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Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement – Two Sides of the Same Coin

Logo for Quora, where Dana Shultz answered a question about plagiarismThis post compares plagiarism and copyright infringement. It is prompted by a Quora question that I answered several months ago. (See Have your ideas or works ever been plagiarized? What happened?)

Plagiarism Defined

Plagiarism is the wrongful appropriate on another’s work and presenting it as one’s own. One typically thinks of plagiarism occurring in academia or journalism. However, as discussed below, it can occur in other professions, too.

Copyright Infringement Defined

The holder of the copyright in a work has certain exclusive rights with respect to that work. These include (as applicable) the rights to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of the work. Copyright infringement is use of a work, without permission of the copyright holder, that infringes on one of those exclusive rights.

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement Compared

Comparison of plagiarism and copyright infringement.

  • Plagiarism focuses on misrepresenting the authorship or source of a work.
  • Copyright infringement focuses on using someone else’s work without permission.
  • They easily can come together. As a plagiarist prepares his work, he likely will copy and make derivative works of the original work or portions thereof. Because that is done without the copyright holder’s permission, it constitutes copyright infringement.

My personal interest in – and victimization by – plagiarism dates back more than a decade. From 1995 to 2001, I wrote the Legal Tech column for the California Bar Journal.

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement in South Africa

Amazingly, one of my eagle-eye readers saw that De Rebus, a journal published monthly by the Law Society of South Africa, had published certain of my columns under the byline of a South Africa lawyer! Here is what the journal’s editor wrote in January 2001:

Technology columns – an apology

De Rebus has been advised by Dana H Shultz, an attorney of Oakland, California, specialising in technology licensing and related transactions, that two of the articles by Reinhardt Buys in the Practice Management column in the second half of last year contained substantial portions, verbatim, of articles written by Mr Shultz and published in the California Bar Journal, of which he is the legal technology columnist, other journals and on the Internet. The articles in question were ‘More money and happier clients – how technology can increase revenue and client satisfaction’ in 2000 (Oct) DR 39 and ‘Six technology mistakes every firm should avoid’ in 2000 (Nov) DR 32. Although the former contained a purported acknowledgment of Mr Shultz’s ‘assistance and guidance’, it appears that in neither case did Mr Buys seek Mr Shultz’s permission to use the latter’s published works as his own.

In response Mr Buys has contributed the following note, under the heading ‘Setting the record straight’: ‘As readers may have realised, the information used to write this column comes from my personal experience, interviews with attorneys and information I get through newsletters, Internet chat-rooms and articles found on the Internet. Because of a terrible oversight on my side the article that appeared in De Rebus of November 2000 … was not attributed to Mr Dana Shultz whose material I also used for the article [in] October 2000 … My sincere apologies to Mr Shultz, De Rebus and our readers. I am truly embarrassed!’

De Rebus also apologises to Mr Shultz for its unwitting part in the publication of this plagiarism – Editor.

Interestingly, the lawyer had been on the editorial board of De Rebus. Once this plagiarism came to light, he no longer held that position.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510 547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
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