November 22, 2015

Bookish Diary ~ The Difference Between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

Getting a new and original angle in writing the next bestseller or award-winning piece can be hard in the days when every subject and context seems to have been tackled. A great amount of research must be done to avoid plagiarism or copyright infringement. You don't want to spend all your time writing about how an orphan with a scar on his forehead saves the wizarding world only to find out that it's already been done. You'll just be known as a fan fiction writer and won't even be paid because publishers won't touch your story with a ten-foot pole for fear of legal repercussions from the author who wrote it first. Before writing, get to know these facts about copyright, plagiarism, and how best to protect your original ideas when they do come.

During a seminar held by Mr. Kevin Hernandez, a senior law student from University of the Philippines that I had the pleasure of attending a couple of weeks  ago, I learned all about copyright and the laws that govern them that is essential for aspiring writers (and other creative people) to know.

Plagiarism vs Copyright Infringement.

Plagiarism is the 'crime' most unwitting students commit. But did you know that copyright infringement is usually present during plagiarism?

For a quick explanation, plagiarism is the failure to cite sources (e.g. quotations, pictures, articles), while copyright infringement is the failure to get consent from the authors of said source. So, basically copyright infringement can occur even if you do not plagiarize. Do not mistake one with the other.

That leaves us this question: So do you have to email every author every time you want to quote a favorite line in a novel? The answer is no. As long as the quote is for personal use, research, educational studies, you can quote it as long as you cite its source so as not to plagiarize. This is called 'fair use' doctrine.

The 'Fair Use' doctrine

The 'fair use' doctrine grants us the right to use materials for criticism, comments, teaching, or scholarly research regardless of copyrights. This means as long as we do not make money out of it, it is okay. Of course, this must also fall under the four factors of fair use, which are:

1. Purpose and Character. I repeat, as long as it is not for money or personal gain, you can quote without consent. Just cite the source.
2. Nature of copyright. Is it fact based or fiction? Government laws, news ideas, factual information, or even ideas can be used. These are often unprotected by copyrights and ruled to be in public domain depending on the nature of how you express them. Writing with malicious intent or defacing a person or group cannot be grounds for infringement or plagiarism but you can get serious jail time with libel. For fiction based, like novel fan fictions, are allowed as long as you do not sell them without permission from the original authors. Main concern here really is all about money.
3. Amount of substantiality of the portion or how much you use. Citing the whole article would be a bit much.
4. Effect on potential market value.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the exclusive right to reproduce your intellectual property. Copyright is immediately granted upon the creation of the work as long as they fall under the two categories of copyrights, which are:

Original Works - These are the works that you thought up yourself. These are protected upon the sole fact of their creation, meaning that if you want to publish a novel, you must first turn that story line idea in your head and into the novel itself. Meaning, if you just dish out the idea, whether it is verbal or written, others can steal it. So before you brag about how you will be the next bestselling author to an agent or a publisher make sure you got the complete novel printed out and ready to be read.

Derivative Works - Derivative works are a compilation of original works, or works based on an original idea. Books such as compilations of short stories or fan fictions fall under this category. If you are planning to sell such works, you have to obtain a written consent from the original author and publisher, because sometimes the copyright for the written works may belong to the publisher so getting the go ahead from the author may not be enough.

Your intellectual properties are copyright protected as long as you are alive and 50 years after that. This cover news articles, thesis, screenplays, books, and other written works. Photos have 50 years of copyright protection from the date of publication. For unpublished photos, it is 50 years from creation.

Usually for authors, the copyrights belong to your publisher although it is still your intellectual property and your name is still on the cover of the book. That means the publisher has rights to how they might use your story. This can be amended on how you would draw up your contract with them.

Important things to remember:
1. Mere data, news of the day, laws, government works, ideas, comments, and criticism are unprotected by copyrights and considered public property. This means that use of scientific data on sci-fi books, crime-solving procedures, and the rest can be use for your write-ups. Of course, you need professionals to explain them to you so maybe thanking them wouldn't hurt.
2. Using quotations and other copyrighted materials for social media posts and blogs are okay as long as you do it just for fun and for personal use and not for economic gain.
3. Your blog posts, comments, text messages, and photos posted on internet and social media websites are automatically copyright protected.
4. Submissions of literary works or photos to newspapers, magazines, or online portals usually just grant the publication a one-time reproduction right unless you give your consent to grant them bigger rights to do so.
5. Try to mix different factors to your story to create an original write-up. Fan fictions are actually a great way to practice as long as you just do it for fun. The possibilities are endless, especially if you write for fiction and know how to mix up different genres together.

6. Remember to get permission from the author or publisher if for example you use a part of their book to be mentioned by your character. Same goes for movies, TV shows, or music. Ever read Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn? There are some songs mentioned there so the author would surely secure consent. Unless the person is dead for 50 years and above, a citation would do.

~ Djan


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