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I am in a debate regarding tables developed for a literature review which include Author, Year, Type of Study, Methods, and Results. I believe all components of the table should be paraphrased, but a colleague directly copied methods and results which has resulted in a debate. Is this direct copying of these materials plagiarism or considered fair use as it applies to a literature review?

Note: The copied material is anywhere from one to seven sentences total for each reference for methods and results.

Note 2: I should also note this was in a table we previously stated we created and there is no indication the material is directly copied.

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    Note that "fair use" is a concept from copyright law, and plagiarism is completely distinct from copyright infringement. – Nate Eldredge Jul 6 '18 at 4:09
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    How much text are you considering copying from a given reference, given that it fits in a table? A phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or more? – Anyon Jul 6 '18 at 4:20
  • Hmmm. Likely you should say that you are quoting material when you do that. Otherwise it could be considered plagiarism - unlike my answer here. – Buffy Jul 6 '18 at 11:50
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First, please note that plagiarism is a different concept from copyright infringement/fair use. To summarize what I will explain here: as long as you put quotation marks around everything that is copy-pasted AND you clearly cite each instance, I don't think you have any problem with either plagiarism or copyright violation; this would be fully morally acceptable and within your fair use rights.

Here are my detailed comments:

  • Plagiarism: In general, as long as you properly cite your sources, there is no issue about plagiarism. (Plagiarism is strictly about copying words from other people without giving them credit. It has nothing to do with copyright violation.) However, your scenario is a bit tricky because even if you cite your sources, copy-and-paste almost always requires quotation marks; however, you might possibly get away without quotation marks in a table (if it were copy-and-paste into regular text, you would most certainly need quotation marks). To be safe, I would just put quotation marks around everything that you or your colleague copies-and-pastes AND also cite the source each time. If you do this, then there is absolutely no concern about plagiarism.

    It is also very important to understand that "paraphrasing" does not let you escape from claims of plagiarism. If your paraphrase is still too close to the original quotation, some people might still consider it plagiarism, even if you quote the source. (I personally disagree that that would be plagiarism because you quote the source, but, unfortunately, I know for a fact that some people do consider it to be plagiarism just because the paraphrase is still too close.) So, according to what you have described, I think paraphrasing would be a waste of your time: simply copy-and-paste, put quotation marks around each copy-and-paste, and cite each quotation clearly--if you do that, there is absolutely no concern about plagiarism.

  • Copyright violation and fair use: I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I understand, copying bits and pieces from several different articles (even entire paragraphs) and assembling them into a table is fully within fair use limits. Fair use will generally let you copy entire tables, so assembling your own table from various sources should definitely be within your fair use rights. (And note that fair use is your right; the copyright holder has no right to restrict people from making fair use of their copyrighted work--copyright is not unlimited.)

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    Quotation marks are probably not right when it comes to a table. Better I think would be to include in the caption: "This table is directly taken from table X.Y in CITE", or "Rows 2-7 of this table are taken directly from the corresponding entries in table X.y of CITE". In general for a table there is not much to paraphrase or quote, since it will be some numbers and a short method name I assume, – Lyndon White Jul 7 '18 at 6:53
  • @LyndonWhite, what you say may be generally the case (as I said, "you might possibly get away without quotation marks in a table"), but my response is specific to OP's description, with OP's colleague copy-pasting "anywhere from one to seven sentences". This is not just "some numbers and a short method name", as you assume. – Tripartio Jul 7 '18 at 10:06
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Unfortunately my fair use is her plagiarism is your copyright violation. Fair use was intentionally never very clear, but recently, IP rights owners have forced changes to laws, different in every jurisdiction, that have forced fair use to the margins.

What you describe is certainly not plagiarism as the words being used are correctly attributed to their creators. Dangerous ground if you use quotes without attribution, however. You shouldn't give the impression that words are yours when they are not.

But is it fair use?

Traditionally, I'm pretty sure that almost everyone would say yes. Fair to use the actual words in this way provided that they form an insignificant fraction of the whole work being quoted and proper attribution is given.

But now it is not so clear.

If you are at a University or other large institution, you likely have lawyers available that can give advice on this that is particular to your own situation (country, etc). There may also be a Research Office that has looked into this question and can provide guidance.

It might even be that paraphrasing is considered more troublesome than direct quoting.

But copyright is currently a moras. We are moving in many places toward unlimited and absolute copyright. Academics, especially, should work in the political realm to halt this trend before it makes some research fields impossible.

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