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Academic Integrity Guidelines

Academic integrity guidelines, like copyright law, provide rules for citing and using sources of information. According to academic integrity guidelines, you are obligated to credit another author’s ideas, as well as the expression of those ideas, if you use them or refer to them in your own work. You are obliged, then, by these guidelines to document your sources properly, recognizing your debt to existing scholarship. Doing so will have the complementary effect of demonstrating your research skills and your intellectual ability to build off of the work of others creatively.

Academic integrity is defined by the policies of academic institutions and is a practice within literary and scholarly communities. Violations of academic integrity usually involve passing off another’s ideas or their expression as if they were one’s own, or failing to properly document source material. A commonly used term for violations of academic integrity is plagiarism.

The purpose of introducing you to these guidelines for academic integrity is both to invite you and to initiate you into a community of scholars. As you will see, your citation of someone else’s work does not diminish your research or authorship. To the contrary, it indicates your participation in the exciting world of intellectual pursuits.

Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

Plagiarism is not the same thing as copyright infringement, although they are related. It’s common to confuse the two. Remember that violations of copyright are violations of a federal law of the United States (and through treaties, of other countries as well), whereas plagiarism is a question of academic integrity. Copyright infringement can lead to financial penalties, and, in extreme cases, incarceration. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is often only an academic violation, leading to academic discipline such as a failing grade in an assignment or a class. Even though plagiarism can lead to significant public embarrassment and even ruined careers, it will not lead to conviction or sentencing in a court of law.

To sum up: plagiarism is not against the law, whereas copyright infringement is. Furthermore, the two may be defined quite differently, depending on the context. For example, documenting your use of a work will, as a rule, satisfy academic integrity requirements regarding plagiarism, but it will not exonerate you from a copyright infringement, if in fact your use of it is infringing. It is extremely important to keep the requirements of both copyright and academic integrity in mind when engaging in academic work. They require different behaviors and have distinct purposes.