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Avoiding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and other questionable writing practices: A guide to ethical writing

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Copyright Law

Because some instances of plagiarism and self-plagiarism (e.g., redundant publication) have the potential for violating copyright law, the following section is devoted to a brief review of the concept of copyright.

Copyright law is based on Article 1, sec. 8, cl. 8 of the United States Constitution and it was originally formulated for the purpose of protecting the owners of artistic and intellectual property.Once owners of an artistic (e.g., song, lyrics, films) or an intellectual work (e.g., book, article) copyright a product, they have the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, sell, distribute, or modify those products.For authors who wish to have their papers published, the typical arrangement in scholarly and scientific research is for the copyright to be transferred to the publisher of the journal. The journal can then reproduce and distribute the authorís work legally.

With some exceptions, the unauthorized use of copyrighted work violates copyright law and represents copyright infringement.Exceptions to copyright infringement fall under the doctrine of "Fair Use" of copyright law and represent instances in which the activity is largely for nonprofit educational, scholarship, or research purposes (see US Copyright Office, 1996). For example, in some situations, a student or individual researcher may make a copy of a journal article or book chapter for his/her own personal use without asking permission.Likewise, an author describing the results of a published study may take a couple of lines of data from a table from a journal article, include a citation, and reproduce it in his/her paper. The American Medical Associationís Manual of Style (Iverson, et al., 1998) provides additional examples of instances of "fair use."

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