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Engineering: Plagiarism, referencing and copyright

Information about the Department of Engineering Library, including information for researchers

Image: laptop screenPlagiarism

Plagiarism is defined as submitting as one's own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement [or, in the case of self-plagiarism, unless explicitly permitted by regulation, submitting one's own work that has already been submitted for assessment to satisfy the requirements of any other academic qualification, or submitted for publication without due acknowledgement].

It is both poor scholarship and a breach of academic integrity.

Examples of plagiarism include copying (using another person's language and/or ideas as if they are a candidate's own), by:

  • quoting verbatim another person's work without due acknowledgement of the source;
  • paraphrasing another person's work by changing some of the words, or the order of the words, without due acknowledgement of the source;
  • using ideas taken from someone else without reference to the originator;
  • cutting and pasting from the Internet to make a pastiche of online sources;
  • submitting someone else's work as part of a candidate's own without identifying clearly who did the work. For example, buying or commissioning work via professional agencies such as 'essay banks' or 'paper mills', or not attributing research contributed by others to a joint project.

If you would like guidance on any aspect of copyright, plagiarism or referencing, please ask a member of the Library team.

To find out more about the University of Cambridge’s view on plagiarism and good academic practice, as well as further advice on how and when to reference, visit these guidance pages:

Reference managers

You can use reference managers to help keep track of what you've found in your literature search, what you've read and what you want to cite or quote in your writing.

Managing your references from the beginning of your project will help ensure that you can easily and correctly cite any ideas you got from another source, reducing the risk that you'll accidentally plagiarize another author.

There are many ways of doing this, but here are a few we can help you set up:


The Department of Engineering doesn't stipulate which referencing style should be used. For more guidance, see the University's guide to common referencing conventions and the Open UP Study Skills e-book The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism.


Other sources of advice include:


The following information is intended as a guide to copyright and does not constitute legal advice.

Copyright is one of a bundle of rights which help to ensure that a work is not used without permission.  Copyright is automatically granted once the work has been produced in a tangible form, for example written down.  In most cases the first copyright holder is the author of the work.

The rights of the author can be divided into two groups – the moral right to be identified as the author and the economic right to make money from their work. The author retains the moral rights but may choose to give away the economic rights, for example by publishing in a journal. More information about these rights can be found here.

Third party copyright refers to copyright that is owned by someone else. Legislation allows researchers to use short quotations, extracts or excerpts from others work as long as the use meets the requirements of ‘fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review’.  If researchers wish to reuse content they have authored but already published it is important to check if the publisher will permit this.

Creative Commons provides a way to licence the use of material you create and share. Using a simple formula it allows creators to build a licence which suits their needs and authorised appropriate use of their work. Using a Creative Commons licence allows researchers to get more exposure for their work whilst maintaining control over its use.

For more information about copyright contact the Legal Services Office of the University.


A how-to guide on images and copyright

If you're using images (photos, figures, graphs, etc.) in your presentations, reports or posters it's important to make sure you have permission to use them and that you credit the creators properly. When you've found an image online it can be difficult to know what you're allowed to do with it. Here's a step-by-step guide to using images from the internet:

  1. The easiest way to make sure you can use images is to create your own. You can also search for images that are licensed to be reused in the first place.  However, you should always check the source of the image for how to attribute it. 

  2. Look for a license on web pages where you find content telling you whether and how you can use it. Creative Commons licenses are the clearest to understand and should link you to informational pages about what you are allowed to do.

  3. If there's not a clear license, ask the creator for permission directly, explaining how you intend to use their work. Only use the image once you have received their explicit permission.

  4. If you can't find the creator's contact details or it has been posted without attribution, you can try a reverse image search to find the first instance of that image being posted.

  5. If you aren't convinced that you've found the original image and/or don't know how to attribute it, try to find another suitable image, or speak to a member of the Library team.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons provides a way to licence the use of material you create and share. Using a simple formula it allows creators to build a license which suits their needs and authorise the appropriate use of their work. For example if you produce an artwork and upload it online you might want to specify that people can use it in their own work as long as they give you credit. You can also specify that you don’t want others to make a profit from your work.

For more information on Creative Commons, see the Office of Scholarly Communication webpage