Copyright & Plagiarism 101

Published: October 23, 2018 / Article by: Siarhei Kulich

As technology continues evolving, it’s only natural for people to find increasingly greater amounts of data online. An inexperienced user may perceive any data and information listed online as free for the taking.

However, practically everything available online is owned by someone – and even if the information is specified as not proprietary, internet users still don’t have any rights to it.

Does Everything Online Belong to Everyone?

Mildly experienced users will probably search for the copyright symbol – © – before using the information they found online. It is, however, a common misconception throughout the world that one can use anything found online for various purposes, as long as it’s not used commercially.

Information may seem free to some, but it’s definitely not the case. If one decides to use something discovered online without having been properly informed about the dangers that come along with that act, consequences are bound to transpire – either to the users personally or to the institutions they are affiliated with.

Therefore, the main thing the Internet user has to remember before starting to browse is that every single piece of data and information that can be found in the online environment does belong to someone.

Moreover, the information listed online resembles a double-edged sword. First of all, you may break copyright laws if you decide to use it without the author’s consent. Secondly, there’s the risk that the content created using that information will be labeled as plagiarism – if the original content is not properly modified.

A Brief History of Copyright

Initially, the copy right was used in England in 1557, by the Crown, in order to censor printing and, therefore, confiscate any unapproved books. Until 1710, only the Crown and its guild of booksellers and printers had powers over the copy right.

In this manner, government institutions made sure that the right to publish and maps was their exclusive privilege – as everyone else didn’t have any copy rights over it. Then, in the aforementioned year, the Statute of Anne was passed by the parliament – this act established the first fixed term limits for the copy rights.

Even though the copyright issue was a problem in the US for a long time, a copyright law was passed only in January 1783, by the State of Connecticut. This act had the same basics as the Statue of Anne copyright act.

Seen as a success in both Great Britain and the US, the Congress decided to pass The Copyright Act, in 1790. However, this act was still far removed from the notion of copyright as we know it today. It offered the authors the exclusive right to print and publish their works for a period of only fourteen years.

After the first fourteen years elapsed, the author could also choose to renew the copyrights for his work for another fourteen-year period. Of course, as this time period expired, the works/creations would enter the public domain and be free to use for everyone.

The aforementioned copyright act was revised many times after it was initially passed – but it still required authors and creators to register their work if they wanted it to be protected.

However, things changed as the US joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary Works in 1989. The Convention made it clear that copyrights were susceptible to the rights of integrity and paternity.

Therefore, nowadays, copyrights last for the entire duration of an author’s life and for another 70 years after they pass away. This is to make sure that the author is always acknowledged for his works and that the latter cannot be altered in any illegal manner.

The Difference between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

As you already know, plagiarism and copyright infringement are two very different things. But, both of them are theoretically illegal and can lead to severe consequences if one decides to break the laws that protect the works he or she decides to use.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is basically the legal right in charge of protecting your works and ideas after these have been expressed in a form that can be seen by other people – publishing, printing, etc.

If your work is protected by copyright, that means that you can change, copy, share, sell, or rent it. In short, you can use and alter your idea just the way you want to, since you are its sole proprietor.

  • Requirements for Copyright

However, you must keep in mind that a certain work must be original and tangible in order to be protected by copyright. For your work to be original, it must be the product of your own skill, mind, and labor. Basically, you cannot simply replicate other creators’ work and call it your own.

Moreover, your works are considered tangible if, and only if you have physically expressed it. For example, if you are only musing about a novel’s plot, a poem, or a tune, those are not instantaneously protected by the copyright law.

So, if you want your work to be protected by copyright, it must be original and published in one form or another as well.

  • How to Copyright Your Works?

Copyright does not function like a trademark or a pattern – like it used to. In fact, as soon as your work is created and published, it is protected by the laws of copyright. The duration of the copyright for your works depends on the nature of your creation.

For example, if you write an original work, it will be protected for 70 years after your death. However, if you act in a play, the copyrights of your performance will last for a period of only 50 years.

  • Intellectual Property

It is worth mentioning that some forms of creativity may not be protected by copyright. If you think this may be your case, then you’ll have to rely on another branch of Intellectual Property, also abbreviated as IP.

Intellectual Property comes in the form of trademarks, patents, industrial design, geographical indications, and, of course, copyright. This type of property is used in order to acknowledge people for their works and inventions and give them the chance to benefit financially.

Of course, one can’t think that they can just get away with breaking a copyright. For example, a while ago, in 2012, it was reported that Google was facing around two million copyright removal requests in a single week.

In short, if you do break this law and use the content you found on a certain website as your own, there are two possible outcomes. Your copied content will most surely get deleted and your website/account might be banned from some services – or you can even be sued by the legal owner of the work you have labeled as your own.

What Is Plagiarism?

According to various online dictionaries, specifically, the Merriam Webster and the Collins Dictionary, to plagiarize means to steal someone else’s work and pass off words and ideas contained by the said work as your own.

Basically, one can be accused of plagiarism if he or she alters someone else’s work and then uses it, online, in class or at work, as their own creation. Sadly, this process is most common in the academic environment, where students, out of laziness, alter the works they find online or read in books and submit them to their academic tutor as being their own works.

Of course, during the years of studying, one may think that he or she does no harm if they resort to plagiarizing other works – even though this may lead to expulsion and other legal consequences.

  • Plagiarism Statistics

However, plagiarism seems to be an ever-exacerbating issue throughout the world. For example, according to a study, around 80% of the participants (college students) admitted to having cheated at least once via plagiarism.

Moreover, another study shows that around 36% of the undergraduates admitted to having cheated by plagiarizing someone else’s work. Naturally, this is a serious issue, as the academic environment prides itself as being one characterized by integrity.

  • How to Avoid Plagiarism?

Of course, plagiarism can also be unintentional – with so many ideas and works out there, it is likely that you come up with a sentence that can be found in a certain book or on a certain website.

That’s why it is always recommended to do some research in the field you are writing about, as well as rely on some of the ways through which plagiarism can be avoided.

Copyright and Education – How to Avoid Plagiarism and Breaking Copyright Laws

If you are working in education, as a student, a teacher, or just someone that writes articles based on the information available online, then you must adhere to some of the following ways through which you can avoid plagiarism and the breaking of the copyright laws.

  • Paraphrasing

When you find the information you’ve been looking for, it is recommended to properly read and understand it before writing anything down. Moreover, be sure that you don’t copy more than two words in a row from the original text.

Reading and understanding the information gives you the ability to rephrase and, thus, paraphrase it, avoiding plagiarism.

  • Citing

Also known as one of the most effective ways to avoid plagiarism, citing is done by following the document format guidelines that are used by your educational institution. The most common format guidelines are APA, Chicago, and MLA – you can use MLA even for your online content, since it is a widely-used system.

  • Quoting

Quoting comes in handy when you want to use some precise words you found while researching – for example, an entire paragraph can be paraphrased, but important things can be quoted within it.

Moreover, try to limit your quotes to a maximum of 40 words, as most academics don’t quite agree with long quotes. It is recommended that only the essential is quoted, while the rest of the idea is paraphrased.

  • Quote Citing

To cite a quote, one usually has to add a page or a paragraph number – when it comes to web content.

  • Citing Personal Material

Of course, self-plagiarism is also a thing. If you decide to use materials that you have previously used, during class or in other papers, you must cite yourself too. Every single piece of information that comes from the outside has to be quoted properly or else you might risk self-, unintentional, or intentional plagiarism.

  • Referencing

By using the guidelines of the document format that you chose for your paper, you will have to add a reference page at the end of your work. The references usually include the date of the publication, its title, its author, and, naturally, its source.

The references must be precise – if your academic tutor wants to check a certain reference, he or she must find exactly what they are looking for.

  • Plagiarism Checkers

If you think your work/ research needs to be checked for plagiarism one final time, you can rely on one of the online tools. These can display the percentage of your work that’s plagiarized, as well as point out the paragraphs that may be plagiarized, along with their original sources. Some of the tools you can use are:

What Does Copyright Mean for a Business or a Website?

