Misconceptions That “Copy-and-Paste” Is Unethical-Plagiarism

· Writing:Publishing:Posting

Misconceptions That “Copy-And-Paste”Is Unethical:Plagiarism

Many ill-informed people seem to associate “copy and paste” with plagiarism without any idea the meaning of plagiarism. Hopefully, this brief article will clarify some of the vagueness about this topic.

The purpose of this paper is to “clarify and to inform” and therefore the presentation will be different to that of a PhD thesis. Hence, the numerous supporting “quotes.” (Dec. 2011)



Misconceptions about “Copy and Paste”

In this digital age of communication, we come across many strong views, some for  a cause like fear of violating “copy rights laws”, some for the sake of being obstructive, and some out of ignorance or lack of clarity, and some because they are control-freaks and bullies. So in order to clarify the rights and wrongs of using “copy and paste” I will attempt to “QUOTE” several sources with my own take on things. Hopefully, this essay will remove some of the lack of clarity and ignorance about the “violation of copy rights or fear of plagiarism.” We enter into a minefield of ambiguities but actually it is caused by ignorance and vagueness of what plagiarism is.

Common Knowledge

First we look at what is considered “common knowledge.”

“There is no clear boundary on what is considered common knowledge. Even experts on plagiarism disagree on what counts as common knowledge. For instance, many sources only consider facts — current and historical events, famous people, geographic areas, etc. — to be potentially common knowledge. Others also include non factual material such as folklore and common sayings. Some sources limit common knowledge to only information known by others in your class, other sources look at what is common knowledge for the broader subject area.
The two criteria that are most commonly used in deciding whether or not something is common knowledge relate to quantity: the fact can be found in numerous places and ubiquity: it is likely to be known by a lot of people. Ideally both conditions are true. A third criteria that is sometimes used is whether the information can be easily found in a general reference source.
How do you tell if you have met the quantity criteria? Some experts say that a fact is common knowledge if it can be found in three independent sources. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab recommends finding five independent sources before considering a fact common knowledge. The point is that common knowledge can be found in a variety of sources. As you do more research on a topic, you are likely to discover which facts count as common knowledge because you will encounter these facts in many places.
How do you tell if a fact is ubiquitous? Some facts may be well known within one discipline and papers written within that group may assume the information is commonly known. That same piece of information used in other situations or by ‘non-experts’ may require attribution. A good rule of thumb is to acknowledge ideas which are not common knowledge among your peers such as the other students in the course for which you are writing the paper.
How do you know if it is a general reference source? Reference sources collect together facts for easy look-up. Dictionaries, encyclopaedias, almanacs, and gazetteers are typical examples. Reference sources that focus on a specific area are not considered ‘general.’ The definition of Marfan syndrome mentioned previously came from a medical dictionary, a specialized reference source, that may not be readily available to most people. Therefore, you would probably want to cite this source if you were writing for people not familiar with medical information.”
If you are not sure, assume that an idea is not common knowledge and cite the source. It is much easier to remove a citation than it is to hunt down a citation and try to add it later.” (Too true.) [1]

There should be no need to “quote and produce a citation” for “common knowledge,” as all international news items should be considered “common knowledge,” but when in doubt it is best to provide the citation. But when such “open citations” are “CENSORED BY MODERATORS” is creates confusion. I hope this article clarifies this confusion for some.

News and Newspaper articles and their copyrights

This is one contentious area. Newspapers make money by selling their exclusive articles but can news be exclusive? Can Headlines of a News item be exclusive? I am convinced that news must fall into the category of “common knowledge.” Every country of the world in every language will carry any international news. It is available all over the web and newspapers, how can it be right that one paper claims exclusivity because it has a slightly different heading, or a little symbol over their article? Should we permit this exploitation of the public for avarice? So there is still a lot of controversy in this area. But there is a chink of light for the ordinary man:

BBC World News Front Page> Copyright

Copyright Notice:

All rights, including copyright, in the content of these BBC web pages are owned or controlled for these purposes by the BBC.

