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Cite Source

How do you know what you know?

Information is social; it gains its significance through creativity and exchange. People share information with each other constantly, so much so that it’s not always possible to know where that information comes from. Within the academic and professional worlds it is imperative, however, to acknowledge our sources of information.

Who owns what you know?

Intellectual property is owned by its creator or a person or entity that has acquired the rights to it.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the concept of intellectual property refers to “creations of the mind.” Like other forms of property, intellectual property gets legal protection from the federal government, and from international organizations and treaties. Scholars and researchers use references to acknowledge their information sources as a form of intellectual property.

Here are some forms of legal protection for intellectual property:

  • Copyright safeguards textual, pictorial, and other creative works
  • Patents protect processes and products that offer new technical solutions
  • Trademarks ensure the connection of goods and services with a specific creator
  • Geographical indications confirm a product’s origin in a specific location
  • Industrial designs may be registered for protection

Copyright is the most significant form of legal protection for work done in colleges and universities. Copyright gives creative and literary authors the right to benefit from their works. Copyright gives its holder the exclusive right to copy--or reproduce--literary or artistic works.

Copyright protects the forms in which ideas are expressed. Here are some ways that creators express their ideas:

  • a journalist writes an essay about political corruption
  • an artist represents an urban landscape in a photograph
  • a musician performs a song about love
  • a sociologist arranges statistics in a pie chart
  • an engineer compiles data about alloys as a technical report

In the form of statistics and data, intellectual property gets the same copyright protection as more popularly known creative forms, like writing, music, and art. All of these forms of expression need to be documented. Correct documentation respects the creator’s property rights and constitutes intellectual honesty. Neglecting to document information sources is called plagiarism and has legal consequences.


How do you keep track of what you know?

Keeping track of your sources of information will help you to document how your knowledge builds on the ideas of others. While you are obligated to cite the sources of your knowledge, your own creative and scholarly work is also protected by copyright. For more information about your own rights as a creator, visit the Web site maintained by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

The WWW has transformed the way that scholars do research. With a few clicks, we have access to a wide-range and abundance of information. The abundance of information sources and formats can itself be overwhelming.

However, technology also helps to simplify the job of preparing a list of citations. Here’s how:

  • email to yourself Web pages or the results of electronic database searches to ourselves
  • save Web pages or search results to a disc or hard drive
  • export bibliographic information to citation management software like RefWorks® or EndNote®
  • cut and paste information along with its bibliographic references
  • photocopy the fronts and backs of title pages and tables of contents in print sources
  • compile a personal database or research journal of information and bibliographic references
  • log in to a personal account in a specific electronic library database

For more information about copyright and your own rights as a creator, try the following Web sites: