copyright questionDear Dr. Copyright:

Is plagiarism the same as copyright infringement?

— Sir I. Newton, F.R.S.

Dear Sir Isaac:

No, plagiarism and copyright infringement are different, and not always in equal and opposite ways at all times and all places.  Now that I have you completely confused, let me explain…

Plagiarism is an infraction that is committed against a reader (or viewer) that fools the reader into thinking that what he or she is reading is original with the named author.  Thus, when a noted physics scholar wrote modestly in 1656, “If I have seen a little further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants,” (look it up in Google) the phrase should properly have been footnoted or otherwise attributed to Bernard of Chartres (who said it before 1159!).

Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is a legal infraction defined in Copyright Law (in the United States, that is 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.) as a violation of the exclusive rights granted under law to authors and their assigns.  These rights are defined in § 106 as the right to reproduce copies, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform, display, and transmit.  When someone does these things without the permission of the copyright owner, a civil or criminal action may be brought.  No one need be deceived.  Unlike plagiarism, there is no fraud involved (although there may be, it’s not a part of the legal definition).

So…a plagiarist may be a copyright infringer, and vice versa, but generally, plagiarism is remedied with non-legal sanctions (students are disciplined, politicians are subjected to ridicule) while copyright infringers are hauled into court by lawyers who specialize in those kinds of actions.

More questions?  Just ask a lawyer at LW&H.

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.