This 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 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.
Copyright and trademark owners typically like to exercise their legal rights as broadly as possible. There is however, a well-known limit to those rights called the “first sale doctrine“.
Actually, they are two separate but similar doctrines. One pertains to copyrights, the other to trademarks:
- Copyrights – 17 USC Section 109(a) states, with certain exceptions, that the owner of a lawfully-made copy of a work may sell or dispose of the work. Consent of the copyright owner is not required. So, for example, if you legitimately possess a book or a CD, you may sell it or give it to someone else or throw it into a trash bin.
- Trademarks – The trademark first sale doctrine is a product of case law rather than statute. In Sebastian International, Inc. v. Longs Drug Stores Corporation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote: “[W]ith certain well-defined exceptions, the right of a producer to control distribution of its trademarked product does not extend beyond the first sale of the product. Resale by the first purchaser of the original article under the producer’s trademark is neither trademark infringement nor unfair competition.” The exceptions include, for example, stolen or counterfeit goods or goods that have avoided the producer’s quality control systems.
Chubby Checker (real name Ernest Evans) – the singer famous for The Twist dance craze in the 1960s – and certain corporations that he controls have filed a lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard Company and Palm, Inc. The suit concerns a no-longer-available app named “The Chubby Checker”.
The app purported to allow women to calculate the size of a man’s penis based on his shoe size. According to webOS Nation, the app was downloaded only 84 times before it was removed in September 2012. Yet press reports state that the plaintiffs are seeking damages of $500 million for trademark infringement and unfair competition!
In Blue Nile v. Ideal Diamond Solutions, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington held that co-defendant Larry Chasin, founder and an officer of defendant IDS, was personally liable for infringement of plaintiff Blue Nile’s copyrighted images, even though Chasin claimed he had no role in putting infringing images on websites and he did not know the images were infringing.
Blue Nile is an online jewelry and diamond retailer. Chasin founded and operated IDS to create websites for brick-and-mortar jewelers to help them compete online. The websites included some of Blue Nile’s copyrighted images.
I recently realized that I have referred to copyright infringement in quite a few posts. However, I neglected to define that term. It is time to correct that oversight.
Copyright Infringement Defined
Generally, infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner. I.e., copyright infringement is a violation of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights. (See Copyright Protection in One Easy Lesson.) (more…)
In an interview in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (“Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN, talks about new domain names“), the CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers stated that ICANN will create a global marks database to help protect trademark owners against cybersquatting.
The database will be developed in conjunction with ICANN’s forthcoming implementation new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom is quoted in the Chron article as saying (emphasis added): (more…)
On occasion I am asked about the extent to which a new work can incorporate elements of a pre-existing work without infringing the pre-existing work’s copyright. To answer such a question, one must understand derivative works.
17 U.S.C. Section 101 says (emphasis added):
A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.
Sometimes people want to know whether a work is so old that it it can be copied without any possibility of infringing anyone’s copyright. This post provides the answer (in the United States).
Before January 1, 1979 – when then-existing copyrights were automatically extended to 95 years from the end of the year in which the copyright was secured – copyrights were in effect for 28 years, with extension, if requested, for a second 28-year period (total of 56 years).
So the earliest a work could have been copyrighted (which, at that time, required publication with a copyright notice) and still received the automatic extension was 56 years before January 1, 1979, i.e., January 1, 1923. The copyright for such a work would expire on December 31, 2018 (after 95 years).
17 USC Section 512(c)(1)(C) provides a “safe harbor” incentive for service providers to remove, or disable access to, infringing works expeditiously. Unfortunately, “expeditiously” is not defined (see “Defining Expeditious: Uncharted Territory of the DMCA Safe Harbor Provision“).
Several months ago, I wrote that the “fair use” defense to copyright infringement often is poorly understood. The U.S. Postal Service illustrates this point. A recent court decision held that a postage stamp infringed the copyrights in certain sculptures and was not fair use thereof.
John Alli took a photo of the Memorial. The Postal Service paid Alli $1,500 for the right to use that photo for a 37-cent stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. Alli told the Postal Service that it would need permission from the owner of the copyright in the sculptures; the Postal Service did not seek such permission. (more…)