It’s so easy to copy and paste something off the Internet, but just because it’s simple doesn’t make it the right thing to do. In many cases, it’s actually against the law because of copyrights.
A copyright is a law that protects a creator’s ownership of and control over the work he or she creates. If someone else wants to use that work, they must receive permission from the copyright holder to use, share or perform that work. Written material, including as books, magazines, poems, news stories and more, websites, art, graphics, logos, architectural designs, photographs, music and lyrics, audio recordings, movies, TV shows, videos, and video games may be copyrighted. The easiest way to tell if a work is copyrighted is to look for the © symbol or the words “copyright,” “all rights reserved,” or something to that effect. If you aren’t sure if something is copyrighted, it is your responsibility to find out if it is before you use it.
If you want to use something that is copyrighted, there are steps you must follow before you use it.
- check to see who owns it
- get permission to use it
- give credit to the creator
- buy it (if necessary)
- use it responsibly
There are times when you can use a small part of another person’s copyrighted material without permission of paying a fee – this is called fair use. Fair use only applies when using content in certain instances including schoolwork and education, news reporting, criticizing or commenting, and comedy or parody. It’s still a good idea to give credit to the creator of the work you use. Specific guidelines must also be followed:
- only use a small amount of the work
- add new meaning to the work to make it original
- rework it and use it in a totally different way
- use it for nonprofit purposes
Creative Commons is a type of license that allows work to be used for free as long as the creator is given credit for it.
Content that is classified as public domain is not protected by copyright and is free to be used in any way.
If you see something that says it may be used for commercial purposes, that means the work may be used for a fee if the work will be used directly or indirectly for profit.
Check out this page from Common Sense Media for more information about copyrights.
Is it OK to copy something you find on the Internet and present it as your own work? NO. That is plagiarism. Don’t think it will be OK if you do it just once – you will get caught and be subject to discipline.
The website plagiarism.org describes this well – plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward. All of the following are considered acts of plagiarism:
- turning in someone else’s work as your own
- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- failing to put a quote in quotation marks
- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not
How can you make sure you make it obvious what is your work and what is material you obtained elsewhere? Plagiarism.org has great tips to help you prevent plagiarism.