Intellectual property: What teachers need to teach
The impact of ICT has been an exponential increase
in the amount of information, and also an exponential increase
in the ways it can be copied, manipulated, reproduced and communicated.
Their recent text-message co-ordination of protest efforts suggests
that young people need little help using technology and recognising
the purposes for which it can be used. Where they need all the
guidance we can provide is in using, legally and ethically, the
information it purveys.
and practice: ‘Research’,
‘inquiry’ projects, resource-based learning, call it what you
will, is now firmly embedded in each of the Curriculum Statements
and given added emphasis in NCEA. All learning of this kind involves
the use of intellectual property. Every school should have clear
policies, translated into clear procedures explaining to students
what intellectual property and copyright mean - not in the abstract,
but how it applies to what they can and can’t do.
The need for consistent messages: The
first step is to convince students that literary, dramatic and
artistic work belongs to someone - it is someone’s intellectual
property. It can be copied and borrowed (within legal and academic
constraints and conventions) but it can’t be stolen. They need
to know the difference between legitimate quoting and copying,
Next, they need to know that something doesn’t
need © plastered all over it to be copyright. Computer programs,
CDs, websites, artwork, handwritten essays, books, periodical
articles, encyclopaedias, etc, are all automatically covered by
Many students truly believe that if it’s on the
Internet no one ‘ owns’ it. While they might realise that copying
slabs of text out of a book or encyclopaedia is dodgy, they think
nothing about compiling whole multimedia presentations from cut’n
paste web chunks and photos and illustrations - the ‘information
Projects as legitimised plagiarism?
In primary schools we often actively CONDONE
this type of plagiarism in the name of inquiry projects. Often,
because the children are young, we ignore it when children copy
substantial portions and when they do not reference their sources.
Acknowledging sources: The bottom line
is that if children are old enough to copy material (as long as
it does not constitute a substantial portion), they are old enough
to put it in quotes and write down the author’s name or the website
address. To do any less is to condone theft of intellectual property.
The ‘information pastiche’ practices we accept at primary will,
at secondary and tertiary, be called plagiarism, and penalised
Authors, artists and musicians are not mean!
They want their ideas and images to be USED. Why else would they
publish? But there’s a world of difference between using and stealing.
Using means acknowledging the source, fully and accurately, of
all work - text, pictures, graphics, music, whatever, you source
from a print or electronic medium. AND it means teaching students
that ANY material, including the music they use in their multimedia
presentations MUST be copyright cleared.
Even if students paraphrase something or adapt
something they still need to acknowledge the original source of
those ideas. Changing it doesn’t make it yours any more than car
conversion makes the car yours!
Many young people are also confused between copyright
as the right to photocopy, and copyright as the right to reproduce
or adapt someone else’s intellectual property. Rumour is there’s
a multiple choice question doing the rounds which asks secondary
students to work out how much they have to change something before
they will NOT be accused of plagiarism. Phew! How much do you
have to re-paint, strip and gut a car you’ve ‘converted’ before
it becomes yours?
Avoiding plagiarism is not just avoiding detection.
The moral and ethical dimension of using another’s intellectual
property is of the essence. The whole point about the principle
of ‘fair use’ for research and scholarly purposes is that it provides
for anyone to copy anyone else’s ideas and words as long as this
is within legal limits and constraints, and as long as the sources
are fully acknowledged and the copier is not breaching the law
(Copyright Act, 1994) or the conditions the copyright holder or
licensing agency have set for the use of that material.
If I want it I take it: The ‘Napster’
phenomenon highlights the tension between the free-for-all voice-of-youth
anarchic nature of the Net as a communication medium, and the
Net as a publishing medium. Many adolescents think that if it
comes via the Net it’s theirs to copy as they will. The same applies
to software, computer games or anything else they want. To suggest
otherwise is tantamount, in their eyes to violating one of their
core ‘human rights’. The right of the author, musician and artist
to earn a living from their work, even if it is published on the
Net, needs to be explained to students.
Students are unlikely to learn anything about
intellectual property and copyright from the Internet. They need
to learn it from you - not as a disembodied set of rules pasted
up on the photocopier, but as it applies to them.
If intermediate/ secondary students can’t answer
the following questions, they may need some teaching! Re-read
the previous article if you’re not sure of the answers:
- What is intellectual
- Who owns copyright?
If something doesn’t have a © is it copyright? If something
is copyright, can you copy it? Why/ why not? A mate gives you
his essay from last year. If you copy it and hand it in as yours
does it breach copyright and/ or ethics and/ or school regulations?
Why/ why not?
- What does copyright
cover? For example, does it cover making a copy of a friend’s
computer game if she’s willing? Does it apply if you copy something
from the Web? Does it apply if you copy stuff from a book, but
you re-write it in your own language?
- If you do a multimedia
presentation and copy and paste text and pictures from websites,
what are the copyright issues?
- Can you explain
the difference between using intellectual property and plagiarism?
- How do you acknowledge
the use of intellectual property?
- What are the limits?
For instance, could you copy 10% of a book if it includes all
the summaries (i.e. substantial portion) and the book is available
for purchase? Could you copy the front page of a website and
put your own details and picture on it? Could you copy someone’s
program source code if it doesn’t have © on it?
With wonderfully creative students, and so much
technology at hand, the best thing we can do for students is to
set assignments that require more than after-school ‘cut and paste’
infoplunder. Let’s reward and encourage them to publish original
The perils of plagiarism
It is useful to distinguish between copyright
and plagiarism. Copyright infringement occurs when students copy
the whole or a substantial part of an original work. Plagiarism
refers to borrowing ideas without acknowledgement.
