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Rules for using other people's stuff

When you are using other people's work in your school work, always respect other people's hard work by following these three rules. They are fair rules and the law says you must follow them.  If the work is not all your own, then you can't use it any way you want.

Rule 1: Make sure you are allowed to use it, or get permission

This isn't always as hard as it sounds. There are many things you can do without having to actually go and ask a copyright owner if you can copy their work.

Copyright law and copyright licences give permission to schools, teachers, and students to copy bits of some things for some purposes. (The Student guide tells you more about what you can and can't do with other people's stuff).

You can ask your teacher for advice about whether you have permission to copy other people's stuff under copyright law or licences.

When you want to do something that neither copyright law nor any copyright licence allows you to do, then you need to try to get permission from the copyright owners themselves. The page 'Obtaining permission to copy in the "For teachers and contractors" section tells you about the ways you can get permission.)

In some cases, a website or book may say that you may make copies for educational use. Look for statements like:

  • "You may copy parts of this book for use in New Zealand schools."
  • "Material on this website is free of copyright, as long as you acknowledge use of it."

Look also for Creative Commons licences that will tell you what you are allowed to do with the material.

Rule 2: Say where you got it from (acknowledgement)

'Acknowledgement' means saying who created something and where you found it.

If you are using someone's words in your written work, put quotation marks around the words and write beside it where it came from, for example:


From Volcanoes written by Lava Flow.


Or you might use a proper academic reference, such as:


Flow, L. 2005. Volcanoes and how to find them. Somewhere Press. (p.32).


For more information from a website, record the URL and the date, for example:


Accessed from the StudyIt website: https://studyit.govt.nz/, 19 May 2021.


If you have summarised someone else's ideas, acknowledge it by writing something like:


Lava Flow said in Volcanoes and how to find them that volcanoes can be found by looking for both small circular lakes and for pointy mountains.


Rule 3: Do not change other people's stuff

Do not change any material you are using that has been created by other people. Creators and copyright owners do not like other people changing or 'improving' their work, and the law says you must not change their work without their permission. However there are some Creative Commons licences that permit you to remix, tweak, and build upon someone’s work if it has one of these licences. (You should then allow others those same permissions with the new content that you create).

Summarising someone's work

You do not need permission to summarise someone else's work. Summarising is not copying as long as you put their ideas into your own words. But it has to be your own words – there should not be even half a sentence that uses the same words as the original. Even if you use your words to explain their idea, you still have to acknowledge them and where you got their ideas from.


You can use a very short piece of someone else's written work (a quotation), but it can't be the most important or identifiable part of their whole work. And you always need to say where it came from (acknowledgement).


Plagiarism is pretending someone else's work is yours. It is a bit like stealing. This is why you must always acknowledge your sources and use quotes and references.

Even if you put the stuff completely into your own words, you must say where the ideas came from.

Changing a few words (10%, 30% or even 70%) does not make it all yours. The bit unchanged is not yours and you must acknowledge the person who created it.

Writing a story or essay by cutting and pasting from the web is no better than getting someone else to write it for you.

What you should do is research ideas from everywhere, quote and acknowledge the good bits, and use your own words for the rest. This way you will not plagiarise – and you'll get the satisfaction of making up brilliant stuff yourself!