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Humanities LibreTexts

3: Keeping It Legal

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  • We are capable of original thought. But much of what we think about is based on what we have learned from others’ contributions. Even Albert Einstein, a very original thinker, learned from others and then worked on problems many in the field had identified (Stachel, 2005).

    “He [Einstein] had been probing the edifice erected by his predecessors in this field [theoretical physics] for its strengths and weaknesses…” (Stachel, 2005, p. 215). All our work is based on generations of work that has come before us. Our predecessors read and used the work of their predecessors. With gratitude, it is only right that we acknowledge the work of others on which our thoughts and works are grounded.

    Legal protection for the creator of a work (article, book, writings, music, photograph…) is called copyright. We can use copyrighted works if permission is given by the copyright holder or if it falls under fair use. Fair use is a list of four criteria that, when met, allow for the legal use of copyrighted works.

    Plagiarism is the use of any work (with or without copyright) without giving credit to the creator, the originator of the work (author of a book or article…). Plagiarism is unethical and is against the code of conduct of universities and colleges. Citing the work of others that we use is how we give credit to the creators, the originators of the works. To do this you will use both in-text citations in written works and full citations at the end of your work, or project. The latter is called References (in APA) or Works Cited (in MLA).

    Let’s delve into copyright, fair use, plagiarism and citing more deeply.

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