Copyright & Essay Laws

By Lindsay Nixon
Students must take care to avoid copyright infringement with essays.
school bus image by michele goglio from <a href=''></a>

When students prepare essays or research papers for school or journalists report on topics for print media, it is important they take care to avoid plagiarism and copyright infringement. While both plagiarism and copyright infringement can simultaneously occur from the same act, they are completely different transgressions.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement occurs anytime a copyright is violated. Copyrights are violated when someone other than the original author or owner of the copyright reproduces copyrighted information in whole or part without prior permission of the author or copyright owner. An example of copyright infringement would be photocopying sections of a copyrighted book and distributing them. A common example of copyright infringement is pirated music and DVDs. With respect to essays, copyright infringement can occur if a student or journalist uses information from a copyrighted source but fails to provide a citation.


Plagiarism occurs when a student, journalist, or other individual tries to pass the work of someone else off as his own. This can be done intentionally or unintentionally. An example of intentional plagiarism is where a journalist blatantly copies a previously published article and reprints it as though it is his original work. Another example would be a student submitting an unknown published poem for class credit, saying it&#039;s his work. An example of unintentional plagiarism is when a student or journalist uses information from a copyrighted source, such as a library book, and then forgets to include a citation or quotation marks around the borrowed phrase.

Preventative Measures

Anytime a student or journalist is using information from another source, particularly a book or other copyrighted material, a citation should be included. Citations reference the published or unpublished source of information and prevent instances of plagiarism and copyright infringement from occurring. For example, if a student obtained the definition of a science theory from a scholarly journal, a reference to that journal must be included.

Other Considerations

Copyright laws broadly cover many industries in addition to print media, such as books, newspapers and magazines. Music, movies, photos and art can also be copyrighted, and using them without permission, or trying to pass copyrighted work off as original is a violation of that copyright. Using the likeness of a copyrighted item, such as painting a picture that is a "fake" of an original art piece, may qualify as misappropriation in addition to copyright infringement.