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APA Citation

A guide to APA citation for the Science, Technology and Society Guide

Does this need a citation?


Whether it's copyrighted, in the public domain, a creative commons license, handed to you by a friend, found in a stairwell - if it is not yours, you should always cite it.

This is complicated because it includes not only individual items like a photograph or dataset but also any knowledge that you learned from somewhere.

**Common Knowledge

**Not Common Knowledge

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property refers to creations of the mind that are covered by various rights issued to the creator. These creations include things like:

  • Music works
  • Literary works
  • Artistic works
  • Inventions
  • Designs
  • Symbols

As long as two individuals couldn't come up with the exact same item then it is probably covered or could be covered by intellectual property. So items like:

  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Music composition
  • Musical performance
  • Blueprints
  • Design schematics
  • Logo
  • Font
  • And more!

Are all unique creations of the mind. And they're all covered under a variety of rights. Some of the rights to creations are automatic - copyright for example is instantaneous. As soon as something is written down, it immediately has copyright and it's copyright can be violated. Other rights must be granted through an approval process. Trademarks and patents would fall into this group. These rights are issued on a first come basis. Whoever files the patent first with a country's patent office holds the exclusive rights.

The point of these exclusive rights isn't to grant creators special rights but to ensure that others are excluded from infringing upon the rights of creators. For copyright, these rights include: the right to display or perform your work, create copies or reproductions, create derivatives, and to sell any of all of these rights. Copyright wants the creator, and only the creator, to have these rights. For items with a patent, you want to stop anyone else but the patent holder from producing and selling a patented invention.

This is important because it allows all creators to profit from their creations and that encourages invention and creativity. 


Fair Use

The exclusive rights given to Intellectual Properties are fairly straightforward in protecting those works. So how can anyone re-use and share portions of other people's works? By claiming the re-use as Fair Use.

Fair Use can be claimed in four instances:

  1. Education
  2. Commentary or Criticism
  3. Parody or Comedy
  4. News Reporting

But just because a copyrighted work is used for those four instances isn't enough. Fair Use also requires that there's an appropriate use of the copyrighted work. Whether something is truly Fair Use or not, is determined by these four requirements:

  1. Purpose and character of the use (commercial vs. non-profit)
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount of work used
  4. Effect on the market for the copyrighted work

So if the use of the copyrighted work is commercial, you use too much of the copyrighted work, or the use has a negative impact on the copyrighted work's marketed value - it's not Fair Use. Even if the use was intended to be educational. And this decision of Fair or not is typical determined by court cases.

So you want to do a few things -

  • Use a copyrighted work for non-profit materials
    • If you want to use a work for commercial purposes, you have to get permission or pay to use the copyrighted work  
  • Use only a small amount of a copyrighted work
    • There is no legally recognized rule of thumb for the amount you can use but always try to use as little as possible of the copyrighted work
  • Alter the work itself or the meaning of the work
    • Whether you crop a photograph, summarize a passage, or do an analysis, you have to add something that's unique to the copyright work in order to justify using it at all
  • Provide the necessary credit to the copyrighted work's creator
    • It doesn't matter how you use something - if you don't cite and provide credit, Fair Use is out the window

Creative Commons

Copyright provides automatic and very exclusive rights to the creator. There's been a rising interest among creators to freely share their works in some ways. But there's a difficult caveat with copyright - if creators don't protect all the exclusive rights to their work at all times, they lose copyright entirely.

So creators that want to share their works, let others create copies or derivative works of their copyright materials, will actually forfeit their copyright entirely.

That's why Creative Commons was created. Creative Commons offers several copyright-based licenses that give creators the flexibility to keep some and release other exclusive rights. This allows creators to freely (and legally!) offer their works to be shared and altered without losing their copyright.

There are six types of Creative Commons Licenses that offer various rights. The one that is required for ALL licenses is attribution - you have to give credit to the original creator of the work. Beyond that are various options for how creators can allow their original work to be used, for what purpose, and how it can be shared.