Re: How Many Trees? (WAS: URGENT: Immediate ethical issue)

Subject: Re: How Many Trees? (WAS: URGENT: Immediate ethical issue)
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 5 May 2003 14:55:11 -0400


You appear to be confusing three different issues:

* Copyright
* Plagerism
* Citation of sources

* Copyright protects the expression of information. That is, it protects the
particular form of words you use to express an idea or a piece of
information. It does not protect the idea or the information itself.
Copyright is a matter of law and is binding on everyone. The fair use
provision of the copyright law cover certain exceptions, such as quoting
limited portions of a text for the purpose of commenting on it.

* Plagerism is passing off someone else's ideas as your own. It is an
academic sin, not a crime. It has nothing to do with the form of expression.
It simply says that you must not pass off someone else's idea as your own.
If you hand in a term paper that you copied word for word from a library
book, you are commiting both plagerism (by representing the ideas as your
own) and copyright violation (by copying someone else's words). To avoid the
accusation of plagerism, you must cite the source of the idea. Citing the
source does nothing to avoid the accusation of copyright violation, unless
your use of copyrighted material falls within fair use provisions of the

* Academic standards require the citation of sources for any assetion of
fact that is not common knowledge. This has nothing to do with either
copyright or plagerism, but with the standards of proof required in academic
work. You must make it possible for the person reading your paper to check
any fact that you assert. The limit on this is that you need not cite a
source for facts that are commonly known and accepted in the field you are
working in.

Only copyright is a matter of law. Plagerism and failure to cite are
academic faults that have no force in law and are commonly ignored in
popular and commerical work. In law there is no protection of ideas or of
information, only of the expression of ideas (copyright) and of specific
processes (patent).

The words of a standard are protected by copyright like any other written
work. The copyright holder can state any conditions they choose for the use
of those words.

> Hmmm... not sure if I understand what you are saying, Jan ... how does one
> copyright "creativity"? Or is it maybe the 'creative' nature of the
> *information*? (haven't read the copyright laws, but I's be surprised if
> they cover 'creativity')
> So, are you saying that if one does the research (counting trees in the
> forest), and published as fact that, e.g. there are 10,380 pine tress in
> Yosemite Park, that is NOT 'copyrightable'? I'd say that is the type of
> 'esoteric', NOT-everyday run-of-the-mill common knowledge that
> does not fall
> under Fair Use.
> On the other hand, if NASA issues a study that said "there are no trees on
> Mars," I believe I could throw that one around - WITHOUT citing the source
> (and get away with it ;-).
> Steve Gillespie

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Writer
Stilo Corporation
1900 City Park Drive, Suite 504 , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1J 1A3
Phone: 613-745-4242, Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- ca -dot- stilo -dot- com

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