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LIS2005 : Information Ethics

Advanced Electronic Access to Information

Documenting Internet Resources

Lesson 7: Documenting Internet Resources

Documenting Internet Resources

  1. recognize examples of plagiarism,
  2. demonstrate an understanding that almost everything available on the Internet is protected by copyright law,
  3. identify two widely-used types of documentation styles, and
  4. construct proper citations of Internet and other online resources using APA or MLA style.

Any information or outside source (print, electronic, video, interview, etc.) used in a research paper, essay, electronic presentation or speech, which is not your own idea or creation, must be cited or documented, giving credit to the original source. In this way, you let your reader (in most cases this will be your professor) know which words, phrases, images and ideas are yours and which were taken from someone else.

Documenting your resources provides a way for your reader to retrieve the sources you used. Your reader may be fascinated by the material and wish to read further, or he/she may question your use of the material and wish to look at the original source. Accurate documentation of the material will allow the reader to see if you have correctly interpreted the original source.

Additionally, when you document sources, you help to establish a reputation as a competent researcher and writer. Your readers will see that you have used information from credible sources.

7A: Intellectual Property Issues


Presenting another's words or ideas as your own (i.e., not documenting them) is called plagiarism. This form of intellectual theft may range from an intentional purchase of a term paper to the intentional or unintentional and inadvertent failure to use proper documentation in your paper. In either case, plagiarism is a serious academic offense and can lead to serious consequences.

Some examples of plagiarism include:

  • Taking a concept or idea from a source without citing (accidental or deliberate)
  • Using original text when paraphrasing
  • Buying a paper from an online term paper service
  • Hiring someone to write a paper
  • Copying a friend's paper and handing it in as your own
  • Copying and pasting a paragraph from a web page into the text of a research paper without citing the source

Some examples that are NOT plagiarism include:

  • Historical facts, i.e., dates of birth/death, locations of events and the like
  • Information that can be found in numerous places, undocumented, and is known by many people, even if you do not know it; i.e., common knowledge
  • Folk literature, which is popularly known and cannot be traced to particular writers, is considered common knowledge. This would include nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and any stories from the oral tradition of literature. Even if you read these things in printed form, documentation is not needed.
  • Commonsense observations
  • Your own original thoughts, experiences and observations
  • Quotes, paraphrases or summaries that have been properly documented

The following websites offer tips for avoiding plagiarism and discuss when to cite and how to paraphrase sources:


Copyright Issues

Closely related to issues of documentation and plagiarism, but on a commercial level, is the issue of copyright protection of intellectual property. Copyright issues in the digital era are generating much controversy.

At its most basic level, copyright law ensures that "authors" have exclusive rights to protect their creative efforts. The item protected must be a tangible one, i.e., a work on paper, whether it be a book, periodical article, or poem, a piece of software, CD, recording, work of art or sculpture, web site, web audio file, web video file, web graphic image, or any other publication. The item must also be creative, i.e., an alphabetical list of facts would generally not be copyrighted while a creative compilation of those same facts would be copyright protected.

The 1976 Copyright Law of the U.S. (Title 17, U.S. Code) provides basic protection for original works of authorship. Section 106 of the Copyright Law gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or license his or her work, or to produce or license derivative copies of his or her work.

As new technologies associated with the Internet have evolved and distance education initiatives have expanded, copyright laws developed in 1976 have become increasingly inadequate. In 1988, the United States signed the amended Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Work, an international copyright treaty. Changes brought by the Berne Convention included greater protection for copyright holders, copyright relations with other countries, and the elimination of a requirement of copyright notice on a protected work. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was signed into law by President Clinton on October 28, 1998. The DMCA attempts to protect owners of electronic copyright, but the nature of the Internet and the easy way information can be duplicated and dispersed has made this a very difficult task.

