Online Work and Plagiarism

Some time last year, the issue of plagiarism, especially with respect to articles published on peyups.com, was brought to my attention by some of my close friends on that particular site. According to them, people have been copy-pasting some of the most popular articles posted on peyups.com to their own blogs or web spaces, with nary an acknowledgment to peyups.com, with the net result as if these articles were original creations of theirs.

One of the issues raised was whether these literary works were protected under Philippine copyright law. Those arguing for the plagiarists contend that mere publication on the web deprived authors of their copyrights, while the authors argue that this is not necessarily so, as publication online does not constitute an assignment of copyright to the general public.

Being the intrepid person that I am, I did some research on the matter, and it seems that the plagiarists have no leg to stand on.

Those espousing anarchy on the Internet, as it is a self-regulating organism that develops rules based on community standards, argue against current jurisprudential trends. They claim that such a system is unjust and must be overhauled. Unfortunately for them, just because a law may be unfair or harsh on a moral or an intellectual plane does not make it illegal. There must be an actual transgression of the safeguards imposed by the Constitution sufficient to render a statute void.

The Philippines being the place of both author and infringer in this particular instance (I can see pictures of UP and AS101 in their website), the current and actual and not some hypothetical or ideal Philippine law must govern the relations between them.

Copyright in the Philippines is regulated by the Intellectual Property Code (Republic Act No. 8293). According to law, literary and artistic works are considered as original intellectual creations that are protected by law from the moment of their creation (§172), with respect to, among others, its reproduction (§177.1) and communication to the public.(§177.7)

The law protects against the infringement of one’s copyright. In Columbia Pictures v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 96597-99, October 6, 1994), the Supreme Court defined the essence of copyright infringement as the “similarity or substantial similarity of the pirated work to the copyrighted work.” In the later case of Habana v. Robles (G.R. No. 131522, July 19, 1999), the Supreme Court held that infringement could occur when there is substantial reproduction, or the taking of so much of the original work such that the value of the original work became diminished, such that it is not necessary for the work to be copy-pasted for infringement to exist. The Court also held that there must be an “injurious effect” for there to be infringement, as when another’s work is misrepresented as one’s own.

If copying is not required to have infringement, what more someone who copy-pastes work from peyups.com unto his or her own site? Even the dissenting opinion of Justice Davide in the Habana case points toward protection against blatant plagiarism. He says that infringement occurs when an “usurper appropriates the work of an author.” When one copy-pastes another’s work and calls it his or her own, that’s plagiarism – the appropriation of someone else’s work.

However, the protection granted to copyright is not absolute, and is also limited by the Intellectual Property Code. These exceptions are generally known as fair use. What constitutes fair use depends on how the work is used.

Regarding quotations, for example, the law mandates that as long as the use of the quotations is compatible with fair use and only to the extent justified for the purpose, there is no copyright infringement as long as the source and the name of the author, if appearing on the work are mentioned.(§184(b))

With respect to articles on current political, social, economic, scientific, or religious topics whose copyright has not been expressly reserved, the law provides that their reproduction for information purposes does not constitute copyright infringement as long as the source is clearly indicated.(§184(c))

On the issue of copyright assignment, the law mandates that copyright cannot be assigned unless it is done in writing. As no such assignment is done either at the time of submission of the work to peyups.com, there is no assignment whatsoever. In other words, if nothing is indicated in the source publication, then it’s safe to assume that no copyright was assigned to the reader. The assignment theory simply does not fly.

Another interesting argument espoused by the plagiarists is the lack of injury that plagiarism causes, especially given that no compensation is received for having one’s article published on the site, and no monetary gain is received by most, if not all plagiarists. They fail to see that under the rule of law, one’s rights are not worthless as long as no money is involved or no harm is done.

Suffice it to say that there are other remedies that one may resort to in such situations. For legal advice specific to your problem or for further legal information, consult a lawyer.

Adapted from my post on peyups.com.

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