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Copyright and Plagiarism

Copyright and plagiarism are both very serious and important concepts to be aware of and understand. If you violate either one of these concepts, either purposely or inadvertantly, you risk very serious consequences.


Individuals or groups own creative ideas or original work is known as intellectual property. For instance, slogans, images, music, books, videos, articles, inventions, and other resources are in many cases legally protected under copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Violation of intellectual property rights and laws can carry severe financial, legal, and academic consequences, including academic expulsion.

Laws, such as copyright, protect original creative work used to foster creativity and stimulate ingenuity by protecting the owner’s rights and investment in their work. For example, the creator of a hit song wants to protect their work so they can receive recognition and financial benefit. What would happen if laws did not exist to protect an original work? Anyone could claim ownership to it, and would thus preclude any desire for new original work that could potentially benefit society.

So how do you know if the work you wish to use is copyright protected, and what should you do if you wish to reproduce the information for academic purposes? The simplest way is to check if the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, a work need not be registered for the owner to file copyright infringement, as an original work is protected at the point of creation. In fact, the creator can register their work at any point to declare ownership and file copyright infringement against violators. As a rule of thumb, err on the side of caution. It is always best to obtain author/owner approval or purchase the work directly from the publisher or distributor unless stated otherwise. Recently many creators of web content have taken to licensing their work through the Creative Commons (CC). Be sure to read licensing and copyright information associated with the work before using.

If the work is for academic purposes, such as sharing with your class or a group, you should be familiar with Fair Use guidelines: purpose of use, the nature of the information, amount of information to be used, and the affect to a publisher's future profits. It is important to keep in mind that resources used for academic purposes may still require copyright permissions. For more information on Fair Use, including a chart to assist you in determining Fair Use, see this website.

For general guidelines regarding copyright ownership by date of publication, see the Digital Copyright Slider tool 

Do you have specific copyright questions? Please see the Student's Copyright FAQs here.


In your research you must always credit direct quotations and paraphrasing from sources of information that you use. Failure to do so is considered plagiarism--presenting another's idea or research as your own. Crediting sources is most often done by using a formal documentation style; for instance, Northcentral University requires the use of American Psychological Association (APA) formatting style. It is important to keep in mind that even if information is freely available on the internet, it must be properly cited to avoid plagiarism. Charges of plagiarism and copyright violation can lead to serious consequences such as expulsion from the university and law suits.


For more information about plagiarism, and how to avoid it, see the Avoiding Plagiarism section on Purdue OWL.

Take the "How to Recognize Plagiarism" tutorial and quiz to see how well you can identify various types of plagiarism.

The "You Quote It, You Note It!" tutorial is another interactive tool to learn about plagiarism.

Roig, M. (2003). Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices. Retrieved from

Anti-Plagiarism Strategies -

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