Information Ethics: Citing Sources and Fair Use

To complete this module Read the Objectives. Read the module contents below.

Contents of this page:

An important aspect of information literacy is learning how to use information ethically by citing sources and observing fair use.

Citing Sources

When you quote or paraphrase the idea of another person in your research paper or speech, you must provide a proper citation for the source in a bibliography or list of references to:

  • give credit to the author or creator and
  • enable a reader to locate the source you cited.

Providing references for sources you used also lends credibility to your work, especially if you use authoritative sources. Be sure to provide full citations to all types of sources you use, including:

  • books
  • articles
  • Internet sources
  • interviews
  • government documents
  • nonprint media (videotapes, audiotapes, pictures and images)
  • software.

If you use ideas of others and do not give them credit by providing proper references to their work, you are committing plagiarism. Plagiarism is stealing someone else's ideas or words and presenting them as your own.

Style Manuals

Research Papers

When citing sources in research papers, be sure to use a conventional bibliographic style. Most disciplines have a standard style that writers are expected to use. Each style will specify a uniform way of citing sources that will:

  • give an orderly appearance to your bibliography
  • provide all the essential elements of information that a reader will need to locate the source. A citation must include:
    • author
    • title
    • source (publisher and place for books or nonprint materials; periodical title, volume, and pages for articles)
    • date

Your professor may require you to use a particular bibliographic style. If you are unsure, ask your professor. Below you will find two commonly used bibliographic style manuals that show how to cite a variety of sources, including documents from the Internet:

    • APA Style
      • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
      • . Washington, DC: APA, 2001. (REF 808.02 P96 2001)This book presents APA style requirements and provides examples for all types of information sources.
      • APA Style
      • Abbreviated 1-page guide that gives examples for types of sources most commonly cited.
      • Electronic Reference Formats Recommended by the American Psychological Association
      • Gives instructions on how to cite Internet resources of all kinds.
    • MLA Style
      • The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1995. (Ref 808.02 G35m 2003) The MLA style set forth in this book is used by writers in the humanities.
      • MLA Style
        Abbreviated 2-page guide with examples for types of sources most commonly cited.

Additional bibliographic style manuals may be found in the Reference collection.

Observing Fair Use

The Copyright Law of the United States provides legal protection for intellectual property. In your search for information, you should assume that all materials you find are copyrighted, unless the document specifies that it is public domain, which can be used freely by anyone. An information source does not have to be registered with the Copyright Office to be covered by copyright. It is copyrighted as soon as it is created. The doctrine of fair use allows copyrighted works to be used for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Fair use generally applies to nonprofit, educational purposes that do not affect the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Section 107 of the Copyright Law describes factors to consider in deciding when fair use applies.

The issues related to copyright of computer software, digitized images, and other products and sources are becoming more and more complicated. Some have not as of yet been adequately interpreted by the courts. Remember that all information sources and technology have been created by someone. Depending on how you use their property, you might have to ask those authors, developers, publishers, etc for permission. To be safe, do not copy anything unless you have explicit permission or a clear statement that the item is in the public domain. Whether an information source is copyrighted or in the public domain, you should cite it if you quote or paraphrase it in your paper or speech.

For further information see the Copyright Act and other important documents relating to the law and its interpretation.