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2002 Gwen Gawith: Copyright Part 2

2002 Gwen Gawith: Copyright Part 1

2002 Donald Joyce: Cheating in an Electronic Age

2002 Gwen Gawith: "3 Doors to Infoliteracy" course

2002: Gwen Gawith: Review of Hyerle's "A field guide to using visual tools"

2002 Gwen Gawith: Re-defining research

2002 Opoho School: "The Opoho Possum Hunt"

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 2.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Responding to "Into a Further World" by Elwyn Richardson.

2001 Carolyn Coil: Teachers make the world of information become knowledge.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Why Read?

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 1.

2001 Linda Selby and Maureen Trebilcock: A call for teacher-librarians

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information Literacy: theory into practice - Part 2

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy: problems and solutions.

2000 Alan Cooper: Information literacy; the past is not enough.

1999 Gwen Gawith: The origins of information literacy.

1998 Graham Prentice: Knowledge architects.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: NEMPing through information literacy.

1992 Gwen Gawith: learning for the future.

1987 Gwen Gawith: Information skills for an information age.

1986 Gwen Gawith Information skills for an information literate future.

1984 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information skills.


information literacy:
definitions & discussion

Intellectual property: What teachers need to teach

Gwen Gawith

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.

Policy 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, and theft.

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 copyright.

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 pastiche’ phenomenon!

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 heavily.

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 property?
  • 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 work.

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 it?

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//, 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 example: "Almost 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;

"It began 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 resignation."

Apparently the plagiarising students paraded round the school feeling vindicated chanting "We won!" Clearly, the issue has polarised the community. The article continues:

"Students, 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 hire.’"

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 (

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 ( Others trawl the Internet for matches. Some do both. is produced by the group mentioned above, 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 which provides links to a number of programs including WordCHECK (see above),, 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 detection software.

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 on

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.