Plagiarism is the act of passing off one’s work as if it was your own by deliberately or by negligently removing credit to the owner. It can be committed against written materials (like books, news articles), spoken statements (such as a delivered speech, or an answer to an interview you saw on the television), images, videos, and even music.
For the case at hand, we will only concentrate on the plagiarism of written words. Any of the following is a form of plagiarism of written materials:
- Turning in a whole work without giving due credit and making it appear that you created it yourself
- Copying phrases, sentences, or paragraphs without citations
- Copying sentences but changing some words into synonyms
- Failing to put quotation marks or failing to italicize borrowed statements
- Providing incorrect citation
As you can see, the inability to give acknowledgment to the source is the gist of plagiarism. That said, plagiarism can be avoided by simply providing a citation.
Let us further discuss plagiarism, how it relates to copyright, how to proof work for acts of plagiarism, as well as the tools that can help you in doing so.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Copyright by the books – Definition, Types of Ownership, How To’s
Part 2: Guide to Copyright Law, Plagiarism, and Legalities
Part 3: Proof your work by using our FAQ section.
Part 4: Tools for people who want to check plagiarism
Part 5: Resources for further reading
Copyright by the Books
What is Copyright?
A copyright is a legally granted right that bestows exclusive rights to the original owner of any piece of work to use it and distribute it, subject to the limitations and exceptions provided in the prevailing copyright law. Copyright may only be obtained for the protection of the original expression of ideas and is for a limited time only.
Who Owns a Copyright for a Work?
The owner of a copyright is not always the author of the work himself. Copyright may be granted to the employer of the author in cases where the work was done in the exercise of his official or special duty at work. This can be referred to as “work for hire”. Since one is paid to do the work, the exclusive rights to the use and distribution of such work are bestowed upon the employer.
What Can Be Copyrighted?
As a general rule, copyright is applied to the original expression of an idea and not to the idea itself. So what really can be covered by copyright?
Depending on the prevailing copyright law, exclusive rights can protect a variety of works. The United States Copyright Law protects the following:
- Literary Works
- Musical Works
- Dramatic Works
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
The following are not copyrightable:
- Facts (except the artistic compilation of facts)
- Useful articles (except the artistic aspect of a useful article where the aesthetic aspect cannot be separated from the functional aspect)
- Works by the federal government
- Federal statutes and court decisions
- Works in the public domain, or those works that have been created before copyrights existed; those whose copyrights have expired or have been forfeited, or those that do not qualify for copyright.
How to Copyright a Work?
If a piece of work meets the requirement for the eligibility for copyright protection, it does not need to be registered for copyright and would automatically be protected. Registration is, however, needed in filing a lawsuit.
Copyright can be registered online through the website of the United States Copyright Office. They will then assess and review your application for copyright and would determine whether or not you qualify. If your work is confirmed to be copyrightable, you will be given a certificate of registration.
The US Copyright Office will require you to deposit a copy of your work in order for them to use it in a case of a copyright infringement lawsuit, and for collection purposes for the Library of Congress.
Duration of Copyright
Generally, a copyrighted work is protected until 70 years after the death of its author. However, for those categorized as “work for hire”, the copyright is valid for 120 years after its creation, or 95 years after its publication, whichever is shorter.
The United States Copyright Office states that there are different standards when it comes to determining a copyright’s coverage and effectivity. Several amendments to the Copyright Act of 1976 also affect the duration of copyright.
Guide to Copyright Law, Plagiarism, and Legalities
Copyright Act of 1976
The Copyright Act of 1976 of the United States is the prevailing copyright law in the US. Its purpose is to encourage the creation of art and culture by rewarding authors and artists with a set of exclusive rights (i.e., the right to use and distribute their work).
The Copyright Act of 1976 is an update to the first federal copyright law of the country, the Copyright Act of 1790, which is, in turn, based on the Statute of Anne. The Statute of Anne, or the Copyright Act of 1710, is an act of the Parliament of Great Britain. The long title of the Copyright act of 1710 is “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned”, and is applicable to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The United States of America Copyright Timeline
The development of the copyright law of the United States was a long journey and it will not end. Further developments will be born especially because of how we make, publish, and distribute information and outputs nowadays. Below is a timeline of events in the United States related to copyright:
Notable Copyright Legal Matters in the United States
There are several cases regarding copyright in the United States. Some of them are the following:
- In Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591 (1834), the court ruled that Congress has the power to grant copyright protection subject to conditions (such as the requisites of registration and the deposit of a copy). Furthermore, common law copyright cannot be upheld.
