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Understanding Copyright & Trademarks a Students Guide to Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own. Copying text without giving a proper citation is not the only way to plagiarize-there are many actions that fall under the umbrella of academic dishonesty. Using someone else's paper or article and having another person write for you are also forms of plagiarism. In addition to the obvious transgressions, there is a gray area in which unintentional plagiarism is often committed. Paraphrasing too closely, or "patch writing," occurs when the student rewrites a source text in his or her own words. Students may also use quotes or phrases while failing to use block quotes or quotation marks. These actions, while not necessary intentional, are still forms of plagiarism and should be avoided. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to use an appropriate citation whenever anyone else's words, examples, and ideas are used. Facts that are common knowledge and widely accepted ideas usually do not need to be cited, as well as facts or ideas that can be found in at least five other credible sources. However, it is a bad idea to use someone's unique idea, article subject, or arguments without giving proper credit.

When a work is copyrighted, it is protected from being reproduced in almost any form. Copyright gives the author control over the use of their work. Under copyright law, no one else can sell, distribute, or make copies of the work without the permission of the author. It is also against the law to create a work based on the copyrighted material and to perform a play or show any derivative artwork in public. Works that are already in the public domain-such as certain ideas, facts, words, names, slogans, or judicial rulings-- cannot be copyrighted. To writers, this means that specific works are highly protected under the law. However, certain ideas and information can fall under the spectrum of "fair use," which means that a work based on a copyrighted work is unique enough to not be considered plagiarism. There are many guidelines used by instructors to consider whether or not a paper/work is fair use. Trademark law generally applies to emblems, symbols, and logos-not titles or generic terms. However, descriptive terms are subject to trademark, and relevant examples would be blog titles with similar names, like "Honest [blank]" or "Musings of a [blank]." It comes in handy to be familiar with trademark law when creating a book series, so that your title does not infringe upon a trademark.

In order to be a good writer, take the time to become familiar with what constitutes plagiarism, fair use, and copyrighted work. Remember that ideas have been recycled and rewritten for centuries, so it's okay to use someone else's work as a jumping off point-but make sure that the ideas presented by you are completely your own. Failing to do so falls on the spectrum of academic dishonesty. When using source material, it often helps to go through a quick checklist. Make sure the main points of the paper are not simply recycled ideas from the original content, and that supplemental data is backed by citations. Check all quotes and paraphrased passages for appropriate citations-and when in doubt, add a citation. Finally, make sure the title of your paper is original and does not infringe upon any trademarks. Keep reading below to learn much more about copyright law, citing sources, avoiding all forms of plagiarism, and recognizing what constitutes fair use.