Module 8

Using Information

This module covers how to use information.

When you complete this module, you will be able to:

- use information ethically.
- avoid plagiarism.
- use information legally.
- know what copyright, fair use, public domain, and censorship are.
- identify ways to protect your privacy and information.

Disclaimer: The following information is a basic introduction to copyright and fair use compiled from the information presented by the United States Copyright Office and by other academic libraries. The Peru State College Library does not provide legal advice nor should the following information be used in any litigation.


Using information ethically means you give credit to the work of others and you use it fairly.

As a student of Peru State College, you also conduct yourself according to the Academic Integrity stated in the College Catalogs.

Read the Academic Integrity Policy

Plagiarism is an act of fraud, the unauthorized taking of someone's work and lying about it.

It is claiming someone's work as your own, using someone's work without giving credit or having the creator's permission, and presenting ideas as original when derived from existing information.

Some common forms of plagiarism are:

  • using someone else's work as your own (e.g. buying a paper online),
  • using your previous work or parts of it for a different assignment without approval from all involved professors (e.g. using parts of a paper for English 101 for another course),
  • using the same work without permission for different classes (e.g. using the same paper for English 101 for English 201),
  • copying text from a source without giving credit,
  • failing to cite direct quotes or borrowed language,
  • not enclosing "borrowed language" in quotation marks,
  • not using your own words to summarize or paraphrase, and
  • using so many quotes and ideas from other sources that it is the majority of your work regardless if you give credit or not.

To avoid plagiarism, cite your sources! We'll discuss citations in Module 9 and Module 10.

If you don't know if you need to cite or not, cite it. It is better to give credit even when you don't need to than accidentally plagiarizing, because plagiarizing, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is still plagiarizing.

Citations tell your readers and your professor where the information came from and give credit to the individuals whose ideas, thoughts, experiences, and words appear in your work.

Provide a citation when you:

  • use a direct quote from a source,
  • summarize or paraphrase a source, and
  • use facts and ideas that are not common knowledge.

Common knowledge is information that is stated in many different sources or is so well-known that it doesn't need to be cited. For example, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon, would be common knowledge since many sources state it and it is well-known.

Research Tip

When summarizing or paraphrasing, read the text and then without looking at it write what you just read in your own words.

Avoiding plagiarism is the ethical part of using information. The other part is using it fairly, which means observing the legal rights of the creator.

Intellectual Property are creations of the mind. They are songs, books, scientific formulas, plays, drawings, emails, Facebook posts, or anything that is written, recorded (audio and visual), drawn, invented, or created.

All intellectual property is protected by copyright even if it is not registered or does not have the copyright symbol ©.

United States Copyright Law protects published and unpublished works. The United States also recognizes the copyright laws or acts of other countries.

So any work, registered or not, produced in the United States or another country are protected.

If all works are protected under copyright law, how are you able to use the work of others in your research? The answer is Fair Use.

Fair Use permits the limited use of the works of others in certain circumstances. These are only general rules rather than definitive ones. This was done to avoid limiting its definition and allowing it to be open to interpretation much like free speech.

You need to consider four factors when deciding if it qualifies for Fair Use.

Is it for commercial use? Will you be paid? If so, it isn't allowed under Fair Use.

Is it for nonprofit educational purposes or noncommerical? If so, it is allowed with Fair Use.

Is it "transformative," meaning it adds something new and isn't a substitute for the original use of the work? If so, it is allowed with Fair Use.

However, remember that Fair Use isn't set rules. Courts balance the purpose and character of the use along with other factors to decide if it is fair or not. In other words, not all educational purposes are fair nor all commercial uses unfair.

Is it a published work? If so, it is allowed more under Fair Use unlike an unpublished work, which would be less supported.

Is it factual or nonfiction based? If so, it is allowed more under Fair Use. Highly creative works such as music, movies, plays, novels, works of fiction are less supported.

Is the objective educational? If so, it is allowed more under Fair Use.

Are you only using a small portion of the work? Fair Use is more likely rather than if you are using a large portion of the work.

Are you using an important part or "heart" of the work? If so, it wouldn't be considered Fair Use.

Does the use harm the market (i.e. the buying and selling) of the work? If it does, it isn't Fair Use.

Courts consider if the use is harming the market for the original work by displacing sales. An example of an unfair use that would hurt the market of a work would be photocopying a workbook rather than buying it.

