Skip to Main Content

Copyright: Students

This guide provides information (not legal advice) to support NWC community decision-making in the use of copyright protected material in research, learning, and teaching.

Purpose of Guide and Disclaimer

This guide intends to refer NWC community users to accurate information. However, information received from the NWC Library or the NWC Copyright Librarian is neither legal advice/opinion nor legal counsel to the college or any members of the NWC community. Please contact the NWC Office of General Counsel or NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office for NWC-related legal advice and interpretation of the law, or personal counsel for personal legal advice. The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by NWC of sites or the information, products, or services contained therein, nor does NWC exercise editorial control over the information found at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of this guide. U.S. copyright law is subject to change.

Students and Copyright

Copyright Policy, Instructions, and Legal Code for NWC Students

Per NWC Copyright Policy (pending approval), students are individually responsible for following all copyright instructions and legal code in the scope of their student work at the college. Please familiarize yourself with these copyright instructions and legal code:

The NWC Copyright Office found within the NWC Library is happy to assist you with copyright informational coaching and education during your time here at the college. Please be aware that the Copyright Librarian cannot provide legal guidance. Email contact: 

Copyright Considerations for NWC Student Work

When writing a student paper, you have two sets of copyrights you should bear in mind:

  1. The copyright owned by others in the material you incorporate into your paper (including your own previously published works); and
  2. Your own copyright as author of the paper (please see "Is NWC Student Work Copyrightable? If So, Who Owns It?" tab for more details).

When using others' work in your own scholarly work, you are responsible for evaluating your reuse to determine whether you need to obtain written permission from the copyright owner (often the publisher and not the author of the work) to use the work in your paper. These works include any copyright protected work, including text, images, maps, and figures. In some cases, you may not need to seek permission from the rightsholder because the work is no longer copyright protected or is a government work and is in the public domain, it has an open license or Creative Commons license that allows for your use, or you have determined that your use constitutes a fair use. If your desired work is from a library subscribed resource, it is important to understand your desired use (even if in a scholarly paper) may be restricted by the licensor's contract with the library; please see the "Using Library-Licensed Materials" page for more details on how to locate terms of use for library-subscribed content.

You may need to consider copyright agreements concerning your own previously published work as well. You may have transferred the exclusive rights of copyright to a journal or publisher. In that instance, you may need to obtain permission to use your own work in your student paper.

Here are some resources for more information:

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using another person's words or ideas without acknowledgment.

What are some examples of plagiarism?

Plagiarism includes actions such as submitting a paper you have not written and saying it is your own, copying answers or text from someone else, and quoting, citing data, or using someone else's ideas without crediting the source.

What are some of the consequences of plagiarism?

The plagiarist can face charges of academic misconduct even if the person whose work they copied did not know about the plagiarism and did not object to it. In addition, the plagiarist loses the chance to develop their own ideas and this results in lost learning opportunities and hinders the creation of new ideas.

How can I avoid plagiarism?

Use quotation marks and ellipses when quoting directly. When you summarize material, restate it in your own words and credit the source.

Is plagiarism the same as copyright infringement?

No. Plagiarism is breaking an ethical code and can lead to discipline from an academic institution. Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is breaking a federal law (and state law in some instances like when using licensed materials) and can lead to an expensive trial and costly fines. It is possible to commit plagiarism without committing copyright infringement and vice versa.

For example, you could use without attribution a work that is not protected by copyright, such as a public domain work, or you could use without attribution a decidedly small portion of someone else's copyright protected work under the doctrine of fair use. Failing to properly cite a work's rightsholder does, however, weaken your claim of fair use.

Here are some examples of the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement (transformed from this OSU site, CC-BY):

  • Plagiarism, not copyright infringement: You copy a few sentences word for word from On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin for your report on evolution, but you do not cite the original work or acknowledge the author. This is plagiarism because you have presented someone else’s work as your own. However, it is not copyright infringement because the copyright term for On the Origin of Species has expired; this means that the work is in the public domain and is no longer protected by copyright.
  • Copyright infringement, not plagiarism: You create a website to provide information to the public on an important topic. To make your material more engaging, you search the internet for decorative or funny images and include at least one image on every page of your site. You are careful to cite the source of each image. This is not plagiarism because you have properly cited the source of each image. However, this could be considered copyright infringement if no statutory exception, such as fair use, applies. Materials found online are protected by copyright even if they are not accompanied by a copyright notice. Because you are reproducing and distributing copies (two of the exclusive rights of rightsholders) of a protected work without permission, your use could be considered copyright infringement. You can avoid copyright infringement in this situation by using images that are in the public domain or licensed for your use (such as Creative Commons licensed materials).
  • Both plagiarism and copyright infringement: You post a recently published short story by your favorite author to your blog and claim that you wrote it yourself. This is plagiarism because you are using someone else’s work without giving them credit. It is also likely copyright infringement because you are reproducing and distributing copies (two of the exclusive rights of rightsholders) of a protected work without permission (assuming no statutory exception, such as fair use, applies).
  • Neither plagiarism nor copyright infringement: You include several short quotes from scholarly articles in your research paper and you include citation information for each source. This is not plagiarism as you have clearly identified third-party material in your report by using quotation marks and providing citations to the original sources. This is also not likely copyright infringement because the use of short quotes in research is a generally accepted academic example of fair use, a statutory exception included in U.S. Copyright Law. Please conduct a fair use analysis to determine if your use is fair.

