Key Takeaways:

  • Copyright laws protect the original works of authorship.
  • The legal code does not specifically define plagiarism as a crime, but there are situations in which it can have major repercussions.
  • The most direct legal implication of plagiarism is copyright violation.
  • While civil cases related to plagiarism are relatively rare, criminal prosecutions are even less common but do occur.

Is plagiarism illegal? Plagiarism is a common occurrence in academic and journalistic settings. It can take many different forms, including style mimicry, literary theft, and art plagiarism.

This brings up important moral and legal concerns. Plagiarism can result in copyright infringement or contract infractions, especially when it involves contract cheating.

It’s significant to use an accurate plagiarism checker, comprehend citation style, and steer clear of unintentional citation mistakes. How academic credit is assigned and honour codes are enforced by universities varies depending on the attitudes towards plagiarism.

Remember, whether it’s art theft or mere stylistic plagiarism, each act undermines the original author through quotes and ideas.

Is Plagiarism Illegal?

At its core, plagiarism is not a crime per se in the legal code, but it can lead to serious legal consequences under certain circumstances. The most direct legal implication of plagiarism is copyright violation.

When someone copies another’s copyrighted work without permission—beyond the fair use doctrine—they can be sued in civil court.

Copyright laws protect the original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, from being used without consent.

Not All Plagiarism Constitutes Copyright Infringement

plagiarism illegal

Copyright grants exclusive rights to creators over their original works, which includes the right to control copying and distribution.

Plagiarism often violates these rights when it involves unauthorised copying and distribution.

However, it’s important to note that not all instances of plagiarism are acts of copyright infringement.

For instance, one might plagiarise work that is in the public domain—these works are no longer protected by copyright, so using them without attribution, while still plagiarism, does not violate copyright laws.

Similarly, while ideas and facts are not copyrightable, they can still be plagiarised if presented as one’s own original thoughts or research. Additionally, the plagiarism of very short excerpts might not meet the legal threshold for copyright infringement, though it remains ethically questionable.

In essence, plagiarism concerns the proper citation and acknowledgment of original sources, whereas copyright infringement deals with the unauthorised use of copyrighted material.

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While there is some overlap, the two concepts are distinct. Furthermore, most acts of plagiarism that do infringe copyright would likely still infringe even if the sources were properly cited.

Is Copyright the Only Way for Plagiarism to End Up in Court?

Although copyright infringement is the most straightforward legal pathway for plagiarism disputes, it is not the only way plagiarism can lead to legal trouble. Here are additional avenues through which plagiarism might end up in court:

Breach of Contract: In many professional settings, contracts or employment agreements include clauses that require original work. If a deliverable is plagiarised, it can be seen as a breach of contract.

Defamation: If plagiarised material includes defamatory content, the person who plagiarises might end up being liable for defamation by spreading false information about someone else, even if the plagiarist is not the original author.

Fraud: In some cases, particularly in academic or professional settings, presenting plagiarised work as original may constitute fraud, especially if it leads to personal gain or affects professional standings or grades.

False Attribution: Misrepresenting authorship and misleadingly attributing a work to someone who did not create it can lead to legal actions, especially if the misrepresented attribution damages the supposed author’s reputation or career.

Trade Secret Misappropriation: In the corporate world, using confidential information without authorisation and presenting it as one’s own work could be classified under trade secret laws, which protect proprietary information from being disclosed or improperly used.

Instances of Legal Repercussions for Plagiarism

legal consequences of plagiarism

Plagiarism can lead to serious legal consequences, though these typically involve civil rather than criminal cases.

For instance, author Kaavya Viswanathan avoided a breach of contract lawsuit from her publisher only by returning the advance she received for her book.

While civil cases related to plagiarism are relatively rare, criminal prosecutions are even less common but do occur.

In the United States, researcher Craig Grimes was investigated for criminal fraud after accepting duplicative grants for the same research proposal. Although the charges were eventually dropped, he faced a two-year ban on receiving research funding.

In contrast, criminal cases for plagiarism can be more prevalent in other countries, often intertwined with national copyright laws.

For example, in 2012, former Delhi University vice-chancellor Deepak Pental was jailed in India under accusations of plagiarising a colleague’s research.

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In the same year in Poland, a professor risked up to three years in prison for plagiarising in a published book, as dictated by the country’s copyright statutes. 

5 Ways in Which Plagiarism Can Occur

Understanding the contexts in which plagiarism might arise can help in avoiding it. Here are five common scenarios:

  • Academic Assignments: Copying or closely imitating the thoughts, writings, or inventions of another student or published academic without proper acknowledgment.
  • Content Creation: Using content from other blogs, media outlets, or authors in one’s own publications without proper citations or permissions.
  • Software Development: Copying source code from existing software without permission or failing to follow license agreements.
  • Research: Presenting findings from another researcher’s unpublished data or reports as one’s own.
  • Art and Design: Replicating someone else’s artwork or designs without crediting the original creator.

Prevent Plagiarism in 5 Easy Steps

Preventing potential plagiarism is essential to maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of any work. Here are five steps to help avoid plagiarism:

  • Educate Yourself and Others: Understand what constitutes plagiarism and communicate this to students, employees, or colleagues.
  • Use Citations Properly: Always give proper credit to the original authors of the materials you use.
  • Employ Plagiarism Checkers: Use tools that can detect similarities or copied content in your work compared to existing materials.
  • Encourage Originality: Develop practices that prompt individuals to create original content and think critically.
  • Review and Audit: Regularly review academic and professional work to ensure adherence to plagiarism policies.

What’s Next?

Understanding the legal ramifications of plagiarism is essential for everyone, from students to professionals.

Employing Bytescare online plagiarism checker helps in identifying forms of plagiarism, including accidental and artistic plagiarism. This ensures you honor copyright holder rights and maintain ethical standards.

Ready to protect your authorship credit and prevent accusations of plagiarism or potential criminal actions? Book a demo of our online tool to enhance your assessment of source attribution and safeguard your reputation.

Don’t let a breach of contract or any other type of plagiarism occur or your success be compromised—take action now.


Why is plagiarism considered to be theft when illegal downloading isn’t?

Plagiarism is considered theft because it involves taking credit for someone else’s work. Illegal downloading, while also unethical, is not always considered theft because it may not involve taking credit for someone else’s work but rather obtaining unauthorised copies.

If we have freedom of speech, why is plagiarism illegal?

Freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to take credit for someone else’s work. Plagiarism violates the rights of the original creator and is therefore illegal, regardless of freedom of speech.

Is plagiarism illegal if your work is not published?

Yes, plagiarism is still illegal even if your work is not published. Whether the work is published or not, using someone else’s work without proper attribution is considered plagiarism and is against the law.

When does plagiarism become a legal issue?

Plagiarism becomes a legal issue when it involves copyright infringement or violates intellectual property laws. This can occur in both published and unpublished works.

Is it plagiarism if you don’t publish the work and just make it for personal use?

Yes, using someone else’s work without proper attribution, even for personal use, is still considered plagiarism. While it may not result in legal action, it is unethical and violates the rights of the original creator.

Is it considered illegal if I copy an unpublished paper and then publish it first?

Yes, copying an unpublished paper and publishing it as your own is illegal and constitutes plagiarism. It violates the original author’s rights and is a breach of intellectual property laws.

Is it considered piracy plagiarism generally illegal to remake clothes for your own that is you are not going to sell it?

Remaking clothes for personal use is generally not considered plagiarism or piracy because it does not involve taking credit for someone else’s work. However, if you are copying a unique design that is protected by copyright and using it without permission, it may be considered copyright infringement.