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Copyright and Plagiarism Guide for Students: Respecting Copyright

A guide to give students an overview of copyright law, fair use, plagiarism, and the importance of attribution (citation).

Respecting Copyright

When you've put in all the work of creating something, you should have the right to have at least some control over how it gets used, right?

That's the basis of copyright -- to create an incentive for creative people and businesses and organizations to keep creating, because they get credit for what they've done (and maybe even payment, if that's what they decide).

Copyright law makes some exceptions for this, called "Fair Use", which allow you, while you are a student doing classwork, to use copyrighted material, within limits.

Where Credit is Due

A special thanks to Dennis Van Arsdale, Technical Services Librarian, Boreham Library, University of Arkansas - Fort Smith for sections of this LibGuide.

Rules for Copyright (Student Edition)

Here are some basic rules to follow that should help you handle copyright legally in the classroom.  Remember: these rules do NOT apply outside your classwork -- they are much more strict outside the classroom.

  • Use original sources for photocopies, videos, recordings, etc. 
    Using legally owned copies of your own or the Library's for assignments is usually within Fair Use.  As soon as you use a copy of someone else's property, or make an illegal copy (say, of a YouTube video), you have broken Fair Use. 
    That means that you can legally link to a YouTube video (or embed the YouTube player), for example, but not download it and change the format to put it into your presentation.

  • Your copy is your copy, your photocopy is your photocopy, and your interlibrary loan is your interlibrary loan. 
    Sounds obvious, doesn't it?  It means that your classmates can't make a copy of your copy or loan -- they have to get their own, directly from the original source.  Your photocopy of a journal article, for example, is for your use only and no one elses -- they have to make their own photocopy.

  • Give credit where it is due.  If you use somebody else's work, give them credit in footnotes and/or your bibliography, and put a credit line in your presentation screen when required.  After all, you don't copy a post from Facebook, you tag it; you reTweet something from Twitter rather than stealing it. 

  • Remember when you're a student and when you're not. 
    That means that if you create something in class and later show it to a potential employer, remember to promise the employer that you know the difference between using material for free under Fair Use in a classroom, and having to pay for use everywhere else that it's required. 
    Outside the classroom, be sure to check the copyright limitations and be ready to pay for using material for a business or organization (or at least get written permission to use it for that purpose).