Copyright for Students

Copyright underlies our daily activity at the university, whether we realize it or not. When students create assignments, projects, papers, and theses, when they use other peoples’ works to support their scholarly and educational work, and when they copy materials in any format and on any platform, copyright law is relevant.

There are two sides to copyright:

  • Your rights in the copyrighted works you are creating: assignments, projects, papers, and theses, etc.
  • The rights of other authors or creators in the copyrighted works you are using.

Students are responsible for making sure that their uses of copyrighted material does not violate the rights of others. Students should read the sections of this website on Copyright BasicsFair Use, Contract and Licensing Basics, and Copyright in Academic Research and Publication.

Using other people’s works

Student work is meant to be original, created uniquely by the student. At the same time, the scholarly process involves assimilating and building on previous scholarship. This typically means quoting other authors, visualizing ideas with images (photographs, charts, diagrams, graphs, maps), utilizing previously created data, and incorporating musical works, sound recordings, and audiovisual works into your work.

When using works created by others, it is your responsibility to ensure that your use falls within the scope of the fair use exception or within the terms of any license associated with the work.  If the license does not permit the use, or if your use would be considered to exceed the scope of the fair use exception, then you may need to obtain permission from the copyright holder to include the third-party work in your work.

General rules of thumb:

  • Fair use supports use of an amount appropriate to your research objectives and closely tied to critical analysis.
  • Always provide attribution in the form of a citation.
  • Use of archival material also customarily involves a credit line to the archive.
  • Ensure that there are no concerns related to privacy and publicity rights, confidentiality, patents, trademarks, contracts, licenses, other laws or regulations that would violate the rights of others.
  • Uses should not interfere with the market for the original work.
  • If any license agreement applies to the works you wish to use, you need to consult the license terms. Many online licenses permit noncommercial scholarly uses or permit fair use of works.
  • Generally you should not alter or modify any third-party work being used without permission from the copyright holder.

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain permissions for uses that exceed fair use or for which fair use does not apply. Your instructor may be able to help you in making fair use assessments on use of third-party works.

Unlicensed and licensed works

When using unlicensed works under the fair use exception, remember that fair use supports reasonable, limited, scholarly uses of material in amounts appropriate to the purpose and tied to the critical analysis. Also, remember that fair use is a sliding scale. If you are in doubt about using a third-party copyrighted work, it may be helpful to use part of a work rather than the entire work, or to use a smaller portion, or to use fewer copyrighted works in your work, or to use a low resolution rather than a high resolution image, if you can effectively create your analysis in this way.

When using licensed works, which you need to read and understanding the online licenses associated with those works and comply with them.

Avoiding plagiarism

Your work as a student should reflect your original thought, and not be a copy of someone else’s original expression. When using other peoples’ works, you need to provide attribution, through a citation to original work. When incorporating a work into your work by copying it in whole or in part or paraphrasing it, always provide a citation.

Plagiarism is taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own. Technology makes it easy to copy and paste from one source to another. Sometimes students unwittingly plagiarize because they build their work by copying from other works and lose track of the original sources. Copying and pasting is not a good method to use when creating your own academic work. Your work should be your creation, flowing from your head. You need to be conscious when using other works may be used to build your arguments, to reference, to quote from, to excerpt, to comment on, and to reinforce your points, with appropriate citations.

Plagiarism is addressed in the Rutgers University Academic Integrity Policy, which states:

Plagiarism is the use of another person’s words, ideas, or results without giving that person appropriate credit. To avoid plagiarism, every direct quotation must be identified by quotation marks or appropriate indentation and both direct quotation and paraphrasing must be cited properly according to the accepted format for the particular discipline or as required by the instructor in a course. Some common examples of plagiarism are:

  • Copying word for word (i.e. quoting directly) from an oral, printed, or electronic source without proper attribution.
  • Paraphrasing without proper attribution, i.e., presenting in one’s own words another person’s written words or ideas as if they were one’s own.
  • Submitting a purchased or downloaded term paper or other materials to satisfy a course requirement.
  • Incorporating into one’s work graphs, drawings, photographs, diagrams, tables, spreadsheets, computer programs, or other nontextual material from other sources without proper attribution.