Citing your sources

While citations are not requirements found in copyright law, you cannot avoid copyright infringement simply by crediting the source. Citations are a scholarly tradition and do demonstrate responsible use. It is important to provide attribution to the known copyright owner(s) of each work you are using.

At minimum, provide the author’s name, title of the work (if available), and source of the work. Insert your citation in a reasonable location, to allow readers to easily identify the copyright owner. This may be next to the work in small font, as a footnote, or as an endnote.  Additionally, your discipline may require adherence to a specific style guide. Follow any formatting guidelines and requirements issued by your NWC instructors. For more details, please see the NWC Citation LibGuide.

If you are reproducing a work under a license agreement, include in your work any additional information required by the license terms. This includes full and proper attribution for openly licensed content that is made available under a Creative Commons license.

Resources on plagiarism

When using other scholars' works in your paper or presentation (or even your own work, for that matter) the question arises: do I need to ask for permission to use the work in my own work?

Generally, there are no simple answers to that question, except maybe for quotations. You may generally quote a small portion of another scholar's published work without seeking their permission; this is generally considered a classic academic example of fair use. Plagiarism is different than copyright infringement (please see the "Plagiarism vs. Copyright Infringement" tab in this box for more details). For more details, please watch U.S. Copyright Office's "Educational Uses" (video, 2021, 0:04:50).

When using the work of others, consider the following:

  1. Is it in the public domain? If so, no permission is needed to use the work.
  2. Is it a work produced by the federal government in the course of their duties as government officials (excluding NWC civilian faculty) and does not have any third party works incorporated? If so, no permission is needed.
  3. Is the work licensed with a Creative Commons license? If so, no permission is needed to use the work, but you will need to carefully consider the terms of the license and comply with those terms to legally use the work.
  4. Is your use of the work a fair use? If so, no permission is needed to use the work, but you should conduct a fair use analysis for each and every considered resource (each time its use is desired). For details on tables, charts, and graphs, please see the "Fair Use of Tables, Charts, & Graphs for Research Purposes" box on the fair use page.
  5. If you've answered "no" to all of the above questions, then you should seek written permission to use the work in your paper.

For more information, please read A Writer’s Guide to Fair Use and Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter (2021).

Please see the NWC Library-Licensed Materials page for details.

For your own previously published works, first read the fine print in your publishing agreement. Do you have the right to reuse your own work or did you transfer your exclusive rights of copyright to the publisher? If you transferred your bundle of rights or a portion of those rights, you may need to ask for permission to use your own previously published work. That's why many publishing agreements today expressly permit scholars to use their own work (even if published) for research and teaching. It is always a best practice to read the fine print. 

What if you no longer have a copy of your publishing agreement? Your publisher should have a copy; contact them to request one.  

What if you as a civilian are planning to publish your paper? Be sure to keep the exclusive rights of copyright in mind during any negotiation with a publisher. Consider asking the publisher to let you add the SPARC Author's Addendum to your agreement. For more details, please see the following link:

Best bet first step: obtain legal clarification by speaking with NWC Staff Judge Advocate's Office and/or your respective home agency's General Counsel.

If you are a military student or federal civilian student (working under the "scope of your employment"), then your work as an official NWC student is considered a government work. These works may be freely reused and repurposed without permission; however, credit must be given to the author of the work.

If you are a civilian student, including federal contractor students or state/local government students, you are not a U.S. federal employee, so your work could be copyright protected and consequently should not be reproduced, repurposed, or sold without either your permission or your respective home agency's permission (dependent on which one is the rightsholder).  If you have questions, check with your respective home agency or their General Counsel for guidance and before signing submission paperwork for any awards. Contractors can also check their employment agreements for possible clarification before signing submission paperwork for any awards.

International students operate under U.S. copyright law while geographically in the United States; however, the copyright laws of their respective home country may apply to uses outside the United States. Whether you (the author) or your respective home agency owns the rights to your work will be determined by your respective home agency. If you have questions, check with your respective home agency for guidance before signing submission paperwork for any awards.

When you submit your paper for NWC award consideration, then per the award submission form you sign when you submit, you agree to the following:

By submitting a paper for award competition, students grant permission for their papers to be attributed (to) them and also subject to wider dissemination, including being added to DTIC (Defense Technical Information Center). Submission to DTIC is required for U.S. Military Officers and encouraged but optional for civilians and international officers.

If you are submitting a paper for the CJCS, SECDEF, or FAOA awards, your paper might be published in the corresponding journal. By submitting a paper to these award categories, you are agreeing to have your paper published if it wins.

NWC-student authored works submitted for awards above would then be distributed in accordance with the security classification(s) and distribution statement(s) selected by the author(s).

For more resource support, please see:


Help your students make informed decisions regarding the work they and others create and use within Blackboard and Leganto. The following modules developed by University of Michigan's Library Copyright Office are helpful copyright introductions:

These modules cover:

  • The difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement.
  • What is copyrightable and what is not.
  • The public domain (work that’s no longer subject to copyright).
  • Permissible uses under U.S. copyright law.
  • When it’s necessary to secure permission before you use a work.

Another Resource is Teaching Copyright

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation created this curriculum to help teachers educate students about copyright.