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Plagiarism and the U.S. Legal System

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Plagiarism covers a spectrum from word for word textual copying, through changing some words but retaining the basic structure, through to copying arguments and ideas (Watkins, 2008). In simple terms, plagiarism is using someone else's ideas or thoughts without properly giving credit. The common basis is that the copying is dishonest because it is not acknowledged. If you quote from another person, and provide a citation, then generally, one is not a plagiarist. The fair dealing defense provides interesting insights into how much copying is allowed. Neither U.S. nor English copyright laws have an absolute prohibition on copying. However, plagiarism, in the form of textual copying of a considerable proportion of a work is highly likely to amount to copyright infringement. For instance, academic plagiarism is an intention to deceive and might give rise to fraud claims and misrepresentation by the author's school, particularly if the work does make it through, which might not always be the case due to employment of plagiarism checker tools. This then becomes a disciplinary issue and part of employment law.

The Copyright Act permits an individual to use properly cited material from another person's work as 'fair use', if the use is for purposes such as comment, criticism, teaching, news reporting, research or scholarship. Nonetheless, whether an individual requires permission from an author is simply not a function of the length of the certain passage; it would depend on the character and purpose of the use, nature of the other work, the substantiality and amount of the passages used with regard to the other work as a whole and the effect of the use on the value or market of the other work (Karper et al, 2001). Different academic institutions and journals might have rules of thumb as to how extensive the passage must be so as to necessitate permission.

Additionally, according to U.S. copyright law, the true author could sue the plagiarist in federal court for violation of the copyright (Karper et al, 2001). In the U.S., any work created after March 1st 1989 is protected automatically by copyright, even if there is no copyright notice attached to the work. It is crucial to note that the addition of original material by the person committing plagiarism in no way excuses the plagiarists act. The focus is on what the plagiarist illegally committed, not what the plagiarist did right. What's more, minor changes in copied text, in an effort to avoid copyright infringement are particularly barred by law in the U.S.. Furthermore, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) bill defines infringement as distribution of illegal counterfeit goods, and copies. According to Stoerger (2002) infringement exists if circumstances or facts suggest the site is used mainly as a way for enabling, engaging in or facilitating the activities described. The PIPA bill says that it does not change existing considerable copyright or trademark law.

That been said, everyone should abide by the provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law, Title 17, Sect. 101, United States Code, et seq. As aforementioned, copyright refers to exclusive legal rights owners or authors have over their works, normally of an intellectual nature such as dramatic, literary and educational for a certain time period. Copyright infringement by plagiarism might be remedied by a use of plagiarism checkers backed by a civil lawsuit for money damages that might be because of lost profits or loss of stature, injunctive relief, attorney fees, seizure of the infringing goods, and in various cases, even involving the same acts, by criminal prosecution. Lastly, there are criminal penalties for fraudulent acts regarding the removal of a copyright notice, and making false representations of material facts in the copyright application. The fair use of copyright is provided by statute and allows authors in different circumstances to use certain appropriately and limited acknowledged portions of individuals' copyrighted work under particular specified circumstances.


Karper, E., Purdue University., & Purdue University. (2001). Plagiarism. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University [Writing Lab, English Dept.

Stoerger, S. (2002). Plagiarism. New York: Springer

Watkins, H. (2008). Plagiarism. Detroit: Greenhaven Press

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