Plagiarism vs copyright infringement

Plagiarism vs Copyright Infringement: Rules and Differences

Plagiarism vs copyright infringement can be characterized as different subjects and should not be used interchangeably.

“One of my students has written an article where he has copied every sentence from another article which is already published under the name of the original author. However, my student is also trying to publish the article and passing off someone’s work as his own. So, I want to know whether it’s an act of plagiarism or copyright infringement.”


In today’s world, where technology has been much advanced, and everything can be found on the internet, it’s easy for people to misuse other’s content or work and use it as their own without the permission of the original creator. Students also commit this by submitting college assignments as their own, originally written by someone else. In this article, the author has discussed the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement and how to differentiate copyright infringement and plagiarism as these two terms sound very similar, but in reality, there are a lot of differences that the common people should be aware of. 

The main difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement is that plagiarism is ethical, whereas copyright infringement is legal. Plagiarism can be defined as when someone commits to passing off someone else’s work as their own. In contrast, copyright infringement comes into effect when someone uses copyrighted material without taking the permission of the copyright owner. However, both copyright infringement and plagiarism have one thing in common: both cases happen without the original owner’s permission.

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What is plagiarism?

Everyone knows that stealing anyone’s item or material is regarded as a crime but stealing someone’s ideas, quotations, illustrations, and words is known as plagiarism which isn’t a crime but an ethical issue. Plagiarism can occur in different forms and situations. It usually happens when a person uses someone else’s work and claims it as his own; along with that, he doesn’t even give any credit to the deserving person.

Generally, the act of plagiarism occurs in academics, in both physical mode and electronic modes. When a student copies everything from an article written by someone else, doesn’t provide any footnotes or citations, and submits it under his name. Plagiarism can also occur in the case of unpublished articles such as lecture notes or any notes made by other students, but if someone uses it without giving proper credit to the author, it will lead to plagiarism. Moreover, plagiarism can occur in various forms, such as:

  1. Submission of someone else’s work or ideas as one’s own.
  2. Failing to add citations that should contain true or accurate information.
  3. If you’re adding quotations, it should be within quotation marks, and you should provide the citations to give credit to the original author.
  4. Changing and duplicating the words of a sentence without providing the proper citation.

In the field of academics, the act of plagiarism is common, and many students commit it without being aware of what plagiarism is. However, plagiarism has serious consequences and penalties, which can vary from mark deduction to suspension from the college. The range of punishment depends upon the seriousness of the case. However, plagiarism can be prevented if someone gives full credit through citations to the original author. 


  1. Using sentences, graphs, photographs, and charts without citations or footnotes.
  2. Misrepresenting a sentence or representing a sentence in other ways, but the ideas are not original. 
  3. Paraphrasing the words without giving the proper citation.
  4. Missing citations on quotes. 
  5. Copying different sentences from different writers. 

Copyright protection is provided to the ones with exclusive rights to reproduce their work, known as the creator or the original author of a work of authorship. To obtain copyright protection, the work needs to be original and fixed in a tangible medium. Some examples of original works that need copyright protection are computer software, music, literary work, photographs, novels, online content, etc. Usually, the owners obtain copyright protection to enjoy exclusive rights and to gain profits from it. However, it’s their choice if they want to grant permission to someone else to use or reproduce their work through compulsory licensing agreements or else they can sell the work.

Violating the copyright law can lead to copyright infringement. Now, to be precise, we can say that copyright infringement comes into action when one uses copyrighted material without the permission of the original creator or author. The same is regarded as a violation of copyright law. For example, in India, Section 51 of the copyright act 1957 states that copyright can be said to be infringed when a person obtains it without the permission of the copyright holder who can reproduce his work.


  1. A person is free to record any TV program or movie in theatres; however, if he transfers or distributes it to others, it will amount to copyright infringement.
  2. If a person uses someone else’s music in his music video and uploads it on the internet. 
  3. If a person tries to or downloads any movie or song from any unauthorized website 

When you utilise content that is copyright-protected without the owner’s consent, you are engaging in copyright infringement. Here are some pointers to prevent copyright violations:

Know who owns what content: At its most basic level, the original content’s creator and owner are the only ones with the authority to use, copy, publish, and provide licences to that content. Thus, you run the danger of violating copyright if you employ stuff that wasn’t your own creation or that you didn’t purchase.

