It is critically important in the modern era to understand the rights that come with any Intellectual property and to claim those rights when required. The assertion of facts related to copyrights is fundamentally essential if one wishes to claim justice.

Prior to 1978, copyright protection was generally available only for published works. Nevertheless, now the publication is not a prerequisite for copyright in a work that was an unerring step towards justice. Any work shall be copyrighted as soon as it is final, published or not. This ensures the true nature of originality and motivates people to be creative without fear of recognition.

PLAGIARISM: Refers to the act of unethical copying of someone’s work and passing it as one’s creation.

COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT: Refers unauthorized use of someone’s copyrighted work without their permission, thereby violating or infringing various rights of the intellectual property holder, provided under Section 14 of the Indian copyright act 1957.

To understand the differences between copyright infringement and plagiarism, we should clarify what exactly can be considered an infringement of copyright. Section 51 of the copyright act entails under which circumstances copyright is infringed.  The copyright of a person is deemed to be violated if a person, without authorization from the copyright holder, does any act that only the copyright holder can perform or allow by virtue of sectionn 14 of the Indian copyright act.

There are two elements of copyright infringement:

  • The copyrighted work should be the author’s original creation, meaning free of plagiarism and infringement of someone else’s work.
  • There should be a direct infringement of the author’s copyrights, and the defendant actually should have copied the author’s work. This factor is essential as there are unlimited creations, but that does not mean two people cannot have the same idea or innovation.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT AND PLAGIARISM: There is a key difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism. While plagiarism only refers to copying someone’s work or idea and showing it as your own, not giving the original owner proper credit, copyright infringement uses copyright for personal or material gain without permission from its original owner. This includes selling, distributing, or making copies of the copyrighted material.

Another difference is that copyrights are legally binding in nature.  Thus, violation of someone’s copyright is illegal, while plagiarism is just ethically wrong but legal. Copyrights are protected under the Indian copyright act, 1957.

To further understand in exquisite detail, let us take an illustration to make the differences clearer: Suppose students complete their college dissertation. In that case, copies is a small paragraph word to word from a book, but fails to refer to the book’s or the author’s name in the citation, he or she will have done plagiarism since the amount of ideas copied would not be harmful to the author or his market. However, still, the student would have taken credit for the originality of the content. If the student copies the whole book word to word, they would have committed copyright infringement and plagiarism. Not only did they pass the content as their own, but they also failed to get consent from the original author before using it. This would be a violation of the author’s copyrights.

Although it can be challenging to comprehend the thin line of differences between copyright infringement and plagiarism, in simple words, plagiarism includes an ethical violation. It can occur by mistake or even infrequent scenarios. In contrast, copyright infringement can obstruct or even damage the social market of the original copyright holder, infringing their rights by copying, distributing, reproducing, or performing the protected copyright without the prior consent of the copyright owner.  

There are still many dilemmas regarding this topic since it is diverse and complicated in nature.  To state one of them, people often find it difficult to draw a line between what can be considered copyright infringement and what cannot. For the simplest examples, to declare whether paraphrasing a textbook or a reference book is copyright infringement, we must first understand and identify what category and quantity of copied content are considered an infringement of copyrights. The doctrine of “fair dealing” is governed by section 52 of the Indian copyright act 1957. The present section can be used as a defence for copyright infringement as it lays down various acts which cannot be considered as the same:

  • Fair dealing with any work with the intention of personal use, research, writing a review or criticism, reporting current affairs events, or any lecture delivered in public.
  • The court may also consider materials that do not fall under copyright classification, such as titles, names, common knowledge, or facts.
  • The accumulation of any work for a judicial proceeding.

In consideration of all factors during a legal proceeding, fair use may be considered in non-commercial, educational, scientific or historical cases of copyright infringement.

Let us study in more detail this topic, with the help of relevant case law:

In the case of Civic Chandran v. Ammini Amma, 1996, the Hon’ble Kerala High Court established three tests to determine if a work should be considered as copyright infringement:

  • The amount and value of the work used since the quantitative identification are essential to determine the level of rights infringement.
  • The purpose for which it is taken.
  • The possibility of competition between the two works.

Civic Chandran v. Ammini Amma case is, till date, referred to as a landmark case on Indian copyright.

Conclusion: So, to conclude by answering our previously mentioned dilemma of whether paraphrasing can be considered as infringement of copyrights, even after paraphrasing and using proper citations for a copied work, it is possible to be accused of copyright infringement as the prime element of copyright infringement is not copying something word to word, but stealing or using someone’s ideas without their due permission.

Although paraphrasing, just like plagiarism, is not illegal, it still might be considered copyright infringement if it is, to an extent, similar to the copyrighted material.  Most of the time, the power to decide whether this extent crosses the line between paraphrasing and copyright infringement lies with the court’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The present article intends to provide general guidance on the subject, and you can also consult us in your specific case.