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Using Information Responsibly


Using Information Responsibly
Contact: Prof. Monty L. McAdoo, User Education Librarian (Room 231), 814-732-1070

With the amount of information and the number of information consumers growing daily, increasing amounts of attention are being devoted to things like plagiarism, confidentiality, and identity theft. This page provides an overview of some of the key terms, concepts, and concerns associated with using information responsibly.

A citation is basically a method of giving credit where credit's due. When you're citing a source, you're telling the reader that the idea is not your own, that it is the person's you've cited. As such, a citation also gives readers a "trail" to follow should they wish to pursue the original source for more information. At the very least, a citation typically contains the author's/creator's name(s), the title of the work, and the date that it was published. Different disciplines have different citation expectations and formats. Click here to view a summary of citation guides available in our library.

Common Knowledge
Generally speaking, common knowledge refers to things which are commonly or popularly known. For example, for most people, "Egypt is a country in Africa" and "Jupiter is a planet in our solar system" are examples of common knowledge -- things which are known by most people. Still, there is no clear definition. Disciplines have their own "common knowledges." Chemists, for example, have a "common knowledge" of chemistry which many people in the population at-large do not share. Common knowledge does not need to be cited. Speak with your instructor if you have questions about whether or not something should be cited.

Confidentiality refers to the sharing and/or communicating of private, personal information with another person or agency without his/her permission - personally, legally, or otherwise. Compare confidentiality with privacy.

Copyright essentially refers to the rights of the creator (and his/her heirs) with respect to the use and dissemination of his/her work. In the U.S., copyright is governed by Title 17 of the United States Code. Circular 92 provides a detailed overview of the scope and subject matter of copyright. Essentially, copyright law helps to insure that a creator's economic, legal, and other rights to his/her material are maintained. "Pirated" works are those that are copied, distributed, and/or otherwise used without permission of the original creator.

Fair Use
Fair use is governed by Section 107 of Title 17 of the United States Code. In essence, the law allows for "fair" not any use. More specifically, "fair use" includes purposes such as "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research." Use factors used to determine "fair use" are fourfold:

1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
     It's ok to use it for educational purposes if you're not making money from the usage.

2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
     Will you be using the work for commercial or scholarly purposes?

3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
     How much and how important is the part to be used in relation to the whole? The law does not articulate 
a specific number of lines, words, or minutes in determining "fair use."

4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
     Did your copying and/or use cost the creator money?

NOTE: The italicized comments above are personal, not legal interpretations. Fair use and other copyright questions should be addressed to a copyright/intellectual property lawyer.

All of the library's electronic indexes and databases are "licensed." This means the library pays an annual subscription fee to maintain access for EUP students. All of this information is someone's intellectual property and, therefore, must be used properly. "Fair use" keeps us from having to ask every single author and/or resource provider for permission to use and/or quote small quantities of information obtained from these resources.

Information Ethics
Information ethics is a broad term used to discuss the ethics of the collection and distribution of data. Some of the many issues to which information ethics applies include: children's access to the Internet, public access to the Internet, privacy, confidentiality, identity theft, the collection and usage of data, hackers, viruses, spam/junk email, copyright, fair use, plagiarism, intellectual property, censorship, "netiquette," and more. The following sites provide more information on this important topic.

International Center for Information Ethics
This is an academic website for teachers and researchers interested in sharing and/or learning about information ethics. 

Information Ethics Tutorial
Though some of the information here is geared specifically to UNC students, the tutorial provides a quick overview of the key terms and issues.

McConnel Library (Radford Univ. - VA)
Tutorial about various aspects of libraries and research. Section 11 deals specifically with a variety of topics related to information ethics.

Giovale Library (Westminster College - PA)
From our neighbors to the south, here's a nice introduction to using information responsibly.

Intellectual Property
As defined by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), intellectual property essentially refers to creations of the mind. Among others, this includes written works, performances, pictures, movies, recordings, software, translations, and broadcasts. Copyright does not extend to ideas, procedures, or concepts but rather to their expression.

Network etiquette (a.k.a. netiquette) refers to proper methods of online communication. For example, all capital letters in an email message is generally seen as SHOUTING and should be used sparingly, if at all. The following are a few of the many Web sites dealing with the dos and don'ts of netiquette and electronic information and communication.

Netiquette Homepage
Provides numerous links and discussions about online communication.
A wealth of information and links about copyright, downloading, communicating online, and more.

Though somewhat dated, this 27-lesson, text-based site provides numerous suggestions for when you're online and otherwise using the Internet. Section 7 - Netiquette and Section 10 - Internet Security are of particular interest.

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
Quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing are tools you can use to help avoid plagiarism. A quotation is an exact restatement of a piece of information, identical to the original. When you paraphrase something, you take a passage, thought, or idea from an author and put it/them into your own words. Summarizing resembles paraphrasing. However, rather that putting a selected portion of a work into your own words, summaries involve using your own words to describe key concepts or ideas presented in an entire work (e.g. book, article).

The following are some of the many sites providing discussion and examples of quotes, paraphrases, and summaries, ways of introducing them into your writing, and tips and suggestions for avoiding plagiarism.

- Colorado State Univ.
- Indiana Univ. - Bloomington
- Purdue Univ.
- Univ. of New South Wales
- Univ. of Wisconsin
- Westminster College
- Xavier Univ.

Plagiarism refers to copying or otherwise using a person's work as your own without written permission from the author(s). EUP's statement on plagiarism can be found here.

Privacy refers to the right of a person to be left alone and to have control over information about one's self. Compare privacy with confidentiality.

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