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.
The following websites offer tips for avoiding plagiarism and discuss when to cite and how to paraphrase sources:
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
- Short phrases
- Facts (unless they are presented in an original work such as a list of facts)
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: