Facts Every Teen Should Know About Copyright And Plagiarism

Children today use information from the Internet for many activities. But, did you know your child might be plagiarising the work of someone else or infringing their copyright? Read on to know more.

By Sushma Sosha Philip and Susan Philip

Facts Every Teen Should Know About Copyright And Plagiarism

In the age of smart phones and artificial intelligence, a common response to any question today is, “Google it”. While this means that you can listen to your favourite song, watch a viral video or download that book you’ve been meaning to read for years with a click of a button, this easy access to information is also having a major impact on students. Though the Internet and the resources it provides benefit students and academics, very often, students take advantage of this. ‘Cut-Copy-Paste’ is seen as a one-stop solution for everything from high school assignments to thesis level research papers. To control the misuse of works created by individuals, copyright law was created.

The purpose of a copyright is to protect the work of a person and also the creative thought process that went into the work. In India, the law governing copyright protection is the Indian Copyright Act, 1957. As parents, it is important that you inform your child of the following facts about copyright so as to ensure that they do not violate the law of copyrights in any way.

1. Copyrights exist for various works: Copyrights exist to protect the expression of an idea. S.2 of the Indian Copyright Act comprises a long list of copyrightable works including drawings, photographs, computer programs, literature, musical compositions and cinematographic films. While it is important to know what works may be copyrightable so as to be able to explain this concept to your children, this is also important to help you to identify if your child has created something for which a copyright exists.

2. Copyrights need not be registered: As soon as a copyrightable work is complete, a copyright automatically exists in the work. There is no section in the Indian Copyright Act making it mandatory to register a copyright in a work for it to be a valid copyright. So arguing that the © symbol was not visible on the work will not be an excuse for infringement. However, registration of copyright in a work is advisable as registration strengthens the protection, provided that the work is of a standard that requires protection. This means that while your child’s essay or art project may be copyrightable, it is not always the best idea to register a copyright for it so long as such work is unlikely to be copied and used for commercial profit.

3. Piracy is a form of Copyright Infringement: According to the ‘Study on Copyright Piracy in India’ sponsored by the Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India, “Piracy means unauthorised reproduction, importing or distribution either of the whole or of a substantial part of works protected by copyright”. Today’s tech-savvy children often download movies, songs and books, and distribute them among their friends. This is a form of copyright infringement and children should be warned against this.

4. Exceptions to Copyright Infringement: In spite of the high level of protection granted by copyrights to creators of copyrightable works, there are certain cases where the use of a copyrighted work is not considered to infringement of the copyright. These exceptions are provided in S.52 of the Act and are meant to allow people to use copyrighted work in certain cases including for personal, educational purposes, etc. This is also called ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’ because using a copyrighted work for any of the exceptional reasons provided in the Act without the threat of infringement allows sufficient access to the information.

5. Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement are different concepts: Plagiarism is when someone takes the work of another person and portrays it as their own work without giving due credit to the original creator of the work. If the right of an author to get due credit for the work (S.57 of the Act) is infringed, there may be a case for plagiarism. While the ‘educational purposes’ reason might mean that your child is not infringing a copyright, he may still be plagiarising. So, it is important to train your child from an early age to read and understand materials but write the assignment in her own words. When using someone else’s ideas or information is unavoidable, the source of this information must be clearly mentioned, and relevant permission obtained wherever applicable. Depending on certain facts and circumstances, grant of such permission may even mean paying a fee. You and your child should be aware of this. 

6. Works in Public Domain: The common understanding of this concept is that all works available to the public are in the public domain and can, therefore, be used freely. This is however not true. Works in the public domain are those works for which the term of copyright has expired. The term differs depending on the type of work.

7. Penalties: Copyright infringement is treated as a crime (S.63) as well as a civil wrong (S.55). ‘Abetting’ or helping someone infringe a copyright is also considered to be a crime. This is an important point for parents and guardians to note as they may be held guilty of copyright infringement simply by helping the child commit the infringement. In some cases, criminal penalty may also apply to plagiarism when it is treated as fraud or misrepresentation. This penalty will of course take into consideration the age of the offender for minors. With regards to civil liability the court may order the infringer to stop the infringing activity and may also ask for money (damages) to be paid to compensate for the act of infringement. As a child may not be able to pay, parents or guardians may be held responsible for making the payment.

Conclusion: The importance of copyright protection lies not only in the fact that these laws protect the rights of the creator of the work, but also, in that these laws encourage people to exercise their creativity rather than recycle ideas that already exist. These laws and rules however are not easily understood and so it is up to you, as parents, to make yourselves aware of them and in turn, make your children understand them and their underlying rationale. This will result in students understanding their subjects better, creating original works, generating unique ideas and opinions, and thereby contributing to the knowledge base that they are so privileged to access.


Sushma Sosha Philip is a lawyer with experience in corporate law and IPR. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree from the University of Leiden.

Disclaimer: The article contains only general information about the laws. No part of this article constitutes legal advice of any sort and it cannot be relied on for any legal purpose.


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