Understanding Internet Copyright Laws: Plagiarism, Infringement, and Fair Use Exception

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A copyright is a bundle of rights exclusively for the author of an original work. It includes rights of adaptation, reproduction and translation of the work. Also the right for communication to the public.

Copyright has the same value in cyberspace as in the other forms of publishing like books, CDs, newspapers etc. Everything online - news, stories, software, novels, blogs, screenplays, graphics, pictures, Usenet messages and even e-mails - are protected by copyright laws for the Internet.

The Internet Copyright Laws state that the copyright protection expires 70 years after the death of the author. In the case of “work for hire” (where work is the copyright of an employer), the copyright holds for 95 years.

Insufficient knowledge about copyright laws on the Internet, may put the users in a position to break these laws unintentionally. Such copyright violation on the Internet can put you in the line of legal fire and heavy penalty. It is therefore very important that you understand the violation of copyright laws on Internet.

The violation of any copyright can be best explained in the following ways:

  • Copyright Infringement: Copying, reproducing, displaying, and/ or distributing a copyrighted work without permission of its original author. For example:
    • Uploading of any image or text from and to the web without making any changes to it.
    • One website’s framing of another is a copyright infringement.
  • Plagiarism: Using quotes, ideas, or words of any author as your own is called plagiarism. For example:
    • Using words of someone in a research paper without citing the source or crediting the original author.

Any copyright violation on the Internet either by lack of knowledge or purposely, falls under legal jurisdiction. These violations can be prosecuted in a civil court.

Unauthorized use of a copyrighted work gives the legal option to its owner. He or she can collect damages as well as receive a share of the revenue generated from the unauthorized use. If the copyright infringement is proved in a court of civil laws, the punishment in some countries can be a prison sentence.

The thumb rule is to assume everything is copyrighted unless otherwise specified.”

Fair Use Exceptions to the copyright protection allows people to use portions of the copyrighted works in order to criticize, report as news, research, educate, or review the work - without permission of the author.

The concept of “fair use” varies from country to country as its name. In Canada, “Fair Use” is known as “Fair Dealing”.

In case of any dispute, it is for the court to decide whether the right to comment overrides the copyright.


  • When linking to other websites on your webpage ask for permission.
  • Always cite the source. Just as quoting or paraphrasing of a particular material is done from the other sources in a research paper.
  • Either use free graphics on your webpage or ask permission to copy, only if the graphics are not publicized as “free”.


  • Copy content from another website to your web page without permission.
  • Create “your own” document by copying information directly from different Internet sources.
  • Integrate other’s e-mail in your document or forward it to another recipient, without permission.
  • Edit or change the context of someone’s e-mail.
  • Insert logos, icons or any other graphics to your webpage without permission