Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism

A copyright holder has the exclusive rights to reproduce, display, transmit, perform, and modify a work as well as the right to publicly perform a sound recording by digital transmission. There are exemptions in the Copyright Act that provide for certain exceptions to those exclusive rights, many in favor of limited nonprofit educational purposes. If none of the exemptions apply, the proposed use of someone else’s copyrighted work will probably be copyright infringement. If proper attribution is required and is missing, the proposed use will also be plagiarism. Copyright laws prohibit plagiarism.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement occurs when someone other than the copyright holder reproduces a work without permission. Excessive use of another’s original work, even if the source is properly acknowledged, may be a copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is a violation of federal law. Wholesale copying of copyrighted material is an infringement of a property right, and legal remedies are available to the copyright holder. But the copying of brief passages, even from copyrighted materials, is permissible under the doctrine of “fair use,” while wholesale copying from material that is in the public domain, which may be material that never was copyrighted or material on which the copyright has expired, presents no copyright issue at all.


Plagiarism is different from copyright infringement. Plagiarism occurs when someone copies the intellectual property of another and attempts to pass it off as his or her own work without crediting the source. This is true even if the ideas of someone else are paraphrased or summarized. In scholarly research, plagiarism is considered unethical and dishonest. Plagiarism is a form of dishonesty because it involves passing off the ideas or creative expression of someone else as one’s own; it involves the misappropriation of ideas or creative language without attribution.

Examples of Copyright Infringement

Quoting extensively from a book without the copyright holder’s permission would likely be copyright infringement. Extensive quoting without permission but with attribution would not be plagiarism but would still be copyright infringement. Using a copyrighted illustration in a book without permission is copyright infringement even if credit is given for the picture. Giving credit does keep it from being plagiarism.

Examples of Plagiarism

Using someone’s exact words without putting them in quotes and giving credit would likely be plagiarism. Paraphrasing someone’s work without giving credit is plagiarism. Including a photo or illustration in a book without giving credit is plagiarism. Also, extensive copying with permission but without attribution would be plagiarism but not copyright infringement. Extensive quoting without permission and without attribution would be copyright infringement and plagiarism.

Safeguards Against Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism

Making certain that permission is obtained before using the work of another is the best way to avoid a charge of copyright infringement. Proper citation of sources is the best safeguard against plagiarism.

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