As a professional engineer who is also a student a college Master's degree program, there are both workplace and academic expectations you must adhere to. It can be confusing sometimes, because the working world and university campuses have ethical standards that overlap in some places and diverge in others. Also, these 2 contexts use different words to describe those expectations. Your thesis project, which involves the fair use of others' ideas, makes copyright, patent, and proper citation very important.
In the working world, where marketable ideas can earn a lot of money, there is great concern about "intellectual property." Authors, inventors, and business can claim the right to distribute and profit from those ideas through the "copyright" or "patent" systems. U.S. laws and regulations govern the proper procedures. Persons who use others' ideas without obtaining permission can be sued for "infringement."
In contrast, on college campuses, the key concern is assessing how much you've learned. There are some exemptions to U.S. laws to enable professors and students to share information more easily for educational purposes. Thus, in a course assignment or thesis, you may be able to copy more of a copyrighted text or patented design than you would in the working world, and you may not need to ask the creator's permission to do it. However, your professors require you to "cite" (give credit to) others' ideas and designs. If you "plagiarize" (use others' work without citation), your grade and your status in your program can be penalized for "academic dishonesty."
The following documents, videos, and links will help you understand some of the basics. If you have additional questions, please contact your professor or contact your librarian.
Two of many things that are shared between engineering codes of ethics and college academic policies are:
If you need a reminder of the ethics of the engineering profession, read these:
As a professional engineer, you have a responsibility to use information sources in an ethical manner. Copyright law governs the use of text, software code, and other information that exists in written, audio, or visual form. In the working world, citing your sources is not good enough. Thus, copyright is a concern for anyone who is writing a thesis that may result in a publication or a conference presentation.
The United States has various regulations pertaining to what types of materials you can copy; how much of the material you can use; the context or purpose of your use; and more. Below are some resources to learn more about this. If you have additional questions, please contact your librarian.
For engineers and engineering students, patent law can also come into play, especially if your thesis includes designing or improving on some kind of product or procedure. Here are some resources for learning more about it:
These resources help explain ethical expectations on college campuses, especially in terms of writing papers, and especially at Penn State. In this context, plagiarism and proper citation are the main concerns.
Some optional resources for further information: