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Visual Plagiarism

This guide discusses visual plagiarism and best practices to avoid it.

What is Visual Plagiarism?

Visual Plagiarism is a multifaceted term.  Like text based plagiarism, visual plagiarism is “the use in whole or in part of the work of others without crediting the source of the work through appropriate documentation”1. 

Taking a  non-text approach , Visual Plagairism “is copying and assuming the ideas of another artist or entity that owns the rights to their own visual material .2.   This includes things like (1) borrowings ideas from another marketing campaign for your own and (2) taking an image, adapting it slightly then claiming it is significantly different .  

In a classroom it is understood that artists do draw inspiration from others and will create works based on them.  This is acceptable as long as the creator:

  • Takes  inspiration from other works - but then makes the work their own.
  • Credits their inspiration.
  • Replicates works as a means to practice their technical skills and makes it clear that is the intent.
  • Does not include copyrighted characters, trademarks, logos.
  • Does not submit others work as their own.

Outside of academia creators need to be very careful as there are legal / trademark implications.

  • In some disciplines, there is a fine line between homage and idea theft. In today’s digital world the line is continually blurred due to easy access to images for “borrowing” or manipulation.
  • According to the European Commission, about 7-10% of global commerce is made up of copied work. These knock-offs cause economic losses of $200 to $300 billion and the loss of 200,000 jobs annually. 3

To avoid Visual Plagiarism:


  • Take pictures / submit drafts of your creation as it emerges and record what moved you in a direction in each step.
  • Provide a citation to a work that inspired you.

Do Not:

  • Copy a work and claim it as your own.  Plagiarism is a serious academic penalty.
  • Copy an idea and claim it as yours.
  • Appropriate images from other cultures. 
  • Make minimal adjustments to a work and claim you created something new. 

For some example of what to avoid, see the slideshare by Meier.  It provides four really good examples of controversial visual plagiarism cases. 

1.  Centre for Advancement of Teaching and Learning, University of Manitoba. Preventing Visual and Spatial Plagiarism.   Available Online:  

2.  Meier.  What is. Usual Plagiarism?  Available online:   

3.  Academy of Art University.  Faculty Training: Visual Plagiarism.  Available Online.  



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Carmen Kazakoff-Lane
Carmen Kazakoff -Lane, Scholarly Communications Librarian
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