Are copyright infringement and plagiarism the same thing?

Glenn W. Peterson

If you are a writer in California, then you may have heard of both copyright and plagiarism. While these two things may seem very similar, they are not, in fact, the same thing. According to Plagiarism Today, plagiarism is a violation of ethics whereas copyright infringement is breaking the law. The distinction between ethics and the law is a huge one. Breaking ethics simply ruins your credibility and reputation, but breaking the law can carry stiff penalties.

To clarify, plagiarism involves using someone else’s work as your own, and copyright infringement involves using someone else’s copyrighted material in a way that violates their rights without permission. Plagiarism is often a violation of copyright, but not all copyright violations are plagiarism.

For example, if you were to post the work of someone else on your website and not get permission to use the work but also not claim ownership, then you would be violating the copyright but not committing plagiarism. It is important to note, though, sometimes plagiarism is not a violation of copyright. Not every work is still under copyright, so using work that is no longer protected as your own would end up being plagiarism and not copyright infringement.

In addition, it is important to understand copyright only covers creative works that you have fixed in a tangible form. This could be a poem that you have written down or a dance routine you have recorded. Some things cannot be copyrighted, such as ideas. However, it is possible for someone to use your idea and claim it as their own. While they would not be violating copyright, they would be ethically wrong and considered to have plagiarized your idea. This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.