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Study Skills

Wolfson College Academic Skills: Copyright and plagiarism

Help with finding, managing and using information from the Wolfson Library Team.

What is plagiarism?

It is using ideas or the work of another person and presenting it as your own work. It can take a number of forms:

  • Copying - cutting and pasting work
  • Colluding - where two or more people work together to produce a piece of work but where all or part of the work is submitted as their own work

It applies to all types of sources and media: text, illustrations, photographs, musical quotations, mathematical derivations, computer code, material downloaded from websites, drawn from manuscripts, published and unpublished material including lecture handouts and other students' work.

When citing, remember to include inverted commas/speech marks to indicate direct quotation. Only when discussing another's ideas in your own words, should you omit these, but still cite the work and where you found the ideas. You must always use page references, unless you are describing the overarching thesis contained in a paper or book, and even then, there will probably be an exact place in the text where you could cite that idea.

Even if you give details of your sources, you must remember to construct your argument from your own words and only use sources to support that. You need to demonstrate that you have understood the existing scholarship rather stringing together their words for the majority of your text. The aim of an essay is to provide evidence of critical evaluation and independent thought, rather than reporting on the views of others.

Avoiding plagiarism

To help you distinguish between your thoughts and that of another, it is important to keep clear notes that easily define your contribution versus the words of the author.

There are some examples of the subtleties of plagiarism on Bowdoin College's plagiarism web pages.

Northern Illinois University also provides from textual examples of the different types of plagiarism.


Find out how correctly give credit to authors by reading our Referencing tab.

Good academic practice and avoiding plagiarism

An online tutorial on good academic practice & avoiding plagiarism


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. Find out more about the moral and economic rights of the author.

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.

Why is copyright important?

  • Helps the creator be rewarded for their efforts
  • Encourages creativity
  • Leads to the creation of new material and advances knowledge

Reusing the work of others

Single copy of a published work can be made for personal use to the following limits BUT you always need to cite anything that you use in your own work:

  • One chapter of a book or extracts from a book to a maximum of 5% of the whole book
  • One article of a journal issue
  • One article from a single newspaper
  • One paper from a set of conference proceedings
  • One report of one case from a book of law reports
  • Up to 5% of an anthology of short stories/poems OR one short story/poem if not more than 10 pages
  • Up to 10% (if not more than 20 pages or 2 pages if brief) of a short book without chapters, report, pamphlet or standard paging
  • Short excerpt from a musical work for study purposes but not performance

Protecting your work

The intellectual work you create is covered by copyright when it appears in the written form. This includes

  • Data
  • Publications, including your thesis
  • Presentations
  • Posters

The University of Cambridge's policy means that copyright remains with the creator unless there are pre-existing conditions or the work has been created for University administration/managerial reasons.

Creative Commons

This 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 authorise 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. These are the symbols that are used in licences.

Four creative commons licence symbols. Symbols are black on white, inside black circles. Clockwise from top left:a person, a dollar symbol with a cross through, a backwards letter c with an arrow head and and equals sign

Watch this video to find out more

Using images

In published works (print and online) remember that you will need to seek permission for images, figures and tables from the rights holder.

Think about why are you using this image; is it for decoration or to illustrate a point? In published works, it is best to limit yourself to the latter. If you took the image yourself, consider what and who are in the image? You may need to permission to reproduce a photograph with identifiable objects and people. In particular, images of artworks may require permission from both the artist, the gallery, and the person who took the photograph.

Start asking early and keep records of all correspondence. You will need to explain exactly what you want to use and why and how it will be reused (especially important if applying for online use).

If granted you need to indicate that permission was given but if permission is not given you cannot make work available. Remember that not hearing back is not being granted permission!

There are several sources of free to use images. They may or may not need a credit and there may be restrictions on what you can do with them. ALWAYS check the licnece (for information about Creative Commons licences, see boxes on the right/below). Sites include:

This image and all the ones on this guide are from Unsplash. You do not have to credit photographers when using images from this site, but it is good practice.

Image credit:

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