Academic integrity and protection of intellectual property rights involve several legal and ethical principles, all of which may come into play when one considers the appropriate use of creative works.
Copyright is a form of protection granted by law to the creators of original works that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. (Tangible fixation includes works that may be transmitted or communicated with the aid of a machine or device, such as a computer or video camera.) Categories of works subject to copyright protection include scholarly, literary, artistic, dramatic, musical, graphical, and audiovisual works. Copyright law generally grants the copyright owner the exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute the work, make derivative works based upon it, perform or display the work, and to authorize these actions by others.
Using a protected work without permission of the copyright holder is an infringement of copyright. There are, however, certain exceptions to the exclusive rights of the copyright owner, and one that is particularly relevant to academic institutions is the doctrine of fair use. This doctrine allows the limited use, under certain circumstances, of small portions of copyrighted materials for non-commercial educational or research use without first seeking permission of the copyright holder. However, even when a work is used with permission or appropriately used under fair use guidelines, the source must be properly acknowledged. Failure to do so is likely to be an act of plagiarism. Another thing to bear in mind, especially in regard to electronic resources, is whether their use is governed by licensing agreements and contracts.
Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty that occurs when someone uses the words, expressions, ideas, opinions, or findings of another without giving proper credit to the original source. It is a breach of scholarly procedures that is considered unethical and which may result in disciplinary or legal action against the person committing the offense. Even if someone's use of a work is not a violation of copyright law, it may still be an act of plagiarism if the work has not been properly acknowledged and cited.
As libraries increasingly provide electronic access to scholarly materials, copyright law may in some instances be superseded by contract law. Whereas print resources are usually purchased by libraries, electronic resources such as e-journals and databases are made available through licensing agreements rather than by sale. The licensing agreement is a legally binding contract that dictates how the electronic resource may be used. In some cases the conditions of use under a license may appear to be in conflict with rights under copyright law. For example, some electronic journal licenses prohibit the user from downloading or saving electronically any article or part of any article, even for personal non-commercial use. In case of a conflict, specific license terms take precedence over copyright law.