Piracy vs Plagiarism, What is the difference?

by Kitty Hundal with contributions by Raymond Johansen

This article was inspired by a recent situation which occurred. The Hacker Wars, an article written by me, Kitty Hundal, with contributions by Raymond Johansen, was originally published with our permission to The Cryptosphere in April, 2015. The Cryptosphere is owned and operated by independent media journalist, Lorraine Murphy.

This week, that article was plagiarized by one of the authors on another site called AnonHQ. This author claimed the article was covered under a Creative Commons license. While the author didn’t specify which license, their statement indicated that they considered it a public domain license. It wasn’t.

AnonHQ did remove that plagiarized version on request by Lorraine Murphy, but two other sites that picked up that same plagiarized version from the AnonHQ site (before it was removed) have not removed it as per her request.

AnonHQ tweet

A Creative Commons license is only valid when the specific license (there are 6 different ones) is specified on the original source site, the terms of the license are included and all sites or authors who republish it link back to that license on the original source site.

The Cryptosphere, the original source site for the article (not AnonHQ), doesn’t have any license specified on the site. This means that by default they are covered by a standard All Rights Reserved copyright license. As a result their material is not available for republication without their explicit written permission, republication must be in full (no modifications) and the original content creators must be credited with the work on the site it’s republished on. In other words, the AnonHQ author (and AnonHQ) were required to get permission in writing to republish, they were required to republish the article in full (no derivation) and they were required to display my and Raymond Johansens names with the republished articles in order to give credit to us for the work. None of this was done. 

Because copyright law in most countries by default grants copyright holders monopolistic control over their creations, copyright content must be explicitly declared free, usually by the referencing or inclusion of licensing statements from within the work. ~Free Content Wiki

That said, it should be noted that I’m a strong supporter of the Pirate Movement and my previous career was in libraries (an area where copyright has been an issue for years). Raymond Johansen is an internationally recognized Global Pirate activist, a strong advocate for filesharing, and someone who has been involved in the Pirate Movement since it’s inception.

So, we are both very concerned about the new trends being pushed in copyright law and the impact they will have on file sharing, public libraries, and access to information and knowledge.

In this particular situation, my concern is that misguided people may be misled by people who don’t understand these issues clearly.

This article is my attempt to clarify these issues. 

~ Kitty Hundal

There’s been a lot of controversy in the media in recent years about Piracy (filesharing), which is a long standing internet tradition. Much of this drama has been created by organizations like the MPAA who are acting like spoiled toddlers. They claim to be defending the rights of the content creators when, in fact, they are actually defending only the rights of their corporate conglomerates. The industry that has been built around the content creators and exploits them mercilessly.

To a large extent, the Internet has freed the content creators from this gross exploitation and given them the ability to control both distribution and production of their creative works.

This is a problem for organizations like the MPAA and other industries (like music and publishing) because it eliminates the artists (content creators) reliance on the bureaucracy these industries have built around the artist. A bureaucracy which not only controls what kind of creative content is released to the public, it controls who can see it as well as when and where it can be seen.

The driving factor in the past for this bureaucracy’s existence has been the need by artists to have the financial means to produce good content and the resources to distribute it widely.

Today, with the Internet, that need can be met without this bureaucracy.

The content creator now has much more control over what they create, how they finance the production of the work, who produces it, as well as who distributes it. If the content creator is knowledgeable enough, they can take control of doing it all themselves with resources that are readily available to anyone on the Internet.

The consumer now has a great deal of control over what we see with a larger selection available to us, and we can choose where, when and how we view the content.

The MPAA, rather than accepting this new reality and building new business models within it, like the publishing and music industries are starting to do, is throwing temper tantrums instead. It is making demands of governments to impose numerous restrictions as well as engaging in the most corrupt manipulations (as the Sony Leaks have demonstrated) in order to maintain their outdated and useless business model.

Forcing such changes will only result in a ghettoization of the Internet. Such changes will also largely be unenforceable due to the technology and the demands of the consumers. In my opinion, it will, in the end, destroy this useless, outdated, monolithic model anyway. In other words, the MPAA is fighting an expensive but losing battle.

New, recent studies have demonstrated that a new business model which recognizes and accepts Piracy (filesharing) for what it really is (free storage, distribution, promotion and publicity) and incorporates it would be quite successful. Piracy has been shown to be a benefit to new content creators who are relatively unknown as well as established content creators.

A new study by a researcher at North Carolina State University suggests that frequently, pirated albums sell slightly more copies than ones that aren’t. “Leaked” albums that show up for download on popular BitTorrent sites before the release date have long been considered the bane of the Recording Industry Association of America. A 2007 report by the Institute for Policy Innovation suggested that piracy costs the U.S. economy $12.5 billion annually.

~Album Piracy May Help Musicians Sell: Study suggests pre-release file sharing may not hurt a known artist; industry might be another story.

The London School of Economics and Political Science has released a new policy brief urging the UK Government to look beyond the lobbying efforts of the entertainment industry when it comes to future copyright policy. According to the report there is ample evidence that file-sharing is helping, rather than hurting the creative industries. The scholars call on the Government to look at more objective data when deciding on future copyright enforcement policies. ~Piracy isn’t killing the Entertainment Industry, Scholars Show.

Piracy also provides another service which is of great benefit to the consumer. Like libraries, Pirates create sites which store content and preserve it historically. Those sites really are no different than your local public library and should be treated that way.

Of course, these benefits to Piracy were not planned by anyone, they just evolved in the same way that the Internet and many other aspects of Internet culture have evolved.

Piracy encapsulates the concept that knowledge, like the Internet, must be free.

So, what is the problem with Plagiarism then? After all, if we want knowledge to be free shouldn’t anyone be able to take it and use it however they want?

Sure. What they shouldn’t be able to do (and can’t do) is take credit for work that someone else was responsible for creating. That’s what plagiarism is.

Content creators take knowledge and create original works from that knowledge. Pirates store, distribute, publicize and promote the content creators works. Plagiarists take the original work and revise it or play other skanky tricks to make it look like their own, then distribute it as if it were their own.

Plagiarism is just one small step below the MPAA and their obsessive need to control content and content creators and ensure that they can exploit them and their content to the maximum for their own financial benefit.

Essentially, Plagiarists take things a step further. By not crediting the content creators directly they are implying that they are the content creators. The plagiarists basically look for interesting content on the web, steal it, modify it slightly, remove any credit to the original creator in or with the content on their site. If they bother to include a link back to the original article it’s because they know people will assume the item hasn’t been changed and won’t expect a different author or content creator. It’s a deceptive attempt to make it look like they’re following the requirements of copyright when they are not.

This is often justified with the misguided belief (based on Internet rumor) that anything on the Internet is Public Domain if not stated otherwise.

That is not the case.

If a Creative Commons license is used it has to be specified on the original web site and a link back has to occur directly to that license. If a Creative Commons license isn’t specified then the default is the standard ‘All Rights Reserved’ copyright.

Just to be perfectly clear, I support the Pirate Movement and based on recent studies it has been good for the artists and content creators even though it has been bad for the distributors. The Pirate Movement is not (irrespective of what the MPAA and others say) violating copyright in any way. They are doing what libraries do. Distributing the original unchanged content for free while giving the creators full credit for their works.

I also support the concept of Anonymous which includes the belief that information and knowledge like the Internet should be free. That concept also allows content creators to produce content and make that content free anonymously, if they choose to. This is a beautiful aspect of Anonymous culture, which I respect.

One aspect of Anon culture has been to take images (public domain or not), create memes, and distribute those memes. Like the Pirates, Anons and others who are redistributing those memes are not pretending they are the creators of the image. If the image does contain creator information, it is rarely (to my knowledge) removed. So, like the Pirates, Anons are simply engaging in free distribution and promotion of creative content they like. Some images have meme content that criticizes the content of the image in some way through parody or sarcasm. This is fair use.

Most Anonymous memes consist of original content created by Anons themselves. Any original works created under the Anonymous banner are public domain and freely distributed, derived from, etc.

As far as I know, the Anonymous concept doesn’t include plagiarizing content from other creators who don’t create it under the Anonymous banner, making minor modifications and then distributing it as if it were their own and/or Anonymous.

Now, the following differentiation is an important one to grasp. If an individual or corporation were to take an Anonymous meme or concept, and try to take creative credit for it by applying a copyright of some kind to it (exactly what the author on the AnonHQ site did to us), Anonymous would object and they would be wholly within their rights to object. In fact, they did object when a French company attempted to do this a couple of years ago. Note that trademarks are a form of copyright.

Anonymous row as French company trademarks logo

I do not support or agree with Plagiarism which hurts the content creators, the artists, and benefits the corrupt who are unable to create high quality content so they steal it from others for their own personal, career, and/or commercial benefit.

Libraries have fought these industries for years, particularly when audio  and video materials were introduced into libraries in the 1970s and 1980s. Libraries have also fought the plagiarists by refusing to publish their works and exposing them when discovered.

The concept of fair use through the Fair Use Doctrine was introduced to provide a balance between the rights of the public to information and knowledge and the rights of the content creator (usually also the copyright holder) to receive credit for and to benefit financially and otherwise for their creation.

Fair use allows for extractions in the form of quotes, critiques on content produced by others, news reporting on content created by others, introduction of content by educational institutions for educational purposes, etc.

In the US, the Fair Use Doctrine is defined as follows:

“In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include –

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
  5. The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

Source: Fair Use / American Library Association

So, essentially the difference between plagiarism and piracy is:

  1. Plagiarism is theft. It disrespects the content creator by stealing their content, often changing it, and doing so in such a way that the thief implies they are the creator. It often benefits the thief personally, career-wise and / or commercially and it violates the Fair Use Doctrine.
  2. Piracy consists of file sharing, storage, publicity and promotion for free. It respects the content creator by promoting the content creator and the content intact, distributing it widely and storing it in a historical archive in much the same ways that public libraries do. Pirates just do it in a cyber environment.

Article and expressions, but not the images, may be Shared freely. This was written by Kitty Hundal and Raymond Johansen. Thank you for your precious time. 

This work is licensed as Creative Commons – CopyLeft

3 thoughts on “Piracy vs Plagiarism, What is the difference?

  1. Reblogged this on The Cryptosphere and commented:

    There’s a big difference between being an illegal blog scraper and sharing knowledge. Permission and honesty, for a start. Here, victim of plagiarism Kitty Hundal, along with Pirate Party activist Raymond Johansen, lays it down for you.


  2. […] vs Plagiarism, What is the difference? Originally posted on hacktivist culture:by Kitty Hundal with contributions by Raymond Johansen This article was inspired by a recent […]


  3. Hi Kitty,

    Its not exactly like that when it comes to software piracy as people tamper with the software (keygens/bypass protection/crack/etc.) to modify it to be the same as the paid version.
    This is actually costing the developer sales they could have made and also reduce their exposure to new clients.
    For example, people searching for “X brand software” often find related search terms such as “X brand software crack” being shown in the search engines. This is a big temptation for anyone who was looking to buy it, especially with how easy digital piracy has become.
    In my opinion piracy in most cases is like stealing, with only a few exceptions.


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