Categories: Education & Reference

Copyright: How to Avoid Being An Accidental Thief

Do you understand the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement? These are both important concepts for anyone who writes online. They are also very often confused with one another.

Whenever you publish your writing online, you should be clear about what each of these concepts means. This will help you to avoid any problems on your own web sites and on other sites where you post your work, especially those that pay you in some way.

Posting your writing or other works online also means that you can discover that someone else has taken your work without permission. Again in this instance, it’s crucial to be clear about the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Even if the thief has given you credit, he may be displaying your work in a way that violates your copyright and deprives you of earnings. You will need to know how to explain this to people who aren’t very well informed about copyright, and what to do when your copyright is violated.



What is Copyright?

Copyright is quite literally the right to make or distribute copies of a work. It’s intended to protect the creator of a work, and to encourage people to create new works. Copyright plays a valuable role in the promotion of literature, music and visual arts, and science and technology. This is because it protects the earning potential of an artist or inventor who puts time and energy into creating something new from which society can benefit. It also prevents a work from being altered or used in a way that might tarnish the creator’s reputation.



Where Does the Idea of Copyright Come From?

The legal concept of copyright can be traced back to the 18th century, when the printing press first made it possible to make multiple copies of a text relatively easily. Before this time, texts had to be copied out by hand, which was a very time-consuming process. Obviously, it was a lot harder and more expensive to steal a text before Gutenberg invented his printing press!

The law that is most often considered to be the basis of copyright today is the Statute of Anne, which was enacted in England in 1709. This law brought copyright under government control instead of leaving it up to private guilds. It also assigned rights over a work to the creator, rather than to the publisher. It’s why you own all the rights to your posts today!

If the Statute of Anne had never been passed, nobody would bother blogging because companies like WordPress and Google (they run Blogger) would own the rights over all blog posts published on their sites! Can you imagine that scenario?


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How Plagiarism Differs from Copyright Violation

Plagiarism is not so much of a legal concept, although committing an act of plagiarism can get a person in trouble at school or on a writing site. Plagiarism is claiming another person’s work as your own. This is usually a question of copying another person’s work, or even just paraphrasing it, without giving credit.

Most people today know enough to give credit, even if they aren’t terribly clear about how they should do that. But most don’t understand that giving credit isn’t enough to protect them if they take another person’s writing, photo, or other creation and use it without permission.

Taking another person’s work without asking or without being granted a license to use the work, is a copyright violation. It’s still a violation even if you give credit! This is because by copying and using the work, you may be depriving the artist of earnings. And every artist has a right to protect his potential to earn from his work. Remember, the purpose of copyright law is to encourage people to create new works. If we take away their earning potential by using the work as if it’s our own, we rob them of their earnings. It’s exactly the same as walking into their house and stealing their TV, but few people today understand that.



Respecting Copyright

Keep in mind that you must always ask to use someone’s writing, photos, or other creations unless there is a notice granting you a license to use them without explicit permission. This is especially important when it comes to something like a graphic or photo, or a recording of a song. In this case, the image or the sound recording constitutes the entire work.

So using just a single image in your article without permission, or uploading just one song to YouTube where people can listen to it free of charge, deprives the creator of his ability to earn from that work. It may be just one part of your blog post or article, or just one song shared in a collection of many thousands of videos on a site. But for the artist, the earning potential is diluted or even destroyed for an entire work, as soon as someone else takes away his control over how that work is used and distributed.

Think of how you’d feel if someone copied an entire post that you wrote to their own web site. Even if they gave you credit, if they were earning money from your work or if they were depriving you of earnings for page views or advertising on your own site, wouldn’t you be discouraged and angry?


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  • Kyla Matton Osborne (Ruby3881)

    View Comments

    • Very valuable information in this post. Can you throw some light on how to copyright our articles? Hubpages provides you a method to state that the articles are copyright of so and so writer. But what about the rest of the sites or our own blogs?

    • Great article. One thing I think is also good to understand is what you CAN use without asking--public domain work and works under Creative Commons or other open license.

      If someone has put something under Creative Commons license you can use it without asking permission of the author since the author has already given permission by licencing it under creative commons...though you should always read the license requirements so that you use it correctly--there are several types, most requiring attribution and some requiring you don't change the work, while others require it only be used for non-commercial use. You can find many Creative Commons works on (though not all there are, so read details on each piece).

      Items in the public domain include works so old that they do not fall under copyright, some government created works, and works the author has specifically released into the public domain (you can find some of these on sites like and That's why you can use passages of Shakespeare or the King James Bible without fear of breaking copyright law. If you want to do a try to paint a Mona Lisa or copy designs from an Egyptian tomb you can do that (however, if you grab photos of that tomb you might be violating the photographer's copywright).

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