Courts use the above factors as well as other ones when considering a question of fair use. There is no formula to what amount of a work may be used without permission from the creator of the original work.

Columbia University Libraries have a Fair Use Checklist that you may find useful.

For more information:
United States Copyright Office. (2015, November). More information on fair use. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from

Copyright lasts the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years after her/his death. However, the length of the copyright may differ depending on the year of publication and the type. Other countries may also have different lengths.

After the copyright has expired, the work becomes part of the public domain.

Public Domain are works that are no longer protected by copyright. You can use public domain works without permission because no one can ever own it again.

Some works can also be assigned public domain rights by their creator. They usually use the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication; however, always read any license or copyright notice to ensure you comply with the rights of the owner.

Copyright law also covers works found on the Internet. Always check the copyright notice and/or license to understand what you are permitted. If none is provided, contact the owner to ask for permission.

Censorship is the suppression of information or ideas, whether written, spoken, or visual, that may be considered offensive or objectable by government officials, groups, and/or individuals.

American Library Association logo"Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else. Censors pressure public institutions, like libraries, to suppress and remove from public access information they judge inappropriate or dangerous, so that no one else has the chance to read or view the material and make up their own minds about it. The censor wants to prejudge materials for everyone."

American Library Association


The First Amendment protects your right to the freedom of expression and of speech. We all have the right to read, view, listen to, write, create, and disseminate information even if someone else may object.

However, according to the United States Supreme Court, some forms of information (i.e. obscenity, child pornography, defamation, and incitements for unlawful action) are not protected by the First Amendment. Classified information essential to national security may also be kept secret from the public by the government.

The privacy and security of your information is very important. This means online and offline.

Learn more about privacy at the Virtual Privacy Lab created by San José Public Library.

Below are a few recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission on how to protect your privacy.

  • Never share your Social Security number. Be even careful with just the last 4 digits.
  • Use strong passwords for your devices and your accounts. Keep them private, change them periodically, and avoid using the same ones.
  • Always log out of your accounts (e.g. Blackboard, Google) especially if using a public computer.
  • Keep your identity safe from thieves by not posting too much about yourself on social networks. Thieves can obtain your answers to challenge questions to gain access to your accounts by reading your posts.
  • Act as if everything you post on social media is public even if you keep it just to friends and family. And even when you delete it, copies remain saved on various servers.
  • Never give personal and financial information over the phone, in email, or over the Internet unless you initiated the communication.
  • Never click on links in emails asking for personal information. Instead, contact their customer service directly and ask if they sent a request.
  • Consider using different emails for different purposes (e.g. one for school/work, one for shopping, one for financial). Also if possible designate a separate device only to be used for financial or important web sites.
  • Look for a "lock" icon on the status bar of your internet browser or web addresses with https (s stands for secure) before sending personal or financial information. The lock and https indicate that the information should be safe when transmitted.
  • Use reputable businesses for online shopping.

  • Always log off your personal devices and lock them so no one can access your information especially if the device is lost or stolen.
  • Never leave your devices unattended.
  • Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and a firewall on your devices. Update them often to keep them current.
  • Never open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Be even careful with ones from individuals you know since their account may have been hacked. These files may install a virus or spyware onto your device.
  • Use an encrypted website or secure wireless network when sending personal information. Public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, etc. may not be protected so others can capture your information.

  • Be careful what you print to public printers. If you must print sensitive information to a public printer, make sure you are sending it to the right one before you print and retrieve it as soon as it prints. You don't want a copy of your information sitting around for anyone to pick up.
  • Keep your financial documents and records safe by locking them away at home, work, and school.
  • Carry only the identification, credit, and debit cards that you need. Keep the rest and your Social Security card at home.
  • Shred receipts, credit applications, insurance and health documents, financial records, and other documents when you no longer need them.
  • Check your credit reports for mistakes or identity theft. Once a year you can request a free copy of your credit reports from each of the credit bureaus (i.e. Equifax, Experian, TransUnion).

For more information:
Federal Trade Commission. (2012, July). How to keep your personal information secure. Consumer Information. Retrieved January 18, 2016, from

You have completed Module 8. You should now be able to:

green check mark use information ethically. 

green check mark avoid plagiarism.

green check mark use information legally. 

green check mark know what copyright, fair use, public domain, and censorship are. 

green check mark identify ways to protect your privacy and information.

You are ready for Module 9 - Citing Sources with APA.