Ethics of Information Use


Many of the ideas presented below were suggested by articles that appeared
volume 20 number 4 of School Libraries in Canada in 2001
and adapted for this web page.

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What are ethics? Ethics are: The “formal or professional rules of right and wrong; (a) system of conduct or behaviour.” (From the Gage Canadian Dictionary. Canada Publishing Company. c1997. p533.)

What does it mean to act ethically? Ethics give you a set of rules to follow when you do research. You need to know about ethics in order to have a clear set of rules to govern your actions and behaviour as a student.

Students need a set of ethical rules so that they don’t break copyright and don’t plagiarize work from other people. (From Triumphs and Tragedies of the 20th Century by Kim Lagan and Stew Savard c2001 p27.)


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What is copyright? When someone, or some group, creates something new (a story, book, song, movie, computer program, photograph, picture, or other work) the creator can make a claim of ownership. They can claim copyright.

You own the copyright over your work. Your work can’t be used by someone else without your, or sometimes your parent’s, permission. While most students are happy to give their permission for their work to be used in class displays, on school bulletin boards, or on a website, they still own the work.

Sometimes the creator of a work makes a decision about producing copies of their original piece of work. Usually this is because their work has a commercial value (its worth a little or a lot of money) or because they want to help someone (like drawing picture for a calendar for the foodbank).

J.K. Rowling, for example, has the copyright for all of the Harry Potter books. Ms. Rowling went to a publishing company and gave them permission to make copies of her original piece of work. (She received money from the publisher for giving her permission to make copies of the Harry Potter books.) If a piece of work is popular, then the creator can make enough money to keep on creating more work.

How do you avoid breaking someone elses copyright? Teachers expect students to honor the copyright of someone else. You do this by giving credit to the author or publisher of a work before you use a small sample of their work to make a point or provide an example. A bibliography is one formal way to give credit to the creator of a work.


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What is plagiarism? Plagiarism is when someone takes the ideas, or the actual work, of another person and claims them as their own ideas or work.

A person, for example, might write a story about a young boy, living in England, who goes off to a Wizard School called Hogwollths. Their story might be called Billy Potter. That person has, clearly, tried to take J.K. Rowling’s ideas and use them as if they were their own and not Ms. Rowling’s.

How can I try to avoid plagiarism in fiction works? You may want to write a story based on the Harry Potter books. It is not okay to steal Rowling's idea, but it can be okay to build on some of her general ideas (friendship, magic, and schooling). Start by giving credit to where you got the idea in the first place. "This story comes from ideas I first read about in the book _ _ _ _ _ written by _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ published in _ _ _ _. Then you need to significantly change the plot, the setting, and the characters so that the new story becomes yours.

How can I avoid plagiarism in non-fiction reports

- Plan your work to include a bibliography. (This is formal record of the other peoples’ work and ideas you read and used.)

- Keep a record of where you got your ideas and information from. (This may include information or an idea from a library book, from a web-site, or from a person)

- Make notes using your own words. Don’t just copy out, word by word, other peoples’ work. Shorten ideas down to the key points. Turn the ideas into your own words. (Be careful to make sure your notes still make sense.) For example:

The sinking of the Titanic was one of the greatest tragedies ever to happen at sea.

becomes the note

Titanic sinking great tragedy

- Be organized. (Keep all of the work related to a project, even if the some pages are messy. Your teacher may want to see them.)

- Plan to add your rough copies of work to the end of formal assignments. This way your teacher can see that you have made an effort to do things the right way. This often goes a long way to proving you tried to do thing right.

Check for library resources

Written by Stewart Savard October 2005. Coverted to eLibrary format August 2008.
CSS Styles by Josh Porter SD71.
All rights to look and feel reserved.