Plagiarism By Kevan Nitzberg


Plagiarism is becoming a major issue in the visual arts and more and more instances of it are showing up in both the classroom as well in competitions and society generally.  There is a significant need being evidenced to instruct both students and their teachers in not only the falsehood that is being perpetuated through copying or stealing another person’s work and presenting it as one’s own, but also the consequences that are involved.  In the last couple of years works that were blatantly copied from original source material have been submitted to the Minnesota Scholastic Art Awards competition and have caused them to be removed from competition when found, or to have any awards that were received be withdrawn.  As this problem has grown, online checking software such as Tineye is being utilized to review submissions to determine if those images are already in existence and created by another person. Beyond the consequence of not being able to be considered for an award, there may well be additional actions that may need to be taken including contacting instructors, school administrators and flagging work from the schools and individuals who have submitted illicit works in the past.

The following is a guideline to what constitutes plagiarism in the arts from (


What about images, videos, and music?

Using an image, video or piece of music in a work you have produced without receiving proper permission or providing appropriate citation is plagiarism. The following activities are very common in today’s society. Despite their popularity, they still count as plagiarism.

  • Copying media (especially images) from other websites to paste them into your own papers or websites.

  • Making a video using footage from others’ videos or using copyrighted music as part of the soundtrack.

  • Performing another person’s copyrighted music (i.e., playing a cover).

  • Composing a piece of music that borrows heavily from another composition.

Certainly, these media pose situations in which it can be challenging to determine whether or not the copyrights of a work are being violated. For example:

  • A photograph or scan of a copyrighted image (for example: using a photograph of a book cover to represent that book on one’s website)

  • Recording audio or video in which copyrighted music or video is playing in the background.

  • Re-creating a visual work in the same medium. (for example: shooting a photograph that uses the same composition and subject matter as someone else’s photograph)

  • Re-creating a visual work in a different medium (for example: making a painting that closely resembles another person’s photograph).

  • Re-mixing or altering copyrighted images, video or audio, even if done so in an original way.

The legality of these situations, and others, would be dependent upon the intent and context within which they are produced. The two safest approaches to take in regards to these situations is: 1) Avoid them altogether or 2) Confirm the works’ usage permissions and cite them properly.

Another excellent resource for helping students to understand what constitutes plagiarism can be found in a slide show that can be found here. On the last slide is a link to a series of images and their plagiarized counterparts and subsequent results of the legal action that was taken based upon the given rationale in the document.