In accessing the BBC’s web pages, you agree that you may only download the content for your own personal non-commercial use.

You are not permitted to copy, broadcast, download, store (in any medium), transmit, show or play in public, adapt or change in any way the content of these BBC web pages for any other purpose whatsoever without the prior written permission of the BBC.

This glimmer of hope for the likes of you and me who only want to “quote or refer to the item” in order to stimulate discussions, surely cannot be considered for commercial purposes. I would think that Journalists would be chuffed if the public chose to discuss their articles openly. Of course, I, personally, consider any news item, placed into the “public domain” is “PUBLIC” and hence for “common or public knowledge” and therefore free of constraints, unless for some special reason, it clearly states that that article is protected by “copy rights.” Then it should be so respected. Similarly, any article that I post, if I have not registered it as “copy right” it is in the “public domain.” If journalists or authors wish to copyright their work or commercialise their work, they should choose another media, like Books, or

Can you copyright News Headlines?
(With my highlights.)

This article addresses the law relating to copyright in news headlines and explores the case law relating to whether media publishers can protect their headlines as original literary works.
Media companies have tried to claim copyright protection over newspaper headlines reproduced on the internet. News publishers have claimed that news headlines qualify for copyright protection as original literary works under copyright legislation. As early as 1918 in the case of International News Service v Associated Press 248 U.S. 215 the US Supreme Court has held that there can no copyright in facts or “news of the day.”
However unlike in Commonwealth countries like Australia where there is no recognition of a tort of misappropriation the United States recognises a doctrine of misappropriation of hot news. This tort has enabled media publishers and other organisations to gain the right to protect other entities from publishing certain ‘facts’ or data, including news and other time-sensitive information during a certain window period to enable the organisation which has invested in gathering the data can recoup their investment. There are a number of criteria which must be satisfied to prevail in an action of hot news misappropriation
As stated above, Commonwealth Courts have rejected a tort of unfair competition as framed in the United States and have decided such cases solely on the basis of copyright law. Courts have been reluctant to afford literary copyright to titles, characters and news headlines. However newspaper publishers have only recently brought legal action in Australia for copyright infringement in their headlines and portions of their articles on the basis that the reproduction or abstracting of headlines is equivalent to theft of their content. Newspaper publishers have tried to obtain copyright protection in their headlines as discrete original literary works under copyright legislation.
For copyright protection to exist a literary work must exist and not every piece of writing or printing will constitute a literary work within the meaning of the law.
Typically, single words, short phrases, advertising slogans, characters and news headlines have been refused copyright protection even where they have been invented or newly coined by an author. The courts have given different reasons for denying copyright protection to such works. One reason offered by the Courts is that the ‘works’ are too trivial or not substantial enough to qualify for copyright protection. The case of Exxon Corporation v Exxon Insurance Consultants Ltd (1981) 3 All ER 241 is a leading English precedent where copyright was refused for the word Exxon as an original literary work. [3]
I am of course confining this discussion to newspaper articles and news items (not referring to music, exclusive photos, or other forms of internet media.)

I  strongly support the ” the US Supreme Court has held that there can no copyright in facts or
“news of the day” and

BBC’s exemption on copying, i.e., “In accessing the BBC’s web pages, you agree that you may only download the content for your own personal non-commercial use.”

I also believe that those who operate forums, or blogs, or other forms of communication, so popular today, realise the significance of the paragraphs above. There is no need to control/stifle public free expression unnecessarily strictly on this issue in the interest of “freedom of expression.”

Appreciation of Using Copy and Paste in Proving a Point

I have come across some people in the internet, including some in positions of authority who seem to resent anyone using “copy and Paste.” Let me quote an warning email that was sent out regarding posting “a quoted article” from a national newspaper:

Dear Abdul (amuhd), [a pen name]

We have recently moderated a number of your comments within our My Telegraph site following complaints from other readers. Content that you post on the site must be original and be produced by or owned by you. You may however, post links to other stories for reference, if desired. There is more information about how we moderate here: http://my.telegraph.co.uk/aboutus/mytelegraph/12/moderation-faqs/

If copyright continues to be breached from other sources, we may look to take further action.


