We all know the importance of giving someone credit when we use their work. Attributing the original creator of materials or products is polite, intellectually honest, and acknowledges the way we are all influenced by one another.
But the intersection between giving credit and copyright law can be a little complex. Today I want to tell you two important things about the law in this area:
(1) Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing.
There is a misunderstanding among some people, commonly expressed as: “It’s not copyright infringement if I give credit.” Unfortunately, this statement confuses infringement with plagiarism.
Plagiarism is the action or practice of taking someone else’s work or idea and passing it off as your own. Plagiarism is avoided by acknowledging the other person’s contribution – i.e. by giving them attribution or credit.
But attribution is not enough to avoid copyright infringement. To avoid breaching copyright law you must also:
- Have the copyright owner’s permission to use their work; or
- Ensure your use falls under a legal exception to infringement.
SIDENOTE: I’ve observed that many creators seem more upset when their work is used without attribution than when it is used without permission. If you are one of these creators, then you might want to consider applying a Creative Commons licence to your work, which gives permission in advance on the condition that the user gives you proper attribution.
(2) Moral rights require attribution.
Here’s the complicated bit: there are actually two sets of rights tied up in copyright. In a previous post, I set out the rights which are most commonly implicated when people talk about “copyright rights”. These include the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction (copying), publication, and making available online. These rights are sometimes called the “economic rights” because they are the rights that a copyright owner can licence or transfer in exchange for payment.
For literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works, and for cinematograph films (including video blogs), there are an additional set of rights called moral rights. Moral rights last for the same length of time as the economic rights, but, importantly, they belong to the individual creator of the work and they stay with the creator even if the creator transfers ownership of the economic rights to someone else. I repeat: a creator always has her moral rights even if the rest of the copyright belongs to someone else.
The moral rights include the right to be attributed as the creator or author of the work, and the right not to have the work falsely attributed, such as attributed to someone else. (*I’ll discuss the moral right of integrity in another post). A creator whose moral rights are infringed may seek remedies including a declaration that their moral rights have been infringed, a public apology, removal of the false attribution, an order that the person cease using the creator’s work, or even monetary damages where appropriate.
Moral rights are the part of copyright that preserves creators’ reputations and ensures that creators credited for their work.
So there you have it – the legal reason for giving credit where credit is due!