Tags: Copyright Law

While similar, plagiarism and copyright infringement are two distinct concepts which are often confused.

It is important to know the difference, because one could earn you academic probation, or at least a failing grade on an assignment, while the other could earn you a large civil judgment against you.

Plagiarism is “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”[1]  One key aspect to plagiarism, which is often misattributed to copyright infringement, is that with plagiarism the individual does not give proper credit to the original author for the mis-appropriated information.  This means that plagiarism is easily remedied by simply giving credit to the source of the information / quotations that are used.  However, such a remedy does not apply to copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement occurs (at its most basic) when a person copies the work of another (whether written, artistic, musical, etc.) without permission.  Such unauthorized copying of an original work of expression can result in you being sued for copyright infringement and could result in you owing a substantial judgment to the original author.  However, an important note is that simply crediting the source of your information does not absolve you of liability.  For example, even if you make an exact copy of the Harry Potter series, keep J.K. Rowling’s name on it as the author, and tell everyone that it is a copy – you will still be sued by Ms. Rowling for copyright infringement (and likely lose).

With plagiarism, you are often only using a small portion (like a quote) inside of a larger work (like a term paper) to make a certain point.  You are not trying to profit from the original work of another.  Copyright infringement, on the other hand, typically involves copying of an entire work (or a substantial part of it), either so your can sell it for profit or so that you could use it without having to pay for it from the original author.  In other words, while not required there is often a monetary component to copyright infringement.  Simply telling people it is a copy does not get rid of your liability; it just makes it easier for the original author to sue you.

Care must be taken when using the original work of others.  In some instances, you may simply be able to give the original author credit.  In others, you will need explicit permission from the author before using the material.  If you have questions regarding whether you can use all or part of the work of another, call the experienced attorneys at Goosmann Law Firm, PLC, in our Omaha, Sioux City, or Sioux Falls offices.


[1] Plagiarism, Dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/plagiarism, last visited Oct. 25, 2019.

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