The Moderators
Does this infer that no “Quotes” are tolerated? The quotation was verbatim, the author and location (URL) of the quotation properly provided, but this warning was received. On the basis of this presentation, the warning notice was “out of order.” Probably over-enthusiasm of their authority.

But why is there such resentment against properly identified quotation with the correct citation? My only guess is that both and complainant and the moderators must have been under the mistaken impression that “copy and paste” or a “quotation” is plagiarism. Well I hope that this article clarifies what constitutes “plagiarism.”


What is plagiarism?
It constitutes academic theft – the offender has ‘stolen’ the work of others and presented the stolen work as if it were his or her own.
The most common form of plagiarism is copying from the published works of writers or the essays of other students without any acknowledgement.
Plagiarism does not mean that you cannot quote from others’ work. After all, academic work (a PhD thesis) has to be built on existing knowledge. You are free to quote the work of others to strengthen your arguments provided that the quote is properly identified and the source is acknowledged. Thus, copying by itself is NOT plagiarism if the copied passages are identified and properly acknowledged.
Then what is proper acknowledgement?
It is not enough merely to acknowledge the source by listing the source in the bibliography or at the end of your paper. If you take a passage from another person’s work, you must put the copied passage in quotation (ie, “xxx”) or identify it by using proper indentation, to show to the readers that it is the work of another person, and provide the source. There are two requirements. First, the copied passages must be identified.
If you take a passage from others’ work, you must put the copied passage in quotation or identify it by using proper indentation, to show to the readers that it is the work of another person, and provide the source.

Secondly, the source must be clearly provided immediately after the copied passages.The source should include full details of the name of the author, the full details of the source, the date of publication and the page reference. There are different ways of citing the source, and the form and style of citation may vary from discipline to discipline. However, the most important thing is that the copied passages have to be identified and their sources adequately provided so that it would not give a misleading impression that the copied passages are your own work. [4]
This clearly specifies the proper procedure to “copy and paste” or “quote” with the properly identifying it is a quote and with the proper citation to avoid accusations of plagiarism. ( As Illustrated in this paper.)

Academic Research: PhD Thesis

Most research work in Universities, such as Master’s degree dissertations, or a Doctorate thesis is normally based upon a thorough research of already known existing knowledge, i.e., a complete and comprehensive Library research. Much of  the work of other researchers will be quoted and will be incorporated into the thesis to show the foundations upon which the new or original work is based upon and that there is no duplication of the new findings. The researcher is free to quote the work of others to support or provide the basis for his own conclusions, “provided that the Quote is properly identified and properly acknowledged.The quoted work should have relevance to the main trust of the thesis.

The quotation should be clearly set out. The copied passages should be in quotation i.e., “xxxx” or by using indentation, and the source clearly provided as a reference, in the bibliography or an internet link. By clearly identifying the copied passages, and by clearly providing the source, it eliminates any chance that it suggests it is your own work. [4]

Thus when anyone sneers at “quotations” or “copy and paste” and is derogatory about it, it immediately highlights that such a person has never presented a serious research paper in his life and has no idea of the ethics of writing. He will have had no academic experience and does not know what he is talking about. It reflects poorly on the complainant and the supervisor who took action against academic freedom and the freedom of expression or journalistic freedom.


[1] Common Knowledge:http://library.csusm.edu/plagiarism/howtoavoid/how_avoid_common.htm
[2] BBC Copyrights: http://www.bbcworldnews.com/pages/Copyright.aspx
[3] Can you copyright News Headlines: http://ezinearticles.com/?Can-You-Copyright-News-Headlines?&id=5357557
[4] Clearly Identifying Quotes: http://www.hku.hk/plagiarism/page2s.htm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: