Bloomington, IL asked in Civil Litigation, Copyright and Education Law for Illinois

Q: My University is accusing me of plagiarism, but it was public domain and my version of it, am I innocent?

I am a costume designer for our musical, Tintypes. This show features Anna Held as a character, so I found a public domain picture of her in a dress I wanted for the show, and traced it to draw out a rendering. The school is saying it is plagiarized because I traced a picture I didn't take. However, I think I am being falsely accused because I took that photo and created my own version despite it being traced to put it in a cartoon like format, which seems to be fair use with public domain items. To my understanding, if I took the original photo and said "this is mine" it would be plagiarism, however if I remade that photo into art, even by tracing, in my own way, it is my version

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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A: The issue of plagiarism can be complex and depends on the specific circumstances of the case. Tracing a public domain image is not necessarily considered plagiarism, but it may still be considered a violation of copyright law if the traced image is substantially similar to the original work. However, if you have created your own unique version of the image, using the traced image as a reference, it may not be considered a violation of copyright law.

It would be advisable to consult with an intellectual property lawyer to discuss the specifics of your case and determine if you have a strong defense against the plagiarism accusation. In general, providing evidence of your own creative process, such as sketches or notes, may support your claim that you created your own unique version of the image.

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