to decide who can legally make copies of that work. It is illegal to copy large sections of someone else's copyrighted work without permission, even if you give the original author credit.

Relationships Between The Two

Often, plagiarism and copyright violations go hand in hand. But it's possible to break copyright without plagiarizing. And it's possible to commit plagiarism with out breaking copyright.

Plagiarism doesn't have to include copyright infringement. For example, William Shakespeare's plays are not copyrighted because they're too old. Even though it would technically be legal to copy from one of those plays for an English assignment, it would still be plagiarism if you didn't give credit to Shakespeare.

You can plagiarize the ideas in a work without violating its copyright (which only protects the specific expression of those ideas), and you can also plagiarize the content of out-of-copyright works whose authors died 70+ years ago and they're then considered in the public domain.

Example of violating copyright without committing plagiarism: If you use a copyrighted illustration in a book, and did not receive permission to do so, you've committed copyright infringement even if you give credit for the picture. Giving credit keeps it from being plagiarism, but that won't keep you from getting fined in this case.

Additional Concepts

Fair Use Exemption
Allows you to legally copy small amounts of someone else's work. Just make sure to give the author credit so you won't be guilty of plagiarism!

Derivative Work
Taking a copyrighted work and changing it creates something called a derivative work. Since you made changes to create the derivative work, you share the copyright for it with the copyright owner of the original work. Since you don't own the entire copyright for the derivative work, you must still ask for permission before making copies of it. Because of this, taking someone else's work and changing some of the words only creates a derivative work and does not give you full ownership of the copyright.

How Plagiarism is Treated Around the World

While plagiarism knows no geographic boundaries, some parts of the world (Indo-China in particular) have until very recently tolerated and even condoned plagiarism in its various forms (copyright violation, fraud). Recent court cases in India, for example, suggest a much lower tolerance for plagiarism than in the past. Areas of southeast Asia remain a problem spot, particularly when considering the lucrative “business” of pirating DVDs and CDs is actually a form of plagiarism (copyright violation). In the U.S.plagiarism is considered at a minimum to be ethical misconduct, and for many businesses can be cause for immediate dismissal. Legal cases arising out of plagiarism are often pursued aggressively through the courts by injured parties.

Tools To Combat Plagiarism and Copyrights

If you're jumpy and want to make extra sure you haven't copied, then plug some phrases from your essay into Hopefully, you'll never have to say that what seems like plagiarism was just an accident.

there is another device on the internet called the Way Back Machine and it takes you back in time – virtually. Found at, the Way Back Machine allows you to type in the URL to your website (or obviously any website) and it will show you a timeline and view of the different versions your website has gone through. It’s like a massive internet scrapbook.

A free website is available called Copyscape It works very similar to (and is programmatically tied with) Google. Simply go to a page on your website, copy the URL and paste it into the search prompt at Copyscape. Copyscape will then search the web looking for plagiarizers of your content for that page

Another way is to copy a block of text from a page on your website, go to and paste the text into the search prompt, making sure to put quotes at the front and end of the text (an exact word search). If you copied a section of text that’s not too common, Google will find any other sites who have stolen your text.


Statements in this blog entry are all quotes and are collated verbatim from the following sources:


Plagiarism and Copyright - What Are the Differences? (The Council Chronicle, Nov. 05). 16 Jan 2006 . The definitions were modified to make them more consistent with copyright law's use of the terms "tangible form" and "idea".

Stanford Policies: Copyrighted Material and File-Sharing Networks - Stanford University Office of Judicial Affairs. 16 Jan 2006

Websites: tabid=997

Added Disclaimer:

While full attribution has been made to all the statements quoted and collated verbatim above and thus, plagiarism is avoided, there is still the possibility that there may be copyright infringement since no due diligence was exercised to find out. Thus, this early if indeed some violation was made, I will appreciate being informed so the item(s) in question can be immediately removed.

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  1. your request took me a very long time to fulfil. but here he is anyway. (de chardin). thanks for dropping by.

    i think i might need to quote you on this post (i'm writing my thesis).

  2. Good luck on that important thesis.

    Hope you get to be assigned in our beloved Xavier University.

    A M D G

  3. I have some odd question about this concept:

    "Intellectual Property: something you created with your mind that has commercial value..."

    1. How is this commercial value computed? And does the computation have a standard forumla?
    If I created a piece of music, what elements must I consider in order to I determine its commercial value?

    2. Considering that there is a commercial value involved, do consumer rights cover the trade of intellectual properties?
    Say I was able to assign a value to the piece of music that I created and a person named Mary paid me so she can have a copy of that piece of music. Is Mary allowed to ask for her money back if she felt that the piece of music did not meet her needs, or if Mary was able to objectively determine that the piece of music was not worth the value that I assigned to it?

    I found my way here through the Philippine e-Legal Forum. Thanks for the informative post, cheers! :)

  4. Hi, Arielle-Cruz:

    Ordinarily, the free market determines what value to assign to that property.

    In IT, specifically software, I am reminded of an Intel truism when asked how they priced their products : as much as the market can bear.

    This explains to a large extent how Microsoft prices its OS products.

  5. Hi, Arielle-Cruz:

    Ordinarily, the free market determines what value to assign to that property.

    In IT, specifically software, I am reminded of an Intel truism when asked how they priced their products : as much as the market can bear.

    This explains to a large extent how Microsoft prices its OS products.

  6. prince singhid8:19 PM


    Thanks for the information regarding plagiarism and copyright. May I quote some for my paperwork regarding plagiarism committed by one of the justices in the Philippines. Thanks!

  7. Prince Singhid:

    Since data has been collated from different sources, pleas give proper attribution when quoting. Thanks.


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