Copyright & ethics

Copyright & ethics


Copyright protects people's rights to what they create. When you write down a story, draw a picture, or record music, you are protected.

A copyright symbol looks like this: ©. You will often see this symbol next to a year and the name of a person or an organization. However, a work may be copyrighted even when there is no symbol. You may assume that most written text, drawings, photographs and recorded music are copyrighted.

If you are the creator: You have the right to distribute and sell what you have created. If someone distributes what you have created without your permission, he or she is breaking the law.*

If you are not the creator, but are using and distributing the work: You must ask permission of the person who owns the copyright on a story, picture, recording or similar work, before distributing it. If you do not ask for and get permission, you are breaking the law.*

[*"Fair Use" is a doctrine that allows people to use a small part of a copyrighted work.]

When you refer to someone else's work in your own work, you must cite the original work. If you want to copy someone else's work into your work, you must get permission first.

Learn more about copyright at Copyright Kids.


Ethics refer to the principles that govern your behavior. There are ethical principles followed in schools, hospitals, homes and many other places. As a person, you also have your own ethical principles that tell you what is right and how to act accordingly.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Speech is a guiding principle for libraries; it is the right to express opinions without censorship or restraint. This applies to both the opinions expressed in books, and to the opinions you choose to express. But remember, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." There are no simple rules for honoring freedom of speech; each person must make the best decision he or she can in each situation.

Sometimes people object to the ideas presented in a particular book. When a book is controversial, it is sometimes challenged and/or banned. A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Some famous books that have been banned include: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain), Beloved (Toni Morrison) and Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak). Learn more about challenged and banned books.

In 2013, the following books were challenged: Captain Underpants (Dav Pilkey), The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Bone (Jeff Smith). Frequently challenged books of the 21st century

Digital ethics

Most digital ethics issues in libraries concern privacy, property and appropriate use.

Privacy example: a student wants to download a free piece of software onto a computer. To download the software, the student must provide personal information such as name, age and email. What is the issue? What is the solution?

Property example: a student finds a website that contains information that will help her with her research paper. She copies and pastes the useful part into her paper and submits the paper as her own work. What is the issue? What is the solution?

Appropriate use example: a student uses a library computer to keep up-to-date with sports scores while other students are waiting to work on their research papers. What is the issue? What is the solution?