This resource page introduces the concepts of plagiarism and copyright, along with resources to keep you out of trouble. Besides reviewing UWL policies, you can learn quite a lot from library tutorials produced by Acadia University and UWL's Murphy Library.


As an ethical student you should always submit your own original work and participate in coursework with integrity. When appropriate, you should recognize the source of your words or ideas, preferably with a citation. Academic dishonesty includes both deliberate and unintentional plagiarism (e.g. multiple submission or resubmission from a previous term of your own work without instructor permission).

Successful students maintain high standards of integrity. In fact, academic misconduct is a violation of the UWL student honor code:

We, the students of UW-La Crosse, believe that academic honesty and integrity are fundamental to the mission of higher education. We, as students, are responsible for the honest completion and representation of our work and respect for others' academic endeavors. We, as students and responsible citizens of the city of La Crosse, will aim to uphold the integrity of the University throughout the La Crosse community. It is our individual responsibility as students to uphold these ethical standards and to respect the character of the individuals and the university.

Refer to the Academic Misconduct section of the Student Handbook for a detailed definition of academic misconduct. For helpful information on how to avoid plagiarism, view the tutorial, Avoiding Plagiarism, from the Murphy Library website. Plagiarism is an especially serious violation of trust and ignorance of what does or does not constitute plagiarism is a poor and generally unacceptable excuse. As one definition, plagiarism is the representation of words or ideas of another person as if they were your own.

The concept includes the misrepresentation of a previous group project as individual work and extends to the less obvious notion of self-plagiarism. Though it is efficient and time-saving to submit long verbatim sections or an entire work of your own from another course or project (to include multimedia content), you should never misrepresent previous efforts as new and original.

Do This Activity


Identify the three most common misconceptions of plagiarism in the clever 10-minute Flash Tutorial from Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

Citation Generators

To help writers create proper citations, several web-based tools are available. Some are free (Citation Machine and Citation Wizard) and some charge a fee for an annual or monthly subscription. NoodleBib is a proprietary (i.e. subscription) service that offers many powerful bells and whistles, though they also offer a free version (NoodleBib Express). For help in general with citations see the Murphy Library's guide on Citing Sources. See also their guides on the free citation management tools, Mendeley and Zotero.


Many instructors at UWL use a third-party tool for checking and preventing plagiarism called Turnitin. This web service functions as a huge clearinghouse and database for student papers and written assignments. Students simply submit an assignment to Turnitin, and the automated system checks the text against Internet sites, journal databases, and thousands of previously submitted and published works. After submitting an assignment a report is quickly generated, which both the student and instructor can view. The Turnitin report displays how much of the text matches other works verbatim (magically ignoring quoted passages—though it can distinguish a properly cited source from a poorly cited one).

As a fun, optional activity try submitting a short piece of text extracted from the Internet into the Dropbox. To add to the drama, intentionally "lift" (i.e. plagiarize) text verbatim to see what Turnitin can do. In this one rare case we invite you to plagiarize just to see if you can get away with it. C'mon, this is fun.

For details on using Turnitin see either the company's Student Tutorials (e.g. Submitting a Paper or reading an Originality Report) or their QuickStart Guide.


For years, faculty have assigned outside readings to their students. On campus, libraries are relatively free to place books, chapters and articles on reserve thanks to the Fair Use clause of copyright law. Sadly, there is a double standard for online classes, where copyrighted works may not be placed in a course without clearance. In most cases, that requires either permission from the publisher or payment of royalties. That is why you may be asked to visit the library to read material that is not available online or in one of the library databases.

For a slick animated video on Copyright (prepared for a business audience), see the Copyright Clearance Center's Copyright Basics.

Note: there is no copyright for materials created or published by state or federal government agencies, as that material is owned by the public, with several necessary exceptions (naturally, classified documents and tax returns are not available to the public).


The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits educators and staff from publicly divulging sensitive, private student information, to include contact information, financial and academic records. That means instructors are not supposed to share the work of a student, as an example or model, without permission. Likewise, instructors and school officials cannot release to the public photographs, audio recordings or videos without a signed release. They must also provide details of how and why that information will be used to the student (informed consent). Should an Internet product be created for a class (e.g. video, Blog, Google Doc, podcast, etc.), make sure your instructor explains how that material will be used and who will use it.

As many people have discovered, the Internet has a long memory and many social media resources make it very difficult to remove embarrassing or compromising photos, quotes or personal accounts posted by others. In fact, it's quite common these days for potential employers and admissions counselors to search social media for "dirt" on applicants. Everyday we hear of otherwise sure bet applicants failing to land a great job or scholarship because of a compromising party photo on Facebook. And if you don't believe the Web has a long memory, check out the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive), one of the largest data collections on the planet.

With the increased educational use of social media and Web 2.0 tools, special care must be taken to avoid violations of privacy. Though many people consider resources like Facebook and Twitter harmless, instructors should respect your right to opt out of assignments to create accounts or share personal information with classmates in social media. In such cases you should ask your instructor to consider an alternative assignment.


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