While the issue is a burning one overseas, there
has been very little New Zealand research on plagiarism (Walker,
1998). Plagiarism is a HUGE issue in USA high schools and colleges.
However, few New Zealand teachers think that we have a problem.
Is this because we don’t have a problem, or we don’t recognise
Info on plagiarism:
Any search engine yields literally thousands of hits for plagiarism
detection software. The most professional site and service I have
found to date is http//:plagiarism.org, an "Online resource
for educators concerned with the growing problem of Internet plagiarism."
This site suggests that "approximately 30 percent of all
students may be plagiarizing on every written assignment they
complete." It has a useful ‘statistics’ section. For
80% of college students admit to cheating at least once."
"58.3% of high school students let someone else copy their
work in 1969, and 97.5% did so in 1989." " 30% of a
large sample of Berkeley students were recently caught plagiarising
direct from the Internet..."
Case study: Consider the following, reported
in The New York Times, February 14. 2002. It could make an interesting
point of discussion and debate within your staffroom and with
your class. The article says;
in December with a teacher’s finding that 28 of 118 Piper High
sophomores had stolen sections of their botany project off the
Internet. The students received zeroes and faced failing the semester.
But after parents complained to the school board, the teacher,
Christine Pelton, was ordered to raise the grades, promoting her
the plagiarising students paraded round the school feeling vindicated
chanting "We won!" Clearly,
the issue has polarised the community. The article continues:
plagiarizers and non-plagiarizers alike, have already begun to
feel the backlash. A sign posted in a nearby high school read,
‘If you want your grade changed, go to Piper. The proctor at a
college entrance exam last weekend warned a girl wearing a Piper
sweatshirt not to cheat. A company in Florida faxed the school
asking for a list of students ‘so it would know whom never to
An update on CNN, 29th March confirms that parents
are now seeking removal of three members of the school board that
reversed the teacher’s decision (http://fyi.cnn.com/2002/fyi/teachers.ednews/03/27/plagiarism.dispute.ap/index.html)
It could never happen here? It has! At Victoria
University. In a law school!
The article goes on to quote a much discussed
Rutgers University professor’s survey of 4,471 high school students
in 2001 which "found that more than half had stolen sentences
and paragraphs from Web sites, 15 per cent handed in papers completely
copied from the internet, and 74 percent had cheated on a test."
If there is any New Zealand teacher who has NOT
condoned what is described here as stealing sentences and paragraphs
from websites in the name of ‘inquiry’ or whatever, chance would
be a fine thing!
Clear rules and clear messages: Clearly,
the message is that students need very clear rules, spelt out
with concrete examples, and enforced with consistency by each
and every teacher in the school. Gajadhar (1998) cites Monash
University guidelines which state, "Plagiarism occurs when
students fail to acknowledge that ideas are borrowed. Specifically
it occurs when:
- phrases and passages
are used verbatim without quotation marks and without a reference
to the author
- an author’s work
is paraphrased and presented without a reference
- other student’s
(sic) work is copied
- items of assessment
are written in conjunction with other students (without prior
permission of a relevant staff member)
- a piece of work
has already been submitted or assessed in another course."
Every New Zealand school should develop and insist
that students and APPLY a similar set of rules, and know the consequences
of ignoring them. However, as Gajadhar suggests, we should also
help to prevent plagiarism at source by setting the sort of assignments
and assessments that make it very hard to plagiarise.
Preventing the plagiarism plague: There
seem to be two distinct trends in American high schools and colleges
to cope with the ‘ plague of plagiarism.’ The first is to use
plagiarism detection software. There are literally thousands of
programs - some free, some available on licence. Some are ‘keyword’
matching programs which match an electronically-submitted document
against a database of papers, for example, WordCHECK (www.wordchecksystems.com).
Others trawl the Internet for matches. Some do both.
Turnitin.com is produced by the group
mentioned above, http://plagiarism.org. It uses ‘digital fingerprinting’
on any document submitted, matching it against a database of thousands
of papers AND using web crawlers to scour the Net, returning the
document with suspect portions highlighted and linked to the possible
original source. A trial version can be downloaded free. The idea
is that if students know that papers are automatically checked,
it provides an automatic deterrent.
Another useful site is http://dmoz.org
which provides links to a number of programs including WordCHECK
(see above), Plagiarism.org, and sites covering detection of Java
and other program and software plagiarism.
Plagiarism detection software does not seem to
be widely used in New Zealand in either school or tertiary sectors
- yet! It would seem to timely for the Ministry to spend some
time and money researching, trialling and, if necessary, adapting
such programs under licence?
Another distinct and more benign trend in USA
is the move away from ‘term papers’ and research in favour of
learning methods less vulnerable to plagiarism.
Given the prominence accorded the equivalent
of ‘term papers’ and research in our curricula, and in NCEA, this
is clearly not a trend likely to arise soon in NZ. Nor is spending
scarce resources and even scarcer TIME on buying and running plagiarism
So, if we follow Gadjahar’s advice, we’d put
in place clear policies, clear rules and imaginative assessment
procedures which minimise students’ need to undertake the sorts
of activities that lead to unacknowledged copying and adaptation.
We’d also emphasise the ethical and moral as
well as legal dimensions of intellectual property, emphasising
the distinction between using - borrowing limited amounts as permitted
by law, with acknowledgement - and theft.
Gajadhar, J. (1998) Issues in plagiarism for
the new millennium: An assessment odyssey. (Online). Available
Walker, J. (1998). Student plagiarism in universities:
What are we doing about it? Higher Research and Development
17 (1), 89-107.
These articles have been published with a grant
from the New Zealand Law Foundation, and have been checked for
legal accuracy by A.J. Park Ltd.