Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Is plagiarism illegal?

Plagiarism is not a crime.
Image courtesy Betty x1138

That's not to say that plagiarists plagiarize with impunity. Schools often prohibit plagiarism with school policy. They can punish plagiarizing students with suspension, expulsion, or revocation of a degree--can even hold "plagiarism trials" before a school honor committee. Publishing companies can withdraw book deals for authors who have plagiarized. Plagiarists' professional reputations can plummet if word gets out.

But plagiarism is more of a moral rather than a legal concept. The closest analog in law is intellectual property rights, like patent, copyright, and trademark.

Infringement of intellectual property rights is illegal. But the government does not enforce intellectual property rights the same way it enforces crimes--generally, it is up to the plagiarized party to enforce his or her own rights.

One famous plagiarism case is Madonna's Frozen. A Belgian judge ruled that Madonna had plagiarized Salvatore Acquaviva's Ma Vie Fout Le Camp. It's hard for me to hear the similarity when listening to the two songs separately, but you can take a listen to the similar sounding segments here.

The estate of author Adrian Jacobs sued J.K. Rowling over similarities between The Adventures of Willy the Wizard and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but a British judge dismissed the case on procedural grounds in 2011 (the estate failed to timely put up a bond for costs and fees).

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