When it comes to a business or a website, copyright comes with advantages as well. First, you must rule out the works that are inherently protected by copyright and those that require some type of registration – such as trademarks and patents.

We’ve already covered the basics of Intellectual Property – therefore, it’s up to the business or website owner to take the required steps to protect their business or website.

Let’s see what the copyright specifically protects in case of business and online environments.

  • Literary works, such as books, web pages, instruction manuals, and computer programs
  • Musical and dramatic works
  • Artistic works, such as maps, diagrams, photographs, and technical drawings
  • Videos and film broadcasts, even those on satellite and cable
  • Recordings of sounds
  • Electronic or paper databases
  • The layout of publications or typographical arrangement

Now, let’s look into the things that copyright does not protect and which may require explicit registration for them to be protected.

  • Phrases, slogans, titles, or names – refer to trademarks in this case
  • Ideas
  • Industrial processes or products – refer to design registration or patent protection in this case

Basically, all the things we mentioned as being protected by copyright, are indeed protected from the moment you publish or post them on a certain website – be it personal or owned by your business.

Owing to this fact, everything that you post on your website – related to your company, if that’s the case – is automatically protected and cannot be copied, reused, or altered without your consent. If you find your work on another website, you can file a removal report or take legal action against that person.

Moreover, even if your website is protected by copyright laws, you have the opportunity to officially register it – if you do this, a public record of ownership will be established for your website/business. In this case, it will be much easier for you to take legal action – as the “All Rights Reserved” label that your website may display does not offer full copyright protection.

What Is DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, also abbreviated as DMCA, is the United States’ copyright that was passed in 1998. This act implements two treaties from the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization.

Basically, the DMCA makes it a crime to alter, copy, and reproduce copyrighted works. Moreover, this act enumerates various penalties for those who decide to illegally use works that are copyrighted.

Of course, as the name suggests, it protects all of the information that’s copyrighted in the online environment – that is why one can file a copyright complaint about information contained by a website without the need to previously register the now stolen content.

How to File a Copyright Notice

A copyright notice has four main components that help you protect your work, whether it is in a physical format or found online.

First, you need the word or symbol for copyright, namely, © or Copyright. Then, you must add the date the first time the specific work was published, its author, and a statement of rights.

The latter is completely optional because a copyright notice will reserve all of your rights – therefore, it doesn’t matter if you add something like “All Rights Reserved”, but it can be helpful to those people who fail to see the copyright notice.

The Future – Copyright and Artificial Intelligence

When it comes to artificial intelligence, things get a little bit difficult.

For example, an IT developer is only able to protect the standalone algorithms and the AI software code. This must be done by registering a copyright, since the aforementioned are currently un-patentable.

Moreover, it depends on what certain AI software can do. If an artificial intelligence software is capable of learning and improving itself, then the IT developer responsible for writing the code for that AI does not theoretically have any rights over what the AI can come up with.

The AI software can sometimes develop new ideas, technologies, and innovations – therefore, the copyright is owned by the software itself, in theory.

In order to determine whether an IT developer can have full copyrights over the AI software he or she has created, the software’s architecture and the system must be analyzed first. Then, its algorithms must be verified, together with the mechanisms, operations, and rules the software is based on.

Basically, the question that rises when placing copyright next to artificial intelligence is if the things that are generated by an AI can be seen as an original expression, despite the fact that there’s no one behind the creation process.

One thing is for sure – laws can be changed, and we’ll most likely see copyright regulations that cover AI software issues in the future.

The Bottom Line

In the end, one thing is clear – the problems associated with copyright seem to be increasingly more common. We’ve seen YouTube channels and websites taken down too many times just because they violated the copyrights that were protecting certain media.

After all, the concept of copyright is not particularly hard to understand, and its laws are very easy to respect – just like in your daily life, you don’t have to steal or pretend that someone else’s work is yours.

Of course, while some people don’t fully understand the dangers that come with plagiarism and violation of copyright laws, it is recommended that you read carefully and understand them before browsing foreign, original content.


About Siarhei Kulich
Co-founder and CTO of - a hosting uptime monitoring website. Siarhei has more than 20 years experience in web developing and web hosting.
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