Lesson 3: The Internet
The Internet has provided easy access to tremendous amounts of copyrighted and non-copyrighted materials with the click of a mouse. As a communication medium, the Internet has proven its worth by providing users with remote access to libraries and the ability to research subjects worldwide; however, with that convenience comes confusion. Information obtained on the Internet is often mistakenly assumed to be in the public domain because it is presented in an informal and conversational manner.23
What Are the Challenges?
Before the prevalence of the Internet, it was routine to visit the library and physically handle the books and journals when researching a topic. This formal atmosphere served as a gentle reminder that someone else authored and published the materials. Where we once approached the library with a stack of index cards to record our notes and references, today’s researcher often relies on downloaded articles, images captured on screens, and paragraphs of text cut and pasted from the Internet. In this move from hand editing the text page to screen editing, authors may find it difficult to keep references organized and cited properly. Experienced researchers develop their own systems for recording references and citations. Remember, it is your responsibility as the author to quote, paraphrase, and reference your work properly.
Another concern about using materials available on the Internet is credibility. Unless you are researching a topic through a library database or other credible source, there is no guarantee that materials have been edited. Be cautious about using materials that might violate copyright laws or be plagiarized.
How do You Use Information From the Internet?
Editors and college professors are vigorously pursuing the arduous fight against authors who plagiarize works from the Internet. Writers have begun to recognize that with the ease of finding research materials online also comes the ease of tracing plagiarism. Law schools teach their students the seven word rule (if seven or more words are directly quoted from a reference, quotation marks are required). Search engines on the Internet now require fewer than seven words to locate the original source document.
It is common for journal editors to randomly choose words from a work submitted for publication and conduct a search of key words or phrases to check for possible plagiarism. Just as in a traditional library, authors must assume everything on the Internet is “owned” by someone; the same rules for citation and referencing should be followed. Information posted on the Internet is not always accompanied by a copyright symbol, so be reminded that there is potential for plagiarism and only thorough and accurate referencing will prevent you from copyright infringement.
With the prevalence of digital imaging, photographic and graphic copyright infringement is now just as common as plagiarism. The digital format lends itself to fast and inexpensive production of copies almost identical in quality to the original. There are many websites that offer yearly subscriptions to a variety of royalty-free photographs and graphics. These subscriptions allow the user to incorporate professional photographs in their work without concern for licensing from the original owner. Read the license agreement carefully to insure that the subscription offers the copyright protection you need to present or publish their photographs in your work.
It is important to understand how to place well-written and accurately cited information on the Internet. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) reminds us that most journals are published in both electronic and print versions and any electronic publishing (including the Internet) is considered publishing.3 Posting information on the Internet makes that information available to everyone and every type of data retrieval software. By placing plagiarized or inappropriately referenced information on the Internet and making it available to others, whether they choose to copy it or not, you are guilty of distributing copyrighted materials without permission.24
How Do You Protect Information Posted on the Internet?
The concept of open access is a publishing trend for journals offering scientific content. Open access can be defined as "access permitting the unrestricted reading, downloading, copying, sharing, storing, printing, searching, linking, and crawling of some body of work."4 With open access, authors are not required to transfer copyright to the journal; rather, they are asked to pay a fee to have their research published. Many open access journals charge less for subscriptions than do traditional journals, allowing for larger circulation and greater exposure for the researchers' study. It is always in the best interest of the publishing physician to confirm the copyright requirements with the collaborating journal's editor.
Physicians must have a thorough understanding of the copyright laws when preparing presentations for publication on the Internet. All references must be accurate and all borrowed graphics must state that they are being used with permission of the owner; otherwise, slides containing such items should be removed before being posted on the website. You may notice that slide presentations may appear to have been “cleaned” before being published to the Internet. There are several reasons for this: file size and download times are an issue for some, inside jokes may not be appropriate for the Internet, and of course copyright issues must always be considered.
In the last few years, the Internet has changed the world by providing a tremendous communication opportunity. With this opportunity comes the responsibility of using it properly. Copyright infringement and plagiarism are ethical and legal dilemmas faced by all researchers and writers. Standards and procedures must be meticulously followed whether writing for relaxation, or conducting research on the Internet while writing a biomedical manuscript. When in doubt, obtain permission from the copyright holder.
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