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Plagiarism and copyright violation involve similar actions but the consequences may differ. Plagiarism is sometimes regarded as only academic misbehavior and copyright violation is viewed as a crime but there is considerable overlap and a person can be punished for both for a single act. It is important to be aware of the rules and observe them carefully to protect yourself from serious charges.

Unlike plagiarism, copyright is codified in United States Law and International agreements. The word 'copyright' means the right to copy or present works of the intellect for a specified period of time. This right belongs to the creator of such a work as soon as it is in a physical form and this right can be given to another or to a group. In general, no one may copy or present that work as his/her own without the permission of the holder of copyright. There are "fair use" exemptions for students and educators and change of format exemptions for people with certain disabilities.

Copyright regulations are complex but that has not been found to be an acceptable excuse for the widespread violation that occurs. Institutions, educators, and the general public have been brought to court for violating these laws; judgments have been severe and usually upheld under appeal. Protect yourself - know the law!

Following are some links to the laws and interpretations regarding copyright and fair use.

Understanding Copyright

The University of Wyoming Libraries' excellent TIP (Tutorial for Info Power © University of Wyoming Libraries 2009) includes a module that explains copyright clearly and tests your understanding of the concept.

Copyright Laws and Agreements

The following is the official US government site for the Copyright Law of the United States and related laws contained in Title 17 of the US Code.

A very brief introduction to international agreements between the US and others is is found in this primary document from the Office of Copyright.

Fair Use

Fair use is a complicated subject and made more so by the ability of digital production to replicate itself endlessly (go viral). For a discussion of fair use from the Office of Copyright see this page from their official site.

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