Some Plagiarism and Copyright Misconceptions – May 12, 2020

Standard Disclaimer:

I am not an attorney and any comments I post are not intended, nor should they be construed, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a legal expert who is familiar with the area of legal expertise you need.

In two earlier posts – Why We Need to Reframe The Plagiarism Conversation — Plagiarism Today and What Makes a Blog Commercial? May 11, 2020, I touched on copyright and plagiarism issues.

Two of the most common misconceptions I run across online about copyright are

  1. Once it’s online, it’s public domain
  2. As long as I cite the source, it’s not a copyright violation

I have not seen anywhere on the  U. S. Copyright Office website where either is true. They are not. For the second one, all that does is get you out of being sued for plagiarism. It doesn’t give you a pass on copyright infringement. I doubt you will find in most other countries where either is true.

For “fair use,” it’s a very restricted exception in the U. S. that’s often misquoted. There is no specific amount that you can quote without risking a copyright lawsuit.The courts will look at how much is used out of the amount in the work. In some cases, a small amount of use would be enough for a court to award the plaintiff(s)a judgment , but in other cases, a large amount of use could see the defendant(s) winning. If you are going for parody, best to mark it clearly as parody.

If you plan on going with a traditional publisher, its legal team would be the ones deciding if they thought it crossed the line. If you go with self-published, you should consult a qualified copyright expert who is unlikely to come cheap. Before I posted my first blog post, I ran across a blogger who made the common mistakes many new bloggers make. It went to trial, but the attorney offered a deal before judgment was reached. The blogger did not indicate the size of the deal, but it was likely a lot less than what a judge could have awarded. On the other hand, it could have been much less had the blogger pressed for judgment.


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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