Plagiarism vs Copyright Infringement: Know the difference
Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement actually refer to entirely different concepts, though they are both regularly confused, and, confusingly, regularly overlap!
Let’s first get a simple definition of both, so that we can clearly mark out the difference between them:
Plagiarism, broadly, is taking the work of somebody else, in some sphere, and trying to pass it off as one’s own. That is, misleading others so as to convince them that the work in question is from yourself rather than its originator. This covers taking an original work, and, even as altering its specific words and phrases, preserving its gist such as to express the idea as one’s own.
Copyright Infringement, on the other hand, is using the work of somebody else – be it a group of words, a phrase, or a whole passage – in a context that one isn’t authorised to use it in, for example, making somebody else’s music available online for free without having permission to do so. Copyright (and its relevant law(s)) does not cover the idea, but the expression of a given idea; i.e. its form.
As mentioned, the two often go hand-in-hand, because in plagiarising something with commercial ends in mind (or merely plagiarising whilst preserving the original work), one is also often committing copyright infringement. Conversely, they are separate things, as with the case of illegal file sharing, whereby the sharer does not purport to be the creator of the work (indeed, they wish to express that this is the work of X artist) – and so copyright infringement has been committed, but no plagiarism. Plagiarism can also be committed, for example by passing off the content/work of an academic paper (which isn’t usually subject to copyright) as one’s own when one did not produce it.
Copyright also differs slightly in its categorisations from country to country, whereas plagiarism is generally recognised as referring to the same thing worldwide. In the UK, copyright is an automatic right. When somebody produces a written, drawn or photographic piece of work, they automatically have copyright over it. This means, in practise, that they are protected from this work from being reproduced (in any context) without their permission (this act being known as ‘Copyright Infringement’), and furthermore, are free to exploit this work for their own profit. This is the right of the originator.
Material protected by Copyright is automatically afforded this status upon creation. Although many people are keen to use a Copyright symbol: ©, this is not necessary and does not alter the rights in any way. If one does not possess the Copyright to a given work, they are not free to reproduce it in any form without express permission from the Copyright holder – doing this is Copyright Infringement.
It should be noted that some works being used without permission do not result in Copyright Infringement. “Creative Commons” material is that which the author has allowed to be shared, free of charge (but with a reference to the originator). Using this without permission is fine, but using this without a citation is still plagiarism.