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Copyright, plagiarism, and fair use
10 basic principles.

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Copyright, plagiarism, and fair use : 10 basic principles

ALL creative work is copyright except works in the public domain.

All published creative works are copyright, whether they have the copyright symbol or not.

Non-published creative works (such as letters, diaries and even student essays) are still copyright.

The copyright-holder can assign the right to copy parts or all of a work, with or without other conditions or stipulations. The copyright-holder can charge for making this right available, or can assign it for free.

  • Just because a work is copyright does not mean that it cannot be copied; it means that permission to copy has to be obtained from the copyright-holder/s. 
  • The copyright-holder has the right to charge, to make conditions, to refuse permission altogether.

The length of time a work remains copyright before it falls into the public domain varies from country to country, and may vary according to the medium of the original work.

  • A copyright-holder can choose to waive his/ her right to copyright, to put the work into the public domain whenever s/he wishes.

A work in the public domain may be copied freely and without the need to ask permission. Many works in the public domain contain other material which remains under copyright, and permission to copy that material may still need to be obtained.

  • The text of Alice in Wonderland is no longer copyright. However, a recent edition of the story may contain illustrations by a modern artist, and these illustrations wll be copyright. A copier can copy the text without permission, but not the illustrations.

The concept of fair use allows copying for educational and other purposes, without reference to the copyright holder. However, this is usually limited to small extracts from of the work, not to large extracts or to the full work.

  • In many cases, the full work may be very short, as in a poem, a cartoon-strip, a photograph, in which case the right to copy may be very limited indeed.

The concept of fair use often applies to use of copyright material in non-published materials (as school work). All may change if the work is subsequently published (including publication on the Internet).

Work published on the Internet is as subject to copyright as work published in any other medium. Just because a work is "freely available" does not mean that it can be copied without permission.

In all cases of copying, attribution must be given. Whether a work is copyright or in the public domain, the right to copy does NOT give the right to claim ownership and authorship. Herein lies the basic difference between breach of copyright and plagiarism.

  • Copying a work without permission may breach copyright. Copying a work without permission and claiming authorship is both breach of copyright and plagiarism. It is possible to plagiarize without breaching copyright.
John Royce 
8 May 2008


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John Royce, BA, MLib, MCLIP
Library Director, Robert College
Arnavutköy, TR-34345 Istanbul, Turkey.

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It was last revised on 8 May 2008.