Plagiarism is a violation of the Rutgers University Academic Integrity Policy and can have serious consequences on a student’s academic career. It can easily be avoided by developing good habits at referencing sources and creating citations, avoiding tendencies to copy-and-paste, and keeping track of your sources.

Rights in your copyrighted works: assignments, projects, papers, and theses

When a student creates an original and creative assignment, project, paper, or thesis, the student holds copyright in that work, automatically, without any need to register the work to obtain a copyright.

The Rutgers University Copyright Policy, Section III affirms students’ ownership of their copyrights:

“Students typically will own the copyright to works created as a requirement of their coursework, degree, or certificate program. The university, however, retains the right to use student works for pedagogical, scholarly, and administrative purposes.

This is affirmed in the Legacy UMDNJ policies associated with Intellectual Property: Copyrights & Royalties, Section VII.A.2:

“Traditional Works of Scholarship as defined herein shall be deemed as having been created outside the scope of employment of the Creator. Copyright ownership of such works shall vest with the Creator.”

Copyright is an important form of protection that gives the student rights over reproduction, public display, public distribution, public performance, and creation of derivative works from their copyrighted works.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)

In addition to copyright protection, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)  protects your rights as a student at Rutgers. FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records. Educational records include coursework, assignments, projects, papers, and theses.

In the digital environment, students might feel pressured to post coursework online. Posting coursework online must be entirely voluntary on the part of the student. Depositing undergraduate theses or other works in the Rutgers repository is also entirely voluntary on the part of the student. Students may not be mandated to place coursework or undergraduate theses on the Internet.

If you decide to make any of your works available publicly in a Rutgers repository, you will sign a non-exclusive license to Rutgers to make your work publicly available on the Internet. More information is available on the Copyright FAQ

Your publication agreements

Students sometimes sign contracts in the form of deposit and publication agreements:

  • With the Rutgers digital repository when depositing theses or other works, if they wish to do this, which is entirely voluntary
  • With publishers when signing publication agreements for scholarly articles and books

Deposit agreements and publication agreements are legal contracts. You should read your contracts carefully, understand them, make careful decisions in negotiating them, and retain copies of them for future use.

Respecting course materials created or provided by the instructor

Courses at Rutgers are organized in learning management systems such as Canvas. When instructors provide course materials to students, those materials are intended for the students’ use only. The materials must be provided and used within the limits of copyright law or a license.

Learning management systems are used for:

  • Syllabi
  • Instructor’s copyrighted material (lessons, assignments, exams, etc.)
  • Linking to lawful online content
  • Copies of unlicensed materials that fall under the fair use exception after a reasonable assessment (mainly excerpts, portions of works, short works)
  • Materials for which permission has been obtained or for which a license permits the use.

In many cases, instructors will use the Reading List tool to place works in the learning management system for a reading assignment. Students will access these works directly from the online LMS site.

It is generally not permissible to scan entire books or textbooks and place them in the learning management system. Neither instructors nor students should copy entire books or textbooks to the learning management system.

Students should never use illegal websites to access works. Often websites claim to permit uses of works they host but they do not have rights to offer the works to Internet users. Many websites host material to accrue advertising revenue from unlawful uses of copyrighted works. They function like black markets. You need to exercise good judgment in distinguishing between works that have been posted to the internet legally and illegally. Please don’t use illegal sites.

Finally, students should not further reproduce or redistribute course materials to any persons or websites outside the course. There are websites that encourage students to upload course material in return for free access to the sites, or for direct payment to students and the promise of higher grades from the access they will have to such aggregated material. You, as the student, are not the copyright holder of the syllabus, the instructor’s copyrighted course material (lessons, assignments, exams, etc.), or other scholarly and educational content used for the course. It is unlawful to upload most types of course materials to third-party websites that manipulate students to collect and aggregate course material for the private profit of the website owners. Don’t be fooled. Please do not engage in this type of activity. Please respect your instructors.

For further information on copyright in teaching, see Copyright in Teaching and Copyright and Learning Management Systems.