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Copyright for students: Copyright for print materials

Plagiarism vs. copyright infringement: what's the difference?

The difference between copyright violations and plagiarism can be tricky.  Essentially, when you include something that what written or created by someone else, you need to attribute that material to them.  If you are using a substantial portion or a specific standalone piece, such as a photograph, a piece of art, a graph or chart, or if you including a substantial portion of their idea (the essence of their work), then you need to think about copyright.

When you know that you want to use something that someone else put into tangible form, and therefore has copyright protections, this is what you need to think about:

  1. Should I seek permission from the copyright holder?  
    1. This sounds simple enough but there are other considerations:
      1. Can I identify the copyright holder?  Usually, it's the author or creator but they might have signed their rights to another, like a publisher, for example.
      2. Can I locate the copyright holder?
    2. If you are successful with the above questions, seeking permission to use something is always the safest route.
  2. If you can't identify or locate the copyright holder, that doesn't mean you can't use the work.  The fair use exceptions were written into the law so that material could be used for research, parody, etc.  
    1.  You need to look at the copyright material that you want to make use of and decide if you believe it fits within the fair use exceptions.  

Basic copyright information

When doing basic research, students need to be aware of copyright rules as they pertain to copying journal articles and parts of books. 

Section 108 of the Copyright Act provides an exemption for copying when it relates to research and it is done in small amounts.  This means that you can legally copy an article from a journal issue when doing research but not the entire issue.  You can copy a small section of a book but not the entire book; guidelines suggest a small portion would be considered 10% or less.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as the "action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft."

When doing any kind of research where other sources are consulted, students must be careful to insure that anything gleaned from another source is properly attributed to that source.  This holds true when excerpting from any source, including the web.

Tutorials on plagiarism avoidance at West Virginia University:

The library also has links to guides on citing sources properly.  These guides to style manuals can be found on the Guides & Tutorials section under Instruction on the WVU Libraries homepage.