Copyright and Plagiarism – The Legal Explainer


Through the online world, individuals are exposed to a whole new range of laws that must be followed to retain professionalism and to simply stay legal. Copyright and plagiarism are legal issues that heavily affect the content in which media and communication professionals create.

The copyright law in Australia, from the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1968 (Copyright Act) is the legal rights of creative works. For one to be able to use the Copyrighted material they must be granted access to this material by the creator. 

Plagiarism is the act of using the literary composition of another author and pretending that the work is their own. For some, plagiarism is interpreted as an academic offence, rather than a legal offence, although this is not the case. Academic Educators have the authority to punish students in the act of plagiarism, but plagiarism is very much a legal issue.

Copyright and plagiarism are very similar, but also incorporate very distinct differences. ‘Borrowing’ words and images, including the simple ‘copy and paste’ from the internet and social media sources you are taking part in the act of copyright and plagiarism.


What is Copyright?

As established above the Australian copyright law is contained by the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1969 (Copyright Act), which is known as a right that belongs to the owner or licensee of creative works, this may include anything from writing, art, graphic designs, music etc. The copyright law is very complex, but there are basic ways to understand the main points to look out for when creating or using content online.

The Commonwealth Copyright Act 1968 is federal legislation and applies throughout all of Australia’s states and territories. Any material created before and after 1968, must abide by copyright legislation.

The Copyright Act is updated regularly to keep up to date with emerging technologies. Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, styles etc. In Australia, copyright is automatically added as protection to any content created. Creators do not need to register for copyright. The law has no exemptions for non-profit organisations. In some instances, there are certain exemptions to the use of copyright material for commercial and non-commercial use.

Creative Commons (CC) is an organisation that works with copyright. CC creates an allowance to be able to use and transform materials that are released under the licences.

Creative Commons:

There are six different Creative Commons licences, they are all similar, although some are more relaxed and others are quite restrictive. The six licences include, 

  • Attribution (CC BY) – Allowing people to change, build upon and completely rework the material, Must give credit to the original creator. 
  • Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) – User can completely alter someone’s material, although they must incorporate something from the original works, into a similar project and give credit to the original creator.  
  • Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) – Allows for redistribution of another work, even commercially, with no modification. Credit must be given to the original creator. 
  • Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) – allowance to adapt, or build upon on material non-commercially, although any new works must acknowledge the creator and must stay non-commercial. 
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) – This licence gives users the opportunity to change material (adapting, adding or modifying) non-commercially. Must be licenced under the same terms as the original content, credit must be given to the original creator. 
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) – This licence is most restrictive. Gives the ability to download created materiel and share with other people, with no allowance to change the material in any way or use commercially. Credit must be given to the original creator.

What is Plagiarism? 

Plagiarism, to be put in simple terms, is the act of stealing someone else’s writing, copy and pasting it into their own work with no quotes or reference. It is the act of using the literary composition of another author and pretending that the work is their own. Plagiarism has different forms in which the action is taken. Forms of plagiarism include Whole essay plagiarism and Paraphrasing plagiarism.

Whole essay plagiarism is when the entire work (essay, assignment etc.) has been written by another person. Paraphrasing plagiarism, meaning you write something that someone else has written, but in your own words. With paraphrasing plagiarism, you must reference the source. This act is a violation through academic education. Educators have the right to punish a student for plagiarism, although plagiarism is still very much a legal issue.

As plagiarism isn’t a criminal offence, It is still very much illegal as it is an infringement of an authors intellectual property rights. Plagiarism is a form of theft and can be taken to court due to copyright infringement.  

How are Copyright and Plagiarism linked? 

Copyright and plagiarism although being separate legal issues are still linked in certain formats. Plagiarism is the act of claiming the work, that another author did and passing it off as your own, whereas copyright is using someone’s material without permission.

Mary Wyburn from the University of Sydney and John MacPhail from Baker & McKenzie Solicitors say “An instance of plagiarism may or may not constitute an infringement of copyright.” through a report ‘The Intersection Of Copyright And Plagiarism And The Monitoring Of Student Work By Educational Institutions’ (p.77.) In this report, they explore how plagiarism is more of an ethical rule compared to the copyright law which is a legal rule. 

A View at a Copyright Infringement Case

An example of that reflects the Copyright legal issue is the 2014 copyright infringement case of Tylor v Sevin. The case is related to unlicensed stock images used on a commercial website. Mr Tylor, an American photographer (the applicant), has created a business where he takes, sells and licences stock images that could be used in a range of advertising and on websites. Ms Sevin (the respondent) runs an online travel agency in Melbourne, Australia. The respondent had used one of the applicant’s images of a beach in Hawaii on her website, this is the foundation of this copyright infringement case.

Sevin was required to pay a licence fee of using the works fo Tylor, although she did not. The applicant had found that his image was used, he contacted a solicitor in Australia, to then follow up and contact Sevin to resolve the issue. An article by Anne Barker (August 15, 2015) from quotes Tylor from the case – “To see it being used on her site selling her travel packages, we just thought that’s not really fair to do it that way,” Tylor said. “And to give us not only no credit but no compensation, nothing.” During the court case, it was recorded that the respondent was uncooperative, and did not want to discuss the issue. In the beginning, Sevin attempted to blame the use of the image on her web designer. Although the respondent was avoiding contact, Tylor continued with the case through court. 

The applicant is an American had applied and registered as copyright as the United States system is different to Australia. Copyright protection is automatic in Australia but the court was happy with the ownership that Tylor had, along with a copy of his certificate of registration of the images.  The respondent didn’t attend the hearing and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia was set to make a judgement based on the inability to provide a defence to the claim made by Tylor.

The decision founded that Sevin’s use of Tylor’s photo breached copyright laws. And the applicant was awarded damages to make up for his loss of profit. US$1850 reflected the licence fee of the image and an additional AUS$12,500 due to the poor nature of Sevin during the case. The applicant tried to contest that the infringement caused by the respondent was obviously conscious and deliberate. This allegation was overruled by the court, and Sevin’s actions were accounted as reckless. The view of recklessness was an important part of the case as it is a popular term used in ‘digital infringement’ cases. 

Advice to media professionals

When media professionals are conducting and creating content material that is being submitted or used online should be following the strict guidelines and rules of the copyright and plagiarism legal issue. These are the top 3 tips that all Media Professionals should follow to ensure avoidance of infringement.

  1. DO THE RESEARCH: In the instance of using someone else’s material or content, ensure you partake in the correct research to examine any copyright licensing that may be present. Look for the CC symbol, or correctly ask for the permission of the creator or purchase licensed content where necessary.
  1. CREDIT: When using copyright material, after permission is granted, or viewing the correct creative commons that have licensed the content. Ensure to give credit to the creator of the original content/material. 
  1. DIY: Creating your own content is a valuable way to avoid copyright infringement. Learning to use software that allows you to be unique and original, and create a personal profile for the media industry. 


Following the laws of copyright and plagiarism is a critical part of creating content and material as a media professional. The copyright act was put in place to ensure fair play when creating and using content. Plagiarism is the same context, and it stands in place as a way to enable authors individuality when writing. 

The copyright act was further viewed through the example of the 2014 Copyright Infringement case – Tylor v Sevin. The understanding of the legal issue was examined in more depth and created a visual representation of the underlying consequences when taking part in the act of copyright. 

Furthermore,  the legal issue of copyright and plagiarism is one that should not be taken lightly and should be represented strongly when media professionals are creating content.  

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