Plagiarism vs. copyright infringement

Network Literacy January 18, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF

People sometimes confuse plagiarism with acts that infringe copyrights.

Plagiarism is an act of intellectual dishonesty that involves passing someone else’s work off as your own. Copyright infringement involves an illegal use of a copyrighted work without permission from the original author. You can commit plagiarism without infringing a copyright and vice versa.

To help distinguish the differences:

  • Publishing a long segment of Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience under your own name in a blog or on a Web site qualifies as plagiarism, though it wouldn’t infringe a copyright, since the works of Thoreau lie in the public domain.
  • Lifting a long segment or all of a recent essay critiquing Thoreau’s essay Civil Disobedience from the New York Review of Books and publishing it under your own name would qualify as both plagiarism and copyright infringement
  • Cutting an essay (or a long chunk of it) from an online journal  and pasting it into a blog, Web page, or the message body of an email would infringe the author’s copyright, though it wouldn’t constitute plagiarism unless you presented it as your own work.
  • Submitting an online fact sheet written by a Cooperative Extension specialist from another state to a local newspaper under your own name might (or might not) constitute copyright infringement, but it definitely qualifies as plagiarism.
  • Changing some words, adding or subtracting a paragraph or two, or changing the linear flow of an article doesn't make it your own. It’s still plagiarism, and it won't protect you from copyright infringement.

Even a serious act of plagiarism may not get you into legal trouble, but it can profoundly and permanently damage your reputation and that of your organization.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.