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The Biggest Difference Between Plagiarism And Copyright

From Plagiarism Today:

[C]opyright is a legal regime that deals with unauthorized copying and sharing of a work while plagiarism is an ethical regime that covers attribution and how appropriately use the work of others.

But, while the ethical vs. legal dichotomy is an important distinction, copyright stills ends up being the most common legal mechanism for enforcing the rules of plagiarism. This creates a great deal of overlap between the two, even if it was never intended.

But that lack of intent becomes very clear when you look at what the two cover. In truth, the overlap between plagiarism and copyright is fairly small, with much of the ground plagiarism covers not just unmentioned in copyright, but intentionally not covered at all.

While the overlap between the two is still very important, it’s overlap because of the way people typically plagiarize, not the concept of plagiarism itself.

. . . .

Plagiarism, at its core, covers a wide variety of things. This includes words, ideas and facts as the major three things but, depending on the medium and the creativity put into them, can include syntax, style and even format.

This is because plagiarism is about attributing both the work and creativity of others who came earlier. Whether it was a scientist who toiled for hours upon hours to perform a study or a poet who had a flash of clarity and creativity, plagiarism is about attributing the contributions of others, whatever they may be.

Copyright, on the other hand, not only doesn’t cover facts, ideas, syntax, etc., it expressly forbids them. This is because copyright vests solely in creativity, not in the effort behind the creation.

A key example of this in the United States is phone books. Though assembling a phone book or phone directory is certainly a difficult and time-consuming task, phone books do not enjoy copyright protection in the United States.

The reason, quite simply is that an alphabetical list of names and numbers doesn’t have the requisite level of creativity to be copyright protected, regardless of the resources and effort that went into compiling it.

While the bar for that creativity is extremely low, “at least a modicum” under the law, it prevents facts and information from being copyright protected at all. Instead, only their expression gets coverage. This is despite the fact that plagiarizing facts and research is a heinous crime in academic circles.

. . . .

At it’s most fundamental level, plagiarism attempts to establish the rules and boundaries of authorship. This makes plagiarism an inherently philosophical exercise as, before we discuss what is or is not a plagiarism, we have to first discuss what is or is not original.

But philosophy is at home with discussions around plagiarism as it’s the mechanism we enforce the standards of authorship and attribution.

Philosophy is much less at home with copyright. Copyright is a legal right that focuses primarily on the commercial aspect of creation and, specifically, creativity. Though this is less true in other countries where moral rights are a bigger part of thee picture, in the U.S. the focus is almost entirely on the commercial rights of the creator or rightsholder.

It’s this focus that marks the biggest difference between the two. Plagiarism deals with ethics and authorship, copyright with commercial rights as a means to encourage creativity.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Plagiarism

2 Comments to “The Biggest Difference Between Plagiarism And Copyright”

  1. This would be clearer if it compared plagiarism to copyright infringement. Omitting the word “infringement” could create confusion.

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