28 April 2015

Plagiarism: Know the law before you ‘Ctrl + C’ and ‘Ctrl + V’!

Authored by Aarti Aggarwal

Plagiarism is primarily an ethical issue. It involves using the work of another author without attributing it to them. To have committed plagiarism, it is not necessary to exactly copy the words. Incorporating the original ideas expressed by another person without according credit to them also amounts to plagiarism. The use of unpublished work, for example, that of another student, is treated just the same.

It is surprising to note that the law in India does not expressly mention plagiarism as a criminal offence anywhere. However, it can be read into the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 by virtue of what it means and what it doesn’t. Apart from consequences under the act, you can also be subject to your respective university guidelines (which I suggest you all should look into, perhaps? FYI: At the end of the article). Here’s a quick sneak peak into what plagiarism means, in the larger legal sense.

What does the law say?

Section 57 of the Copyright Act grants authors the “special right” to be attributed for their work. Under Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957, copyright in a work shall be deemed to be infringed if it does anything, the exclusive right to which is conferred by the act upon the owner of the copyright only. Thus, the right to attribution with respect to copyrights, recognised by the statute, is considered analogous to the right not to be plagiarized (as there is no express provision for plagiarism statutorily otherwise).

How is ‘Plagiarism’ different from ‘Copyright Infringement’?

Infringement and plagiarism are distinct and may/may not occur simultaneously. If a copyrighted work is plagiarised in a manner violating Section 14 of the Copyright Act (which defines the word Copyright), possibly through an exact reproduction, then both plagiarism and infringement occur simultaneously. Further, infringement may take place without plagiarism. For instance, the unauthorised, significant duplication of a copyrighted work is copyright infringement even if it’s author is credited. But as long as the author is credited, there is no plagiarism in the same case.

Can you be held criminally liable for plagiarism?

Yes, you can. The Indian Copyright Act applies. Section 63 of the Copyright Act deals with infringement as a criminal offence, which is read as analogous to plagiarism i.e. any person who knowingly infringes or abets the infringement of the copyright in a work, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of not less than 6 months but may extend to 3 years and with fine not less than 50,000 rupees and may extend to 2 lakh rupees.

In the case of plagiarism, the work of another is fraudulently stolen and passed off by the plagiarist as his/her own. In some cases, plagiarism may be unintentional. However, in others, plagiarism is anything but unintended and is a deliberate attempt. So, it is also possible for plagiarism to be equated to theft (Section 378 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860) and in such a case you could be punished with an imprisonment extending up to 3 years and/or fine.

What about the ‘fair-use’ exception when it comes to plagiarism?

Section 52(1)(a) & 52(1)(b) of the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 allow for fair dealing for research, study, criticism, review and news reporting, wherein copyrighted material can be used without permission. The Copyright (Amendment) Bill, 2012, widens the scope of fair use by including all material (except computer programs) as against only “literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works” which were covered before. This means that videos and sound recordings too, will now be covered by the fair-use exception.

Plagiarism has no such analogous exception. Plagiarism is said to have been committed whenever a writer uses even a small excerpt of someone else’s work without accrediting it to them, irrespective of any fair use exception.

FYI: At Jindal, plagiarism is treated as the most severe form of academic dishonesty. It may result in a student failing a course, being suspended or even expelled from the University.

[1] http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/article/plagiarism-284-1.html

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