Copyright, Plagiarism, Fair Use, & Public Domain

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Copyright, Plagiarism, Fair Use, and Public Domain

When doing research and writing papers, either as an undergrad, grad, or professional academic, it's important to remember some very important rules and limits for how you can use the resources you find. Here are some of the most important.


Copyright refers to the legal right granting the producer of creative or intellectual property exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, their work may be used by others. Saint Elizabeth University identifies the importance of following copyright laws in the following terms:
Violating copyright laws and/or using the work of others via computer or other technological means without express permission and/or clear attribution demonstrates disrespect for the creative work and personal expression of others. Although electronic and/or magnetic information is easily produced, invasion of privacy, unauthorized access, trade secret violations, and copyright violations are illegal (1987 EDUCOM and AADAPSO and copyright laws). Most computer and audio/video software are protected by copyright laws. It is incumbent upon the user to be familiar with the license agreement between the editor or publisher and the purchaser (Violations of Academic Integrity and Sanctions, 2018-2019).
Permission to use copyrighted material often requires a cost, and may be restricted to a specific time frame, purpose or means of distribution. It is advisable to get permission in writing to use such material, since copyright infringement is a violation of law and can result in a fine ranging from $200-$150,000.

Fair Use

Fair Use allows for the use of work under copyright for specific purposes, such as teaching, criticism, commentary, and news reporting.  In such instances permission may not be needed but credit should always be given to the original author or creator of the work. 


Plagiarism is when you say or imply that you are the author or creator of a work when you are not. As defined in the University's academic catalog, under Academic Integrity and Conduct,
Plagiarizing, which is the use of the work of another person or group without giving the author(s) credit. Plagiarism includes: using all or part of another student's paper, journal, lab report, computer program or file; buying a paper, or trading goods or services for a paper; and using ideas, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or pages from an article, essay, book, newspaper, magazine, or any other reference source without properly citing that source, either deliberately or through neglect (Violations of Academic Integrity and Sanctions, 2018-2019).
Plagiarism according to SEU policy is a violation of academic integrity and repeated offences will lead to suspension or expulsion from the University.

Public Domain

Public Domain refers to creative work that is not protected by copyright and may be freely used by everyone. The reasons that the work is not protected include:
  1. The term of copyright for the work has expired.
  2. The author failed to satisfy statutory formalities to establish the copyright.
  3. The work is a product of the U.S. Government.
Anything created before 1923 is in the public domain because copyright did not exist at that time. 
After that, you will have to check with the creator of the work. Never assume that anything is in the public domain unless that status is specifically stated with the work.