- Nutt v. National Institute Inc., 101 U.S. 99 (1879) explains the division of idea and its expression thereof. This is necessary since copyright protects the expression of an idea and not the idea itself. In this case, the court ruled that the copyright does not give the authors the right to practice what is included and described in the book, but only the reproduction of the book itself.
- In Dowling v. the United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985), the court ruled that copyright infringement is not theft, conversion, or fraud and that illegally made copies are not stolen goods.
- In Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v Sarony, 111 U.S. 53 (1884), the court extended the scope of copyright to include photography.
- In Williams & Wilkins Co. v. the United States, 487 F.2d 1345 (Ct. Cl. 1973), the court upheld that the photocopying by libraries for patrons engaged in scientific research is not violating the fair use policy.
- In Reyher v. Children’s Television Workshop, 2d Cir. 1976, the court ruled that plots or themes of a book that was adapted and made into a TV skit and magazine story are not copyright infringement. What is protected by the copyright is the expression of the theme and not the theme itself.
There are a couple more legal battles related to copyright infringement but those listed above are some of the salient issues.
What is Copyright Infringement?
As mentioned above, a copyright gives the creator the exclusive right to the use and distribution of his work subject to limitations stated in the prevailing copyright law. The violation of such rights is called copyright infringement.
Copyright infringement can be a violation of the creator’s exclusive rights for the following:
- Right to reproduce work
- Right to derivative works
- Right to distribution
- Right to public display
- Right to public performance
It must be noted that copyright infringement cannot be raised for those that fall under the following exceptions
- Fair use – A doctrine that allows the reproduction of copyrighted materials for teaching, reviewing, literary criticisms, and other similar functions, without getting permission from the copyright owner. The fair use doctrine is not absolute: the value of the material must not be impaired and that the profits expected by the owner must not be curtailed.
- Public domain – Works that are not covered by copyright law: those that existed before copyright laws were made, those whose copyright has already expired, or those whose copyright was waived.
- Non-copyrightable works – Facts or ideas (except the expression thereof)
What is Plagiarism?
As we have mentioned in the first part of the article, plagiarism is the act of passing one’s work as your own by removing, either deliberately or neglectfully, the necessary credits to the author.
The Difference of Infringement and Plagiarism
Plagiarism and copyright infringement are similar in that they both trespass the right of an owner of the work that they copy. However, it must be understood that infringement of copyright and plagiarism are not one and the same. They may occur at the same time, but not at all times. For example, non-copyrightable materials such as those that belong to the public domain cannot be infringed upon but saying that it is your work can be considered plagiarism. On the other hand, since plagiarism is particularly concerned with giving credit to the author, giving mere acknowledgment does not give you the right to copy copyrighted material.
Plagiarism is more of an academic and ethical issue while copyright infringement is more of a legal matter. The sanctions for cases of plagiarism are dependent on the applicable regulations of the institution for which the plagiarizer belongs to, while cases of copyright infringement are punishable by the penalties provided for in the prevailing copyright law.
Always remember that copyright infringement and plagiarism are not the same. Nonetheless, make sure that you do not commit both!
DMCA: Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Digitization is one of the developments of the modern world. To cope up with this, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton, making sure that the US Copyright laws are fit for the digital age. The DMCA provides circumventing measures against anti-piracy is a crime. Equally illegal is the distribution of devices that can crack codes for copied software. These two provisions are part of the treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Creative Commons Explained
Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit American organization whose focus is on the expansion of reasonable and flexible copyright. CC releases Creative Commons licenses or its copyright licenses. The creators can communicate which rights they reserve, and those which they waive so others may use it. In other terms, through CC, what used to be “all rights reserved” that comes with traditional copyright, is now replaced by “some rights reserved”. Doing so is lodged on the CC’s belief that copyright laws are very restrictive, and discourages sharing. Creative Commons further believe that fostering sharing will make the world a better place. It must be noted that Creative Commons does not replace copyright.
Frequently Asked Questions on Plagiarism
We should not plagiarize, nor should we commit copyright infringement – not even unknowingly. To ensure that you don’t commit these two, try asking yourself the following frequently asked question and apply the answers to yourself:
Question #1: Why do people plagiarize?
Writing is hard. Coming up with original ideas is harder. Some people are tempted to take the easy way out by copying other people’s work in part or as a whole. They do not see the consequences of their actions, nor do they feel how bad the owner of that work would feel when they learn that someone took credit for their hard work.
Question #2: Is the Internet a public domain?
