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Syracuse University Libraries

Communications - Online Master of Science Program

A research starting points guide from Syracuse University Libraries intended for students enrolled in Newhouse School's online Master of Science in Communications program.

Law & Media

U.S. and international laws have complex relationships with the publications and work product of media professionals and also with academics and journalists who analyze communications media.  Further complexity enters if one operates within scholarly, educational, and not for profit environments.  This guide is not a comprehensive primer on copyright law, fair use of copyrighted publications and the like.  Nevertheless, most scholars, journalists and media managers will at one time or another encounter questions in this area, or perhaps even conflicts.  Here are a few resources the public communications librarian, Michael Pasqualoni, invites you to consider.

Law For Non-Law Students

Visit as well the SU Libraries guide on Legal Research for Non Law Students

  Copyright vs. Plagiarism

  • Copyright and Plagiarism are concepts that are often confused and conflated, but they are not identical.  Plagiarism is a notion involving ethics that often comes into play when evaluating approaches to writing and other creative expression.  Intentional or not, plagiarism generally involves situations where a person presents content as their own that they have not authored.  In educational environments, plagiarism can lead to academic penalties ranging from modest to severe (e.g., grading penalties, expulsion from school, etc.).  In commercial publishing and other professional settings, plagiarism can and has injured professional reputations, led to resignations and other career damaging outcomes.  In non-academic environments especially, though not exclusively, plagiarism may at times be a precursor to accusations of copyright infringement.


  • Copyright, on the other hand, does not only involve matters of professional and academic ethics and traditional practice expectations, but is a legal concept specifically written into Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.  Copyright infringement involves using someone elses creative work without permission.  From this constitutional origin, and precusors, springs an enormous body of U.S. intellectual property law and related legal regulations. This area of law will likely impact anyone whose work includes creative expression fixed into any type of communications media (written, image, video, sound, digital code, etc.).  Under certain narrowly defined circumstances, some of the uses of the intellectual property of others in educational settings and uses for purposes of criticism, commentary, parody, etc. are considered a "fair" use of that work.

Here are some additional resources of interest on copyright, fair use and plagiarism:

Copyright Basics - Circular 1, U.S. Copyright Office

More Information on Fair Use - U.S. Copyright Office

U.S. Copyright Office - Information Circulars Website

Copyright Crash Course, University of Texas, Austin
*especially helpful for those examining copyright in academic environments.

Anderson, R. (2016, August 1).  The Difference between Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism—and Why It MattersLibrary Journal
*understanding the differences

Bound By Law (2006), Keith Aoki, James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins - Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University
*Uses a comic book format to address the complexities of copyright and fair use of content as experienced by a hypothetical independent filmmaker.

 Theft:  A History of Music (2017), James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins - Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University
*Uses a graphic novel format to address what this center describes as a laying out a 2000-year long history of musical borrowing from Plato to rap.

A Fair(y) Use Tale

Created in 2007 by Eric Faden, Assoc Professor of English & Film/Media Studies, Bucknell University.  A creative exploration of copyright principles that uses remixed animation. Identical version is hosted by Center for Internet & Society, Stanford University Law School

Syracuse University Copyright Portal

SU Copyright Portal:  Provides educational information to the Syracuse University community about copyright and other laws, policies, and regulations that govern information creation, use, retention and adaptation for scholarly purposes. The Portal also provides guidance and direction to the University community on issues such as:

  • Authorship and protection of scholarship;
  • Copyright ownership, including its rights and obligations;
  • Limitations and exceptions, such as fair use;
  • Licensing of electronic resources and media; and
  • Use of copyrighted works

All the Portal’s information is educational. None of the Portal’s information should be considered formal legal advice.

  Plagiarism in Media

National Public Radio - Plagiarism [January 10, 2002] -  coverage by NPR's All Things Considered of the plagiarism topic - with particular focus on plagiarism trouble encountered by the late historian Stephen Ambrose.

Hansen, B. (2003, September 19). Combating plagiarism. CQ Researcher, 13, 773-796. - [access limited to currently affiliated Syracuse University students, faculty, staff].  An enyclopedic overview of some of the leading issues and historical background on plagiarism, including discussion of online plagiarism detection software like Turnitin, and numerous case studies involving famous individuals who have encountered plagiarism trouble.  Also includes critical commentary by Syracuse University Professor of Writing & Rhetoric, Rebecca Moore Howard cautioning against overly punitive approaches to some forms of plagiarism which may be resulting from poor writing skills, badly designed academic assignments or other forms of inadequate educational preparation.  Moore's arguments ask us to recall that not all instances of plagiarism are borne out of a desire to cheat.

Larry Lessig on Laws that Choke Creativity

TED Conference, March 2007. Lecture by Larry Lessig, a Stanford University law professor, founder of Stanford's  Center for Internet & Society and founding board member of Creative Commons