When is plagiarism punishable by law—a lawyer tells us 2
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When is plagiarism punishable by law—a lawyer specializing on copyright tells us

A recent valedictory speech made the issue of plagiarism a trending topic. So we had to ask: what’s the worst that could happen?
Aubrey S. Sto. Tomas | Jul 16 2022

A magna cum laude from a college in Camarines Sur recently received a lot of flak due to alleged plagiarism he committed in his valedictory address.

The graduation speech of Jayvee Ayen, valedictorian of Batch 2022 at Camarines Sur Polytechnic Colleges (CSPC) was noted to have similarities to the one of Mariyela Mari Hugo who graduated cum laude from Far Eastern University (FEU) in 2019.

In a viral TikTok video, portions of Ayen’s and Hugo’s speeches were compared as both talked about “lang” or “lamang” as terms typically used to point out the prejudice towards specific college programs. The idea or essence of Ayen’s speech was also notably similar to Hugo’s, but Ayen provided a different set of courses as examples.

The University of Oxford defines plagiarism as the act of “presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement.”

According to Atty. Edward Chico, a litigation lawyer who also teaches commercial law (which includes intellectual property law), if an idea was copied and paraphrased, “it would amount to plagiarism.” He pointed out, however, that plagiarism is more of a moral issue than a legal one. It becomes a legal issue if the alleged plagiarized material violates the copyright protection of the original author.

“Plagiarism is considered a violation of academic and moral integrity. If a person indeed copied someone else’s work, then there is no excuse even if it turns out the material copied is not covered by copyright protection,” Chico told ANCX.


Not a crime 

Plagiarism is not considered a crime under Philippine law, according to Chico—but it is punishable under the Cybercrime Prevention Act if it equates to copyright infringement.

Copyright infringement under Section 217 of R.A. No. 8293 or the Intellectual Property Code (IPC) can be punishable by one to three years imprisonment and a fine ranging from P50,000-P150,000 for the first offense; three years and one day to six years imprisonment and a fine ranging from P150,000-P500,000 for the second offense; and six years and one day to nine years imprisonment and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1,500,000 for the third and subsequent offenses.

But is it possible for two people to actually have thought of the same idea? It is, says Chico. He mentions the phrase “parallel thinking” which explains the possibility of two people having the same thought. But he stresses that it’s a different case if two materials are almost or outright similar.

Comments on Ayen’s speech suggests that he should have just paraphrased. But according to Chico, paraphrasing without attributing the idea to the original author is still plagiarism.

“If you paraphrase but you basically retained the same information, then it could still be passed off as plagiarism lalong lalo na if the idea is very novel,” the lawyer explains.


Credit to owner 

In social media, the abbreviation “CTTO” (or credit to the owner) is commonly used to caption a borrowed or stolen text or image without mentioning the original owner's name. Crediting a work in this manner is not enough, said Chico. The post could still be considered plagiarized. Permission still has to be sought from the owner.

Intellectual properties are protected by copyright. Thus, violations are dealt with by law. For materials that do not enjoy copyright protection, Chico said a person can still be sued civilly assuming damages are sustained.

Based on the IPC, a person who infringes on a copyright ought to “pay to the copyright proprietor or his assigns or heirs such actual damages, including legal costs and other expenses, as he may have incurred due to the infringement as well as the profits the infringer may have made due to such infringement.”

Otherwise, a person may be removed or reprimanded depending on the institution that he is part of, says the lawyer.

With the country’s laws on plagiarism and copyright protection, Chico advises the public to be informed of its implications and avoid plagiarizing.

Ayen addressed the issue in a news item posted on the Facebook page of The Spark, the official college publication of CSPC Monday. “Kay Ma’am Mariyela, I am really sorry. Hindi ko po intensyon na i-plagiarize yung speech niya,” Ayen wrote. “Nagkataon lang talaga na same topic yung gusto ko i-address (and) at the same time nagkataon rin na napanood ko 'yung video nya,”

Kung baga driven by her impactful speech kaya nagawa kong ma ipasok yung ibang thought sa speech ko without thinking na napa-plagarize ko na pala yung speech nya,” he added.

The college also issued its statement on Wednesday, apologizing to Hugo and everyone who has been affected by the issue, and assuring the public that it would take “appropriate steps for corrective and formative measures.”