Use no content without permission: It’s crucial to never utilise another person’s content without getting their permission in writing. The ownership of the copyright will be transferred from the original creator to you via a signed copyright agreement, which is important. Asking for permission is the simplest and most important strategy to prevent copyright infringement.

Make original material: The idea of original expression holds the key to copyright legislation. By utilising your own original ideas and drawing on your own domain-specific expertise, you may present the information in a unique way. Even if others have already discussed this idea or this notion, come up with something original. 

Record your own work: Your personal work should be documented. Sometimes referred to as a defence, this is essentially a denial of any copying. Basically, you have to demonstrate that you didn’t replicate anything and that you actually came up with your own idea on your own.

Consult a lawyer: Intellectual property law’s complicated field of copyright can have major legal repercussions if its definition and operation are not understood. On how to avoid copyright infringement and make sure that your work complies with the law, seek legal advice.


  1. There aren’t any direct provisions or statutes regarding plagiarism in India, but Section 57 of the Copyright Act 1957 provides the original author’s rights to claim authorship of their work.
  2. Section 57 also includes the term “special rights” for the original authors. Here, the special rights are considered moral rights and say no to plagiarism.
  3. Section 63 of the Indian copyright act 1957 recognizes copyright infringement as a crime and provides punishment for copyright infringement and violation of Section 57. The punishment will be in the form of a fine and imprisonment, ranging from 6 months to 3 years. 
  4. Section 51 of the Indian Copyright Act specifies when an action is considered copyright infringement.


  1. In US copyright law, Copyright infringement is stated in 17 USC 106, according to which copyright infringement occurs when someone creates or distributes copies of the protected work.
  2. Copyright Act § 504 provides the owner with the right to choose to recover in the form of statutory damages and actual damages or profits.
  3. Under the US Copyright law, plagiarism is not considered illegal or a crime, but it’s something that is morally not acceptable. However, as mentioned before, a person can claim damages which depends upon many factors. 
  4. However, it’s rare, but a person committing plagiarism can be charged with fraud. Under US law, fraud is demonstrated in the following ways:

 I. Misrepresentation of a fact.

 II. Having the proper knowledge of his actions.

III. Who is being suffered because of misrepresentation, and who relies on that misrepresentation.

So, after understanding the comparison between plagiarism and copyright infringement, we can now differentiate plagiarism and copyright infringement through these five points:

  1. Plagiarism is considered an act of stealing someone else’s work or ideas and passing it off as their own. In contrast, Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder.
  2. Plagiarism is an ethical issue, whereas copyright infringement is a legal issue.
  3. Plagiarism involves copying any kind of work. It’s not necessary that work should be copyrighted, whereas copyright infringement involves only the copyrighted work.
  4. Plagiarism involves any work in both physical and electronic mode, whereas copyright infringement involves copyrighted works such as literary, artistic, cinematographic, etc.
  5. Plagiarism is not considered a crime but an unethical issue that involves penalties. In contrast, copyright infringement is considered a civil crime that can have severe punishments, depending upon the seriousness of the case.

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are often mistaken for one another, but they are not the same thing. While copyright infringement is illegal, plagiarism is unethical. The unacknowledged use of another person’s work is the most accurate definition of plagiarism. Contrarily, copyright infringement is the unlawful use of another person’s creative work. There is a significant difference between ethics and law.

While breaching the law can result in severe consequences, breaking ethics just destroys your reputation and credibility. Using another person’s work without their permission is known as copyright infringement, whereas plagiarism refers to using someone else’s work as your own.

Copyright is frequently violated by plagiarism, however, not all copyright infractions involve plagiarism. Regardless of whether a piece of writing is protected by copyright, it is still unethical to plagiarise it; nevertheless, it is legal to violate someone else’s copyright without doing so. For instance, if a person must cite someone else’s work in his or her book without getting their consent and without claiming ownership, that person would be infringing on the copyright but not guilty of plagiarism.

Plagiarism isn’t always a copyright violation, though. Because not all works are still covered by copyright, using an unprotected piece would constitute plagiarism rather than a copyright violation.


We learned that although the concept of plagiarism and copyright infringement may sound similar, there are many differences between them. Most people find it difficult to differentiate these two terms and have some misconceptions about them, which leads to more copyright infringement cases. 

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