Copyright, Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism

Copyright protects writers from having their work used without permission. Under English law, it’s an automatic right and arises whenever a writer creates work. Therefore, there is no need to register work or stick copyright signs on blog articles.

If you write a poem, you automatically have copyright on that poem from the date of creation and if anyone else wishes to use that poem, they must ask your permission.

To summarise current English Law (not intended as legal advice and should not be read as such) as it relates to literary works:-

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 gives creators of literary (and other) works rights to control the ways in which their material may be used, covering broadcast, public performance, copying and adapting among other rights.  In certain cases the author will also have the right to be identified as the author and to object to distortions of the original work.  A work must be regarded as original and exhibit a degree of labour, skill or judgement.  Copyright for literary works lasts from 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author dies (the Act makes separate allowance for work where the author is unknown).

To clarify, copyright applies to the independent creation of a literary work.  So if you write a poem about Autumn, your actual wording is protected by copyright, but the idea behind the poem is not protected.  So if another poet decides to write a poem about Autumn they can provided they do not directly copy or adapt your poem to write their own.  Names, titles, short phrases and colours are not protected, but a logo or trade mark may be.

None of the acts below are permitted without consent of the copyright owner:-

  • Copying the work;
  • Renting, lending or issuing copies of the work to the public;
  • Performing, broadcasting or showing the work in public;
  • Adapting the work.

The acts below are permitted – this list is not comprehensive:

  • Copying for private and research study purposes;
  • Performing, copying or lending for educational purposes;
  • Criticism and news reporting;
  • Incidental inclusion;
  • Copying and lending by librarians;
  • Recording for the purposes of listening to or viewing at a more convenient time (eg downloading a podcast to listen to later);


Plagiarism is the wrongful appropriation, close imitation or purloining and publication of another writer’s work and representing that work as if the plagiarist was the owner.  Plagiarism is not a legal transgression but a moral one.  Good general advice is: if you didn’t write it, ask permission and at the very least credit the original author.

Copyright Infringements

One of the strengths of the internet – easily and widely available information and access to writers’ work – is also its weakness as it makes it easy for copyright infringement.  There is a tendency for people ignorant of copyright law to think that because something is in the public domain, it is free to copy.  It is not.

Therefore it’s recommended that writers guard against copyright infringement.  Use search engine and blog alerts to search for and alert to any potential copyright infringements. 

If you do find your work has been used, check:

  • Does the use come under the ‘fair use’ provisions?  It is not copyright infringement for someone to quote from your work in order to write a review or piece of criticism (and definitely not copyright infringement if you don’t like the review/criticism).
  • If your work has been used on a members’ only forum where members are invited, it may be regarded as private or research study purposes.  Before complaining of copyright infringement, contact one of the forum moderators and ask why your piece has been used and request that they take it down if you don’t feel your work should have appeared.
  • Contact the site your work is on and ask the owner to remove it.
  • If one of your blog articles has appeared on a scraper site and you can’t find a sensible contact email/address, contact the blog hosts.  WordPress, Live Journal and Microsoft blogging platforms all have contact forms for removal of copyrighted material.
  • Use Google’s DCMA form.
  • Wait for a response before complaining to your social network that you have suffered a copyright infringement.  Not all acts of infringement are deliberate, and although ignorance of the law is not a defence, mistakes do happen.  So do allow a site or blog owner chance to respond.

If you want to use someone else’s work (or part-work):

  • Ask – if you can’t find an author’s contact on their blog or website, go via their publisher;
  • Crediting the writer isn’t enough.  It might stop you being accused of plagiarism, but if you didn’t have permission, it’s still copyright infringement.
  • If you don’t get permission, don’t use it;
  • Copying may cost very little (frequently only the time taken in using copy and paste functions), but creating the original piece took time and research and, if the original author hadn’t invested that time and research, the original would not exist.  Stealing an author’s opportunity to earn money from their own work is stealing and may even prevent the author from being able to publish some future work as book publishing contracts very often depend on sales from previous books and if the sales aren’t there because the book was illegally copied and downloaded, then the author will really struggle to get another deal.
  • Do not be tempted to breach copyright. 

Most writers, especially poets, earn very little from publishing their work, but that doesn’t excuse you from using poems without permission.  Ignorance of the law is no defence.

4 Responses to “Copyright, Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism”

  1. Sheenagh Pugh Says:

    Useful summary. To “If you do find your work has been used, check:” I’d add only; check whether it’s actually doing you some good by acting as a free online advert. Sometimes the best course is not to get it taken down but to ask the site owner to link to your blog/website/publisher’s website.

  2. emmalee1 Says:

    Hi Sheenagh

    Good point. A link from a respected site can help boost your site/blog’s rankings and increase visitors to your site.

    However, you can be tainted by association so check out the site first and if it’s a site you’d be happy to be associated with, ask for a link.

  3. A Cautionary tale of Copyright – be careful what you sign « Emma Lee’s Blog Says:

    […] fact most people, including writers, are not copyright experts. A basic guide to English copyright law can be found here. But in any situation where you are asked to sign over copyright, tread carefully and ask the […]

  4. Supreme Court lifts injunction on Autobiography | Emma Lee's Blog Says:

    […] matters normally fall outside the scope of this blog, except for a brief guide to copyright, however, this particular case is of interest to writers, particularly those who base their poems […]

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