Plagiarism v Copyright

Plagiarism v copyright, are they the same thing?

No! Plagiarism is a concern for academics. If you have ever had to prepare a paper based on research at any education level you will know about plagiarism. Plagiarism is taking someone else’s idea and passing it off as your own. Whether or not that amounts to breach of copyright depends on how it is done.

There is no copyright in ideas. There is copyright in creative work that is represented in a tangible form. If you can put it in a photocopier, it is tangible. If you can see it on a model, it is tangible. If you can watch it on tv, or hear it on the radio, it is tangible.

So if you have a conversation with someone and tell them what great idea you have for a new television program, don’t be surprised if they don’t keep it a secret. Don’t even be surprised if they promote it as their own idea.

A few years ago there was a load of controversy around The Hand that Signs the Paper a novel by Helen Demidenko. The novel won a literary prize and it was later discovered that the ideas and even expressions used in the book came from existing sources. She didn’t breach copyright because the work was sufficiently different and independently created. However, it was considered wrong that she won a prize for what was considered, after more careful review, to not be entirely original work.

A similar case occurred with a young author in Berlin recently and her response was that she was ‘mixing’ not plagiarising.

Essentially the difference between plagiarism and copyright is that copyright is protected at law. Plagiarism is an ethical consideration that can impact assessment of academic standing and credibility of the the author.

If you love someone else’s idea and can put your own spin on it, chances are you can use that idea to your heart’s content. Just don’t go copying something word for word, frame by frame, note by note or line by line. You are putting yourself at risk if you do that.

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