Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Copyright Infringement vs. Plagiarism

Back in November there was a case of copyright infringement that got picked up by Neil Gamain and Wil Wheaton who tweeted about it and then all hell broke loose. During the course of the brouhaha many people mistakenly called it plagiarism.

Last week, the plagiarism case against J. K. Rowling was dismissed by the US Judge in the case.

Which leads me to talk about the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism.

Copyright infringement is when you take something someone else wrote and publish it in some format with the author's name but without the author's permission.

Plagiarism is when you take something that someone else wrote and publish it in some format with your name as the author.

The difference is in whose name is on the work. So if you published or sold the right to publish "Scribbles by the Scribbling Sea Sprite" without my permission, then you have infringed on my copyrights. If you published or sold the right to publish "Scribbles by your name", then you have plagiarised my work.

That's the basics. It gets more complicated than that and there are several books that go into it in depth: "Copyright Plain and Simple" by Cheryl Besenjak; "Literary Law Guide for Authors" by Tonya Marie Evans and Susan Borden Evans; and "The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook" by Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C. Schechter. I suggest purchasing those books and keeping them on your bookshelf.

What is interesting about the Cook Source's case is that recipes can not be copyrighted. The text discussing the recipe is and the name of a dish can be trademarked, but the recipe itself is not protected by copyright. If the editor had just published the recipes and written her own text, then she would have been in the clear.

As for the plagiarism case against Rowling, ideas can't be copyrighted. The execution of the story idea is copyrighted, but the idea itself is not. Why this is can be seen in Emerald Tales. Each issue has a theme or idea, and every story that I received was different from the rest. I don't have a single instance where two stories were similar enough to make me question the source of that story.

Off on a tangent because I don't want to write another post about facebook, I came across the following article about the pros and cons of facebook. The more I read about facebook, the less I like it.


  1. I'm just starting to get into cooking - yes, yes, I know I'm kind of old to be cooking for the first time, shaddup - and I've been an obsessive watcher of food-related shows for a while, and I have to say, recipes themselves not being copyrighted really makes sense with the way professional chefs seem to work. There's so much cross-pollination and riffing off ideas ... it's very inspiring.

    It's so easy to avoid plagiarism and go the right route when using research that it really makes me wonder about people. It kind of seems akin to me to those hackers who spend hours writing deviously nasty viruses that mimic legitimate protection software - and then they don't bother to check for typos. (I saved myself from an infection by a grammar error in the bubble-text once. True story.)

  2. There are so many these days who want to take the easy way out or want things handed to them on a silver platter with minimal effort on their part.

    As for that hacker what a waste of time and carbon atoms.