You should consider most everything published on the Internet as copyright protected. The few categories of works not protected by copyright law include:

  • Works that lack originality (compilations like the phone book)
  • Materials in the public domain
  • U.S. government publications
  • Ideas
  • Short phrases
  • Facts (unless they are presented in an original work such as a list of facts)

Fair Use

The "fair use" exemption to copyright law was created to allow for educational use of copyrighted works without having to ask for permission from the author. Fair use allows you to incorporate web items into your reports, speeches, electronic presentations and other academic creations as long as you properly document the source, the item used is a short excerpt, and your usage does not harm the commercial value of the source. It is also considered acceptable and legal to provide a link to a website, audio file, video file or other web resource. You should not reproduce protected material, whether it is for commercial gain or not, unless the "author" expressly gives permission for duplication or reproduction. The site, image, file, etc. does not have to display a copyright notice in order to be protected, nor does it have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

The following sites will help you keep on top of the copyright issue:


General Rules of Documentation

There are a number of documentation "styles" currently in use by researchers. Many disciplines have very specific rules concerning documentation that must be followed. Two documentation styles used by a number of disciplines are those published by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA). The APA style is used primarily by disciplines in the social sciences, health and education fields while the MLA style is used primarily by disciplines in the arts, humanities and literature. This lesson provides information on proper documentation of electronic sources from both the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA) and will provide examples for the types of electronic sources commonly used by students.

Some general rules that apply to both styles include the following:

  • Document any material you quote exactly.
    • Follow the rules of the specific style concerning quotation marks.
    • Keep long quotations to a minimum. Save these quotes for text expressed in a unique way.
  • Document any material you summarize or paraphrase.
    • When you change the wording of an idea, it still remains the intellectual property of the original author.
    • Do not use quotation marks when paraphrasing.
    • In most research papers, you should find that the majority of your documented sources are ones that you have paraphrased or summarized.
  • Do not document material that is common knowledge.
    • If material is commonly known to be true, it does not need to be documented, even if you found the material in an outside source.
    • This includes material not known to you prior to reading about it, but generally known to others, including historical dates and facts, most verifiable facts and information that can be found in standard reference books, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and almanacs.
    • If you are unsure of whether or not you should document a source, be on the safe side and include documentation.
    • You do not need to document your own ideas or thoughts.
  • Follow the rules of the specific style you are using regarding in-text or parenthetical references.
    • If you cite an Internet source that does not contain pagination, leave that off of the parenthetical or in-text reference.
    • In APA style, you would include the author(s) and year of publication or in the case of a source with no author, the first few words of the title, in quotation marks, and the year of publication. If you use a direct quote, also include the pagination, if available.
    • In MLA style, you would include the author(s) or in the case of a source with no author, the first few words of the title, in quotation marks. If you have accurate pagination from a pdf file, include that.
    • Examples are provided in the next modules for in-text references.
  • The goal in documenting sources is to aim for comprehensiveness although for many electronic sources, you will need to settle for citing whatever information is available.
    • Include as much information as necessary to identify the source and allow the reader to locate it.
    • For Internet sources, the absolute minimum you should cite is the title, the date you accessed the site and the address (URL) of the site according to the rules of the specific style you are using (APA or MLA).
    • Keep in mind that an Internet source that does not list full bibliographic information (especially an author and date of publication) may not be a credible source based on the evaluation criteria in Lesson 6. Look at such a source carefully.
    • You will discover that professors have differing opinions about what should or should not be included in the documentation for an electronic source. This lesson will adhere as closely as possible to the current views of both the APA and the MLA as expressed on their organization home pages. In all cases, check with your professor for his or her preference.
  • College libraries and large public libraries will have the following two sources that should be consulted for information on capitalization, punctuation and the like for both the APA and MLA styles.
    • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition
    • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Seventh Edition
  • Both the APA and the MLA have websites that provide their official view on documentation of electronic sources.
Now choose the writing style appropriate to you and either continue Lesson Seven by reading Lesson Seven-APA OR Lesson Seven-MLA.
How to decide?
  • If your chosen career path involves the Humanities (English, Art, Music, Literature) than you will want to practice MLA style.
  • If your chosen career path involves the social sciences (Education, Business, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Health Science, or Public Service) than you will want to practice APA style.

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Copyright © 1997-2009 Florida Community College, Learning Resources Standing Committee. Last revised May 2009 by the LIS 2004 Course Revision Committee.

ASSIGNMENT FOUR: Plagiarism Quiz

Visit the Assessment Center on the Fort Pierce Campus during the week of April 14th to take your copyright and plagiarism assessment.

WATCH: A Fair(y) Use Tale

Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University has created a fun way to explain copyright and fair use. Watch the video and note your comments in the box to the left. 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.