If information is power, then information has value. The law protects that value through the concept of copyright.
Copyright is a privilege that grants the creator of a work several rights, including the right to copy the work. If a work is copyrighted, only the holder of the copyright (usually the author or publisher) can grant permission to copy the work. Copyright covers all kinds of works, including books, articles, software, Web sites, videos, cassettes, music, and lyrics.
Under the fair use provision of the law, students and others may copy portions of a work without permission.
Generally this involves short excerpts for the purposes of review or criticism. The law does not state exact amounts, but in general, use as little as you can to meet your needs. Copying an entire work is not necessarily a violation of copyright, but as a rule of thumb you should avoid copying anything in its entirety. For example, copying a whole book from a library because it is too expensive to buy is clearly wrong; copying a short poem in its entirety in a research paper is probably covered under fair use providing that it is properly cited.
While not every work is copyrighted, most things are. The absence of an explicit copyright notice is not sufficient indication that a work is not copyrighted. In fact, just the opposite: unless it clearly says that it is not copyrighted, assume that it is. The only exception is that after a certain amount of time, copyrighted works fall into the public domain, which means the work may be copied without permission.
The content of Web sites, email, postings to newsgroups, and any other kinds of information you may find on the Internet are all copyrighted unless it specifically says otherwise. This includes pictures that are a part of Web site as well as the text.
The amount of time varies, depending upon when it was originally created, published, and/or copyrighted. In general:
When you do use an excerpt from an existing work, whether it is copyrighted or not, make sure to indicate that you are in fact quoting from another's work by enclosing the excerpt in quotation marks. In general, if the quote is four or more words it requires the use of quotation marks (although shorter quotes may sometimes also warrant quotation marks). Be sure to include the full bibliographic information for the source of the quote. For example, for an article, you would need to include the author, title, name of the journal, volume of the journal, date and page numbers. This process is called citing, and it protects you from the charge of plagiarism. For more information on quoting and citing see the MLA Handbook. For more information on citing full text resources found in the library research databases, see the handouts MLA Guide for Citing Full Text Periodical Articles and MLA Guide for Citing Full Text Reference Sources available in the Jessie C. Eury Library.
Plagiarism is when you claim credit for the work of another. It is a form of intellectual theft and academic dishonesty. At best plagiarism could result in a failing grade on the paper in question, at worst it could result in being tried for violation of the copyright law (for those works under copyright). Plagiarism is not just an academic issue. Church newsletters, sermons, and anything else you write can be guilty of plagiarism if you do not properly cite your sources.
Copyright exists to protect the creators of original works, but through the concept of fair use, copyright also helps to insure that you, as a student, can make use of the information you need for your research and writing. The following are a couple of resources that may help give you a cleaerr picture of what copyright means for you: