Information isn't free. This might be hard to fully grasp in this time of information overload with so much information freely accessible on the internet. But all information belongs to the person who created it. Information also has intrinsic value in the scope of the conversation it represents. How information is published and shared is part of the constructed value system of information.
Intellectual property rights were created to protect and foster innovation, invention, and research. Each culture and society is going to have their own version of it, but it comes down to respecting a person's creation and giving credit where it is due. Intellectual property protections include: Copyright, fair use, open access (creative commons), and the public domain.
As you move forward and start writing your paper, it is nice to know why it's so important to cite your sources. This guide on copyright and fair use will give you some background information on why it's so important to protect other people's thoughts and works, and why doing so will also protect your own.
Anything created by a person is their intellectual property. In this sense, we are all copyright holders. The paper you write for your English 2010 class is copyrighted and is yours. This library guide is copyrighted and protected. The photos on your phone, and the paintings in the SUMA are copyrighted. Anything that is created and put into a tangible form belongs to the creator, are their intellectual property, and are copyrighted.
Copyright means that the creator has the right to make copies, make different versions of the work, and to display or perform their work in public. They can also sell or give away their rights to others. They can also grant permission to others to use their work.
Copyright expires 70 years after the creator's death, at which time the works enter the public domain, where anyone can freely use them. Most books published prior to 1923, such as those by Mark Twain or Shakespeare, are said to be in the public domain and do not have copyright protection. Federal government documents are also automatically in the public domain as well.
Note: Just because a work is in the public domain doesn't mean you don't need to cite it. You must always give proper attribution to the creator of the work, even if it's in the public domain. So if you want to quote Shakespeare in your paper, make sure you treat it as a quote.
There is often confusion associated with copyright infringement, plagiarism, and the difference between them. In short, copyright law is the legal authority entitling a copyright holder to the rights described in federal law and plagiarism is the failure to give credit to those who created the original work. Just because plagiarism has been committed doesn't necessarily mean there is copyright infringement.
One exception to copyright is Fair Use. This exemption allows users of copyrighted works to exercise some of the rights normally reserved for the copyright holder. Without this exemption, writers would not be able to quote copyrighted material for socially beneficial purposes such as comment, criticism, teaching, scholarship, research, or news reporting. In order to use the Fair Use exemption, four factors must be considered:
There is a common misconception that any and all copyrighted material that is used for educational purposes falls under Fair Use. This is an oversimplification, since Fair Use involves an analysis that includes much more than just the nature the use. The American Library Association has an online tool to help you evaluate whether something can be considered Fair Use called the Fair Use Evaluator. It incorporates all of the four factors above.