The Internet is open to the public and a lot of information is readily available for use. However, the Internet is not a public domain. The public domain is said to be those materials that are made before the existence of pertinent copyright laws, or those whose copyright has already expired. The public domain does not mean public availability. Always check whether or not there are restrictions on the use of materials you find on the World Wide Web.
Question #3: Is the Internet free for all?
Generally, everyone has access to the Internet. However, this is not absolute because access to some sites is restricted either by the site’s initiative or by state regulations.
Internet Service Providers have limited liability as to what is contained on websites. However, they are responsible for detecting, reporting, and blocking content that is violating copyright laws.
Question #4: Is there such a thing as unintentional plagiarism?
Yes. Our definition of plagiarism has always contained the phrase “negligent removing of credit to the owner” to emphasize that plagiarism can be done by negligence either by forgetting to input citations or by accidentally deleting them. We must then be extra careful before finalizing our works to ensure that we have included correct citation so we won’t commit unintentional or neglectful plagiarism.
Question #5: How do owners know when someone copies their work?
There are now tools that can help you know when someone copies your work. Read part IV of this article for the discussion on these tools. Use these tools well!
Question #6: How do I make sure that my material didn’t plagiarize any work?
Simple – do your own work, write your own words. When you have references, cite them accordingly. You can also check your references against your work using anti-plagiarism tools.
Question #7: How to avoid plagiarism?
Provide citations and references. Write as much original content as possible. Mere rehashing or paraphrasing is still plagiarism. Whenever you borrow ideas from a source, acknowledge them by providing proper citations.
Question #8: How to cite sources?
Proper citations clearly attribute the source, and as to how much was copied. It is best to have both in-text and terminal citations where necessary. In-text citations are those that you put right after the borrowed statement. Terminal citations refer to bibliography or references at the end of the material.
Use quotation marks to indicate which statements were borrowed and which ones are originally yours. Follow the citation convention that is practiced in your school or your company. The most common citation conventions are the American Psychological Association (APA) style and the Modern Language Association (MLA) style.
Here at Hosting Facts, we came up with a Complete Guide to Evaluating Online Resources. Under improving evaluation skills, we discussed both the APA and MLA styles. Citing resources isn’t difficult; you can visit the MLA Style Center to help brush up your knowledge on citing resources, MLA style. Meanwhile, for those who are required to cite their sources using the APA style, the Purdue Online Writing Lab has an updated and organized guide on APA Formatting and Style.
Question #9: What’s the importance of knowing this all?
All this information is for you. For you to avoid committing plagiarism, as well as copyright infringement, and the consequences that both of them carry. We hope for the best for you. With the knowledge you just gained, you can now write freely and without fear!
Tools to Check Plagiarism in the Internet
As answered on question number 5, tools to check whether plagiarism was committed against your work, or by you to other people’s work. The following are helpful tools that you can use:
Copyscape will search the web for other sites that contain content similar to those on a website URL that you will input. Results, as to which sites have your content, will then be provided. For better results, go premium. It will not be free but it is worth it!
Google itself can check whether a similar content as to what you will provide can be seen elsewhere. Provide Google Alerts with a part of your article and then you will be asked as to the types of websites it will search on. Google will then provide results to the email address that you will input.
Trackback notifications are available on sites such as WordPress. Trackback notifications work by linking your site to another. If a site is linking to your site quite often, the chances are that your content is being plagiarized. The link is manually created by the person linking to your side because he or she wants people to know what you would like to show from his own site what he found on another site by providing a link to that other site. The owner of that other site receives a trackback notification.
Other Plagiarism Checker Tools
For those who cannot afford to pay for a plagiarism detection tool, or would simply want their work to be checked for originality and plagiarism, there are two free plagiarism detectors that we recommend:
PaperRater is your quick and easy plagiarism checker. If you simply want to check your article against other websites and see what these websites are, PaperRater does its job fast. All you have to do is to paste your article on the text box, tick the Terms of Service checkbox, and then the Get Report button. The results page will give you a percentage of how unique your article is, along with some websites that they checked where you copied your information from.
If you’re looking for an in-depth plagiarism checker, SmallSEOTools has its own plagiarism checker as well. However, it’s only limited to 1000 words per search. As they scan your article, they will show segments of your write up and display if they saw the exact same phrase that you copied from another website. Clicking on the plagiarized result will send you to a Google results page, where you can see where the phrase was exactly copied from.
Resources for Further Reading
We hope that you learned a lot from this article. In case you would want to learn even more about plagiarism, copyright infringement, and other related topics, you may go through our references below:
On the Basics of Copyright:
Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Creative Commons: