DOJ warns web plagiarists, hits cut-and-paste legislation

Plagiarism — or passing off another person’s work as one’s own — is also punishable under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday, October 2.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday warned of possible criminal actions against plagiarists, taking a swipe at what she branded as “cut-and-paste legislation.”

In her second advisory opinion this year, De Lima said plagiarism could become a crime if “it is committed under certain circumstances.”

The DOJ pointed out that while cybercrimes generally include cyber-attacks, online fraud, cybersex and child pornography, Sec 6 of the Cybercrime Prevention Act also states that it covers “all crimes defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, and special laws.”

De Lima specifically cited provisions of Republic Act 8293 (Intellectual Property Code), RA 8792 (Electronic Commerce Act) and the new RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act), which will take effect today.

De Lima said plagiarism, as defined by the Supreme Court, is a “deliberate and knowing presentation of another person’s original ideas or creative expressions as one’s own,” and is generally an academic issue.

But when the copied item is covered by copyright, she said the act could become criminal under RA 8293 or RA 8792.

“If plagiarism amounts to copyright infringement, the imposable penalty is one to three years of imprisonment and a fine of P50,000 to P150,000 for the first offense, three years and one day to six years of imprisonment and a fine of P150,000 to P500,000 for the second offense, and six years and one day to nine years of imprisonment and a fine of P500,000 to P1.5 million for the third and subsequent offenses,” De Lima explained in her 10-page opinion.

De Lima stressed plagiarism also becomes a criminal act when “committed in the form of online piracy by using the Internet or other telecommunications networks and the same act constitutes copyright infringement.”

The Intellectual Property Code is a special law. Under the IPC, the act of plagiarism — when it amounts to copyright infringement — carries a penalty of 3-6 years imprisonment and a fine of P50,000-P150,000. Under the Cybercrime Prevention Act, however, the penalty is a degree higher.

“In sum, plagiarism does not in itself result in a criminal violation unless it also constitutes copyright infringement under the IPC. There is infringement when any of the copyright or economic rights under Sec. 177 of the IPC is violated by any other person, or when any of the acts in Sec 217.3 are committed,” the DOJ said.

She said these provisions in the two special penal laws are covered in the new cybercrime law.

De Lima, however, clarified they do not apply to copying of news items or any work of the government.

Apart from identifying the laws that may apply in plagiarism acts, she also gave guidelines on how to avoid criminal prosecution for plagiarism.

De Lima said the public should just avoid copying the works of others, cultivate the habit of attribution, always be vigilant in detecting cases of plagiarism and encourage institutions to adopt anti-plagiarism measures.

The advisory, De Lima added, is part of the DOJ’s “thrust to take a proactive stance and a dynamic approach in criminal justice concerns.”

De Lima issued the legal opinion over a month after Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III was accused of plagiarizing a blog entry in his speech against the Reproductive Health bill.

Sotto had already admitted he was one of the two lawmakers who inserted the libel clause in RA 10175.

While she did not directly point to Sotto, De Lima has, however, criticized certain provisions in cybercrime law that impose higher penalty for libel and give the DOJ authority to order searches and seizures similar to that of a judge.

“Cut and paste legislation will not work and we see this in the questioned sections which we intend to harmonize and remedy in the implementing rules and regulations,” she said in a separate statement.

Stories about plagiarism recently hit the headlines after Sen Vicente ‘Tito’ Sotto lifted parts of his speech against the reproductive health bill from a post written by a blogger called Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist.

Sotto was also attacked for translating a speech by the late US Sen Robert Kennedy in Filipino and turning it into his own speech again. His speech in Filipino was also against the reproductive health bill. Sotto is one of the senators who voted for the passage of the Cybercrime Prevention bill.

In 2010, Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo also saw himself in hot water after he allegedly plagiarized parts of the decision he penned on the Vinuya v. Romulo case from 3 foreign legal experts. He is now facing an impeachment complaint.

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