Plagiarism Law

Plagiarism Law, Court Cases and Statistics 2012 The Law of Plagiarism:

College and university rules for student conduct sometimes say that plagiarism is an academic offense, not a legal offense. That statement is not correct.

Colleges, universities and professional entities certainly have the authority to punish plagiarists in various ways, including expulsion from the college or revoking a degree earned in part by plagiarism. But plagiarism is also a legal issue.

Copyright Law

Plagiarism and Copyright Law 2012The owner of the copyright (i.e., in most cases, the true author) could sue the plagiarist in federal court for violation of the copyright. Any work created in the USA after 1st. Mar 1989 is automatically protected by copyright, even if there is no copyright notice attached to the work. 17 USC, Sub-Section 102, 401, and 405.

It is important to note that the addition of original material by the plagiarist in no way excuses the act of plagiarism. The focus is on what the plagiarist did wrong, not what the plagiarist did right. Trivial changes in copied text, in an attempt to avoid copyright infringement, are specifically prohibited by law in the USA:

Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119, 121 (2d Cir. 1930) ("It is of course essential to any protection of literary property ... that the right cannot be limited literally to the text, else a plagiarist would escape by immaterial variations.").
Sheldon v. Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp., 81 F.2d 49, 56 (2d Cir. 1936) ("... no plagiarist can excuse the wrong by showing how much of his work he did not pirate.").
A Columbia Pictures' promotional poster for a movie infringed the copyright of an illustration on the cover of a New Yorker magazine, although the details in the movie poster had been changed from the magazine cover (only the words "Hudson River" were the same in both items). The judge ruled that the movie poster was "substantially similar" to the magazine cover. Steinberg v. Columbia Pictures, 663 F.Supp. 706 (1987).


Beyond intellectual property issues (e.g., copyright and trademark), the plagiarist commits fraud. The plagiarist knows that he/she is not the true author of the work, yet the plagiarist willfully and deliberately puts his/her name on the work (thereby concealing the true author's name), then the plagiarist submits the work as an inducement to some kind of reward (e.g., good grade on a term paper, awarding a graduate degree for a thesis or dissertation, obtaining a scholarship, winning a prize in a science fair, etc).

Using phrases like "academic misconduct" to describe plagiarism is too sterile, too kind. Plagiarism is fraud.


The Protect IP Act (PIPA) bill defines infringement as distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods, or anti-digital rights management technology. Infringement exists if "facts or circumstances suggest [the site] is used, primarily as a means for engaging in, enabling, or facilitating the activities described." The bill says that it does not alter existing substantive trademark or copyright law.

The bill provides for "enhancing enforcement against rogue websites operated and registered overseas" and authorizes the United States Department of Justice to seek a court order in rem against websites dedicated to infringing activities, if through due diligence, an individual owner or operator cannot be located.[11] The bill requires the Attorney General to serve notice to the defendant. Once the court issues an order, it could be served on financial transaction providers, Internet advertising services, Internet service providers, and information location tools to require them to stop financial transactions with the rogue site and remove links to it. The term "information location tool" is borrowed from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and is understood to refer to search engines but could cover other sites that link to content.

The PROTECT IP Act says that an "information location tool shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, to remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the order". In addition, it must delete all hyperlinks to the offending "Internet site".

Nonauthoritative domain name servers would be ordered to take technically feasible and reasonable steps to prevent the domain name from resolving to the IP address of a website that had been found by the court to be "dedicated to infringing activities." The website could still be reached by its IP address, but links or users that used the website’s domain name would not reach it. Search engines—such as Google—would be ordered to "(i) remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the court order; or (ii) not serve a hypertext link to such Internet site."

Trademark and copyright holders who have been harmed by the activities of a website dedicated to infringing activities would be able to apply for a court injunction against the domain name to compel financial transaction providers and Internet advertising services to stop processing transactions to and placing ads on the website but would not be able to obtain the domain name remedies available to the Attorney General.

(Source: PROTECT IP Act of 2011, S. 968, 112th Cong. § 6; "Text of S. 968," May 26, 2011. Retrieved June 23, 2011.)


The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Claiming flaws in present laws that do not cover foreign owned and operated sites, and citing examples of "active promotion of rogue websites" by U.S. search engines, proponents say stronger enforcement tools are needed.

The bill establishes a two-step process for intellectual property-rights holders to seek relief if they have been harmed by a site dedicated to infringement. The rights holder must first notify, in writing, related payment facilitators and ad networks of the identity of the website, who, in turn, must then forward that notification and suspend services to that identified website, unless that site provides a counter notification explaining how it is not in violation. The rights holder can then sue for limited injunctive relief against the site operator, if such a counter notification is provided, or if the payment or advertising services fail to suspend service in the absence of a counter notification.

The second section covers penalties for streaming video and for selling counterfeit drugs, military materials or consumer goods. The bill would increase penalties and expand copyright offenses to include unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content and other intellectual property offenses. The bill would criminalize unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months.

The bill provides immunity from liability to the ad and payment networks that comply with this Act or that take voluntary action to cut ties to such sites. Any copyright holder who knowingly misrepresents that a website is dedicated to infringement would be liable for damages.

(Source: H.R.3261 – Stop Online Piracy Act; House Judiciary Committee; October 26, 2011)

Trademark and unfair competition law

Professors and research scientists are often hired, promoted, receive tenure, and are awarded salary increases on the basis of their scholarly publications. To measure the significance of scholarly publications, many administrators in colleges look at Science Citation Index to see how often a professor's work has been cited by others. Therefore, if 'D' plagiarizes 'V's' work – instead of D citing V's work – then V is potentially harmed by having fewer citations to V's work. On the other hand, D is unjustly enriched by receiving credit for a publication that was plagiarized, so D builds D's reputation with V's work.

Recognizing this harm, the true author could sue the plagiarist in federal court for "false designation of origin", 15 USC, Section 1125, since the plagiarist was misrepresenting someone else's work as his own. Similarly, there are also possible remedies under state unfair competition law. Restatement of the Law (Third) Unfair Competition, Sub-Section 2, 3(b), 5 (1995).

Bottom Line

In every plagiarism case involving a student or professor, the court upheld the punishment imposed by the college/university/school. Further, the court often made gratuitous, pejorative comments about the bad character of the plagiarist, which show that it is unwise for a plagiarist to complain about how he/she was treated.

A judge in a federal court, noted that one attorney had plagiarized the Brief of the opposing attorney, then commented that opposing counsel had:

failed to call this major breach of professional conduct to the Court's attention. The Court, however, cannot let it pass without condemnation. Plagiarism is unacceptable in any grammar school, college, or law school, and even in politics. It is wholly intolerable in the practice of law DeWilde v. Gannett Publishing, 797 F.Supp. 55, 56 (D.Maine 1992).

Plagiarism is a very serious crime, and research shows how plagiarism can haunt a person's reputation, even ten years later.

This article has been sourced (as is) from

Sopa and Pipa Laws 2012

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