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Imagine that I am building an application in public and someone copies my work and starts making money from it. Can I refer to the guy who's copied my product a 'copycat' and a 'plagiarist' interchangeably?

I did some research before and know that "plagiarists" originates from 'plagiarus' which was first used to call someone who recited Martial's books without his permissions. And most intellectual properties related to plagiarization I've found are textual.

However, I also found the following definition of copycat from Wiktionary, and then I thought copycats and plagiarists are interchangeable:

(informal, derogatory) One who imitates or plagiarizes others' work. [from late 19th c.] enter image description here

I think 'work' has a much larger scope than textual content. What's more, I don't think 'copycat' is informal anymore, since you can find its uses in many academic contexts/papers, for example Making the Chinese Copycat: Trademarks and Recipes in Early Twentieth-Century Global Science and Capitalism, and Rocket Internet: organizing a startup factory, and MIT: THE CHINESE COPYCAT AND THE MAKING OF MODERN CAPITALISM.

Plagiarism also covers copying of ideas, as written in this Tweet by an American politician:

Looks like Trump is committing straight up plagiarism of DeSantis' ideas. Again.

Then in my case, my product is text based, i.e., code, and the pirate also stole my ideas.

If I am not wrong, in my scenario copycats and plagiarists are interchangeable, right?

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    Copycat is a relatively informal, even "childish" usage, whereas plagiarist is literary / formal. Also, the former applies to a far wider range of contexts ("plagiarism" is almost exclusively reserved for contexts involving the copying of text and/or breach of copyright). In the end, your exact context comes down to who your target audience / readership is. If you're complaining to friends about someone who's nicked your ideas, use copycat. But if you're asking your lawyer what he can do about it, use plagiarist. Sep 13, 2023 at 14:53
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    btw - your copycatting is a serious and blatant plagiarization link contains a lot of mistakes and poor phrasing. I don't know if the writer is a native Anglophone or not (haven't looked that closely), but I wouldn't advise using that page to learn English! Sep 13, 2023 at 14:59
  • Look up the words in good dictionaries; don't rely on the etymology to guess what they mean. It will also depend if you think the person has stolen your idea, your code, your visual design, or infringed your patent - the words typically refer to copying different things (as you note - so why do you think they mean the same thing?) There are also potential alternatives like pirate, IP thief, copyright infringer, etc, which may be more suitable.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 13, 2023 at 16:24
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    I agree with @FumbleFingers; that page seems to be a very poor source of proper English. Also, the author does not say that "copycatting is a serious and blatant plagiarization"; he says that "copycatting others’ works and intentionally hiding the fact that there is copied material between portions of your own work" is a form of plagiarism. That is significantly different from what you're saying. Sep 13, 2023 at 21:01
  • Please copy and paste the text directly into the question so that everyone (including people using machine translation, screen readers and even search) can read what the text is. No screenshots of text!
    – Laurel
    Sep 16, 2023 at 1:20

2 Answers 2

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Here is the distinction between "plagiarist" and "copycat:"

"Plagiarist" specifically refers to copying another person's writing or research. It does not -- for instance -- refer to music, clothing, or software.

"Copycat" refers to something that is a copy of something else, usually as it applies to taste or style. You could say, for instance, "Joan is always wearing what you wear -- she's a total copycat!" or "That new car is a real copycat of last year's model."

To that end: if the person has taken code from your (or anyone else's) research project and submitted it as their own code and/or research project, then sure, you could say they've plagiarized. It would likely be more correct to say "stole," or "ripped off," but in that specific context, sure, it's plagiarism.

If the person has taken the look and feel of a software project you've created, then you could say the the software is a "copycat" of your software. Again, applying to look, feel, or functionality, but I'm not so sure it applies to one person copying another's software.

You have quoted two sources from the web -- one from Generative AI and another from "The Visual Communications Guy." Generative AI is always going to try to answer your question whether or not it can correctly do so. "Visual Communications Guy" seems to be writing a surefire way to never, ever be accused of copying from someone or something else, but I don't get the sense that he's any kind of expert or reference as much as a guy just saying what he thinks about what he's seen in his line of work.

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In the setting you described, neither plagiarist nor copycat would be a natural choice. Plagiarist is descriptive / literary and might be used in a book or news publication. It attributes an identity to the person. It implies that is "what they do" generally. Copycat is informal, as FumbleFingers pointed out, and isn't a "serious" word. That is, you wouldn't use it for a serious transgression.

You would refer to the person as something like "the person who plagiarized the paper" instead of using a term that defines the person as a plagiarist or copycat.

That aside, copycat is one who copies someone's work or style. Plagiarist is someone who plagiarizes. Plagiarizing is more specific: it is actually using someone's work and passing it off as your own, not just copying their style. Copycats may or may not attribute the original authors (though likely not) and they may not copy to the extent of actual plagiarizing. All plagiarists are copycats but not all copycats are plagiarists.

In the scenario you described, you can indeed refer to the person as both a copycat and plagiarist, but that only means "it is okay / correct English to think those terms in your head about that person" and not "it is acceptable to use those terms in some particular context."

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  • Respectfully, your answer can use some improvements. It is too broad and contains phrases that may misdirect OP. e.g Plagiarist is someone who plagiarizes - circular definition. All plagiarists are copycats but not all copycats are plagiarists. - fallacious modus ponen, Copycats may or may not attribute the original authors (though likely not) - contradiction, to name some. In fact you can simply answer whether in the given context, is it possible to use copycat and Plagiarist interchangably or not and end your answer.
    – Rakib
    Sep 13, 2023 at 22:02
  • @Rakib I don't understand. Feel free to edit
    – BigMistake
    Sep 14, 2023 at 5:04

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