Copyright versus Fair Use

Information Literacy Module V: Preparing to Use Information Ethically

“Copyright” is another term that you may have heard and that might make you a little nervous. Many students aren’t sure what it is, and it can be an off-putting concept at the start of a research project. The 1976 Copyright Law was designed to protect the authors of published and unpublished intellectual works. It gives the owner of a work the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and derive new works from the original. “Fair Use” policies, however, allow exceptions to copyright protections for the use of materials in non-profit educational contexts like criticism and research.

But what on earth has all of this to do with you and your research project? Unless you plan to perform someone else’s work or reproduce it for the purpose of criticism or analysis, not much (and even in those cases your rights to use the materials in such ways are protected). It’s more likely that you’ll be gathering information from a number of sources and using it (in the form of quotations, summaries, or paraphrases) as evidence in your own speech or writing. In this case, the basic rules of avoiding plagiarism by citing and documenting apply.

Guiding Your Research
 For more information about copyright, visit the website of the United States Copyright Office where you’ll also find that the Library of Congress provides a fun video introduction to copyright law called “Taking the Mystery Out of Copyright”:  Visit one of the copyright websites listed above and share with your instructor one fact about copyright that you find interesting and that you think may be applicable to your current or future educational use of information. Remember to cite and document the website as your source!



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