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Legal and Ethical Issues Pertaining to Use of the Internet

APA Format
Terms and Conditions of Fair Use

The Internet and the World Wide Web are full of useful information, interesting graphics, animation, songs, multimedia presentations, as well as a host of educational tools such as lesson plans and tutorials. Most of it is available for classroom use under the fair use doctrine but with so much material how can you tell what is and what isn’t? When is it appropriate to casually use material, when should credit be given the author or artist, and when should material only be used if you are prepared to pay for use or royalties?

The Internet is not in the Public Domain.

Just because something can be taken from the Internet doesn’t mean it should be. We hear plenty of stories about pirated music and videos available on the Internet. Most people probably know intuitively that it is wrong to download these items but they might not be as aware or as sensitive about photographs, art and other creative works. Because these things are made so easily available it might seem like we can use them as we please, yet the author does not relinquish any rights by presenting material on the Internet.
Read The Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use by Linda Starr of Education World.

Suppose you were preparing a lesson for your class by browsing the Internet searching for material for a presentation on U.S. presidents. You want to include text, images, entire webpages, links to interesting sites, or even a video segment that includes a famous actor.
  • How would you know if your presentation is on safe legal and ethical grounds?
  • Where do you find the information for reference so that you can give proper credit?
  • How do you format and present those references?

APA Format

The American Psychological Association format for citing references is one of the most widely used. It is important to cite where your information was retrieved even if the document you are referencing originated in a book. Examples from the APA site:

Internet articles based on a print source:
VandenBos, G., Knapp, S., & Doe, J. (2001). Role of reference elements in the selection of resources by psychology undergraduates [Electronic version]. Journal of Bibliographic Research, 5, 117-123.

This is for an article that is an exact version of the printed original. Usually this would be a PDF document (articlename.pdf). Notice [Electronic version] lets the reader know you found it online.

Below is the same article but this citation lists the URL. This is necessary if you know or suspect the article is in any way changed from the original work.
VandenBos, G., Knapp, S., & Doe, J. (2001). Role of reference elements in the selection of resources by psychology undergraduates. Journal of Bibliographic Research, 5, 117-123. Retrieved October 13, 2001, from

General formats:
Article in an Internet Periodical
Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of journal, volume number(issue number if available). Retrieved month day, year, from http://Web address.

Nonperiodical Internet Document (e.g., a Web page or report)
Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Retrieved month date, year, from http://Web address.

The APA provides a website with formats for every occasion. Add APA to your browser’s bookmarks for future reference.

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) also provides APA and other reference formats as well as a rich source of guidelines and instructional materials for writing. This PowerPoint presentation helps explain APA format and why it is important.

Watch: Documenting Sources: Using APA Format by Jennifer Liethen Kunka.

Terms and Conditions of Fair Use

Hey, is it legal and ethical to use that PowerPoint presentation?

How does OWL feel about this?

Find out by going to their Terms and Conditions of Fair Use page . This is a good example of how online property is treated in general.

This is what they want:
Liethen Kunka, Jennifer. (2001). Documenting sources:using apa format. Retrieved November 23, 2004, from Purdue University Online Writing Lab:
Copyright ©1995-2004 by OWL at Purdue University and Purdue University. All rights reserved.

In general, linking to material does not require notification or reference as long as the link indicates the source and the material is not transferred to a different website for viewing. OWL likes to be notified of the link and this is a courtesy.

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Last modified November 05, 2004