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Avoiding Plagiarism (and the Appearance of Plagiarism)


Intellectual property -- the property of the mind -- has similar characteristics to real property. It is capable of being owned; it is capable of being held in such a way that its owner may choose those who are granted access; and it is capable of being negotiated, sold, traded or exchanged. In Canada, intellectual property receives legal protection through copyright, patent, trademark, industrial design, integrated circuit topographies and plant breeders' rights.

Copyright refers to the right to reproduce, publish, or otherwise disseminate the expression of ideas in fixed form. Copyright does not apply to facts, nor to material which has passed into the public domain, although it may apply to the particular expression of that material. Copyright law is complicated and this summary is not designed to take the place of, or stand as, legal advice. Please consult the Canadian Copyright Act and attendant regulations for more information.

The concept of copyright has always been driven by two fundamental factors: technology and political expediency. Copyright has been used in a number of ways over the centuries. First, it was a tool of censorship, devised by and for the Church and the State to control the appearance and subject of works and to identify and control imported works. Second, the State used it as a "granted right of monopoly," an incentive to produce original works and communicate those creations to others. Third, because copyright dependant industries make up a significant percentage of the GNP of industrialized nations, copyright-able materials can be commodities and thus, their protection promotes the economic goals of the State. Fourth, copyright, if used in support of sovereignty, may form a defence, or be used as a weapon, against cultural encroachment. Copyright is sometimes viewed as a "natural property right," which does not require legislation to be in force and implies that intellectual property is equivalent to real property.

The Canadian Royal Commission on Copyright (1954) recognized the utility of copyright, finding that it would

provide reasonable incentive to invention and research, to the development of literary and artistic talents, to creativeness, and to making available to the Canadian public [such creations and uses] on terms adequately safeguarding the paramount public interest ...

Legal Use

All original content has an owner. If it is not you then you may not copy that content without permission of the person / entity who owns the rights or negotiates on his/her/its behalf. Basically, that means that in order to copy a copyright-able work (literary, artistic, or musical works, among others) legally, you must have the explicit written permission of the copyright holder. Sometimes people believe that it is acceptable to copy copyright material as long as they do not sell it. In Canada, the ownership issue is separate from whether or not you make money from your action.

Electronically copying whole works, such as textbooks, is illegal.

Current Canadian law offers strong copyright protection. It does not require that copyright be registered or indicated by use of the copyright symbol. Canadian citizens or residents, citizens and residents of countries which subscribe to various international copyright conventions, and/or others receive copyright automatically on the creation of the copyrightable work in question.

Electronic Journal Articles

Many of a library's subscribed bibliographic databases offer students the ability to save, print, or email a copy of an article. You may have the right to a single individual or personal use of an article. However, the rules still apply; original content still has an owner. Universities, libraries, and other entities pay for your access to these databases; they generally do not purchase the contents from the owners.

In Academic Search Elite, for instance, you might find a copyright notice at the end of full-text articles saying something like:

Copyright © xxx, 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be duplicated or redisseminated without permission.


Copyright of xxx is the property of XX and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

In other databases, the terms and conditions of use might include statements similar to that found at Elsevier ScienceDirect:

Single photocopies of single articles may be made for personal use as allowed by national copyright laws. Permission of the Publisher and payment of a fee is required for all other photocopying, including multiple or systematic copying, copying for advertising or promotional purposes, resale, and all forms of document delivery. Special rates are available for educational institutions that wish to make photocopies for non-profit educational classroom use.

Permission of the Publisher is required to store or use electronically any material contained in this journal, including any article or part of an article.

Except as outlined above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the Publisher.

Other databases will offer similar explanations regarding their rights (and yours) to their material.

Material on the Internet

All original content accessible via the internet has an owner. The fact that it is electronic and easy to access does not alter the copyright. Downloaded, uploaded, scanned and other forms of electronically acquired / disseminated material may not be legally mounted on most University servers (including on systems similar to Blackboard®) without the express written permission of the copyright holder.

Seek out and read the copyright notices relating to the items which you are interested in using, but as some web sites remind us, even if there is no copyright notice, the content has an owner:

The Indiana University Web site includes a variety of materials created by different members of the IU community. Although these works may be freely accessible on the World Wide Web and may not include any statement about copyright, the U.S. Copyright Act nevertheless provides that such works are protected by copyright. Users must assume that works are protected by copyright until they learn otherwise.

Remember, too, that people sometimes lie. If something seems too good to be true (everyone else has to pay hundreds of dollars, but you can have it for free), then you might want to ask a few more questions.

Sometimes even linking to an item may require permission. For example, the Terms and Conditions on the Walgreen's site once stated:

Hypertext linking to this web site without the prior written permission of Walgreens is strictly prohibited.

Educational Exceptions

There are some educational exceptions to copyright. Under Canadian Copyright Act, it is not an infringement of copyright "for an educational institution or a person acting under its authority"

(a) to make a manual reproduction of a work onto a dry-erase board, flip chart or other similar surface intended for displaying handwritten material, or

(b) to make a copy of a work to be used to project an image of that copy using an overhead projector or similar device for the purposes of education or training on the premises of an educational institution ...

(a) [to] reproduce, translate or perform in public on the premises of the educational institution, or

(b) [to] communicate by telecommunication to the public situated on the premises of the educational institution a work or other subject-matter as required for a test or examination.

Further, libraries, archives and the like may copy items:

if the original is rare or unpublished AND deteriorating, damaged, at risk;

for the purpose of on-site consultation;

if the original is stored in an obsolete format;

if such copies are made for restoration;

to aid law enforcement; and

for administrative purposes

Fair Use / Fair Dealing

Fair use is a concept in US copyright law which allows limited use of some copyright material (without permission) under certain circumstances. Such use might include a classroom use of a copyright chart from book, a passage from a book for the purposes of criticism, etc.

There is no grant of fair use in Canada. There is a concept called fair dealing. Fair dealing -- copying works without the permission of the copyright owner or the payment of royalties -- may serve as a courtroom defence if accusations of copyright infringement arise. Under fair dealing there are some purposes which do not constitute infringement. These include, but are not limited to:

research or private study (an individual act, where one person makes one copy for personal use and destroys it after that use is complete);

criticism or review (provided there is an appropriate citation);

some manual reproductions;

some electronic displays for education or training within an educational institution; and

some copies made by persons with a "perceptual disability"

Getting Permission

There are collectives in Canada and elsewhere which license access to many copyright works. Access (formerly CanCopy) is the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

Alternatively, you can contact the copyright holder directly and simply ask for permission -- but, remember, as with any yes or no question, there is the possibility the owner will say "No" and you will have to abide by that decision.

Copyright for Student Work

Taking a class does not mean a student loses the right to copyright protection. Original content created for assignments, and other types of class work, usually belongs to the student who created it. It may be copied for administrative purposes (such as a dispute over the grade it received). Generally speaking, a student may not be required to lose copyright control of his/her work in order to take a university course, although there may be some exceptions.

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This page copyright, created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
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Created: 1998/02/11 Last updated: 2011/12/20
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