Master citation and copyright basic rules

This section is intended for anyone at EPFL who uses sources in written work and must understand and apply the directives. The next parts focus more specifically on citations and the rights pertaining to student’s works, scientific publications, and the preparation of course notes. Not abiding by these rules is called plagiarism and can lead to penalties. Caution! The reproduction of someone else’s work (for personal or classroom use) is subject to different conditions than its use in a publication.

Rational Bibliographic : Guide de rédaction des références bibliographiques [French] (freely available online, or on request in printed version at the Library desk)


In the directives, EPFL has gathered the rules regarding the use of sources and citations. These rules are universally valid in scientific and academic environments and are mandatory. One of the directives is destined specifically for students, while the other, included in the directive on scientific integrity, specifically concerns researchers.

It is important to note that EPFL’s rules go beyond Swiss copyright law (LDA). In scientific and academic environments, both in Switzerland and abroad, the rules are stricter than in general society.

This section is intended for anyone at EPFL who uses sources in written work and must understand and apply the directives. The next parts focus more specifically on citations and the rights pertaining to student’s works, scientific publications, and the preparation of course notes.

In short

Why cite sources?

  • To set apart the author’s personal, novel contributions
  • To highlight material drawn from other publications

What should be cited?

  • Excerpts that are copied word for word
  • Excerpts that are paraphrased
  • Informal contributions

How should sources be cited?

  • By identifying the passage that was copied
  • By inserting an in-text citation
  • By providing an accurate and complete bibliography

Not abiding by these rules is called plagiarism and can lead to penalties.

Caution! The reproduction of someone else’s work (for personal or classroom use) is subject to different conditions than its use in a publication.

“It is normal that a large part of a written work should be based on what others have already created or discovered. The resulting written work, whatever its nature, must however comply with the citation rules in order to avoid any form of plagiarism” (EPFL, 2013, Preamble).

Citations provide the reader with a means to distinguish content that derives from other publications from the author’s personal, novel contributions. “If the material originating from elsewhere is not clearly indicated in the work, the student allows the reader to think that it is their personal and original contribution” (EPFL, 2013, art. 4, par. 3). Not abiding to citation rules is considered v plagiarism, or cheating, and can lead to penalties.

Moreover, by basing themselves on validated information, authors increase the credibility of their own work by showing that what they are writing is both well documented and well established. They also make it easier for the reader to appreciate the novelty of their work.

To conclude, references to works used by an author to write a document are useful to those interested in knowing more about the subject. They may also be useful to reviewers, proof readers, etc. to verify the reliability of the cited sources.

Copyright law does not protect ideas. It merely protects the formulation used to express them.


EPFL, 2013. Directive concerning the citing and referencing of sources of information in written work submitted by students [online]. 1st January 2013. LEX 1.3.3. [Accessed on 20 February 2013].

Available at:

  • Anything that is not a novel, personal contribution must be cited. This also includes content drawn from the author’s own published work (citing oneself), to avoid presenting previously published work as new. Failing to abide by this rule is a form of fraud referred to as self-plagiarism. Whenever possible, citations should refer to published documents that are accessible to the reader. It may however occur that the author’s work is based on documents (reports, internal documents, etc.) that have not been published in the past. Since these documents can not be referred to by the reader, their validity may be called into question. Citing unpublished documents should, therefore, be an exception. A citation can involve reproducing a passage literally from a source, or it can involve passages deriving from a source, but rewritten and structured by the author.
  • When inserting a text passage literally, the passage must be highlighted so that the reader can identify it unambiguously. In this case, the author must respect the way of writing of the original author, otherwise the original work will be modified, which is prohibited. Therefore, modifing the text hoping that it would become one’s property rather than indicating the source is strictly prohibited. In some cases, the author may use his own words, rather than taking over a text passage literally. This technique is referred to as paraphrasing. Nonetheless, the source of the text must be cited. On the contrary, translation is autorized and the mention “translated by…” must be added.
  • Sometimes, informal communications (e.g. oral communications) provide a significant contribution; a discussion between a student and a professor (or an assistant), or a conversation with colleagues. Although is considered acceptable to cite informal contributions, they do not have to be cited in the same way as publications or documents, but should be recognized in the acknowledgements.
  • Illustrations are a special case. In contrast to text documents, where segments of the text can be copied, illustrations can only be copied in their integrity. Illustrations include photographs, graphs, and images.
  • Unless otherwise specified, it is prohibited to use illustrations without explicit permission of the copyright holders. If the copyright holders grant their permission, they must obviously be properly cited. One way that copyright holders of an illustration can grant this permission is by publishing their illustration under a Creative Commons license.


As mentioned above, realizations of ideas are protected by copyright. That means that graphs may be reproduced based on the data they represent (while it is prohibited to reproduce them in their original layout).

A citation has to satisfy the following three points:

  1. The passage that is copied must be marked (unless the author choses to paraphrase)“A computer which can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix.” (Adams, 1979, p.154)
  2. An in-text citation that refers to the bibliography must be inserted“A computer which can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix.” (Adams, 1979, p.152)
  3. An accurate and complete reference must be included in the bibliography: ADAMS, Douglas, 1979. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. London : Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-25864-8
  • If the author reproduces content but reformulates the idea in his own words, only points 2 and 3 apply.
  • Reference management programs, such as Zotero, automatically format references to match a specified format. These programs automatically generate the bibliography based on the works that are cited in a publication.
  • Illustrations may only be included in a publication with the permission of the copyright holder, who must be acknowledged.
  • By publishing images under a Creative Commons Creative Commons license, the copyright holderexplicitly grants permission to use the images. In all other cases, the copyright holder can be acknowledged by writing: “Courtesy of …”.
  • To cite source code, in whole or in part, the author should provide sufficient information for the reader to locate the copied or modified code. The author is also obliged to abide to the license under which the original source code was published.

Useful documents


It is forbidden to literally reproduce a work in its integrity without the explicit permission of its copyright holder. Most commonly, this concerns figures, images, and software code.


Two types of reuse exist:

  1. As part of one’s own publication

The use of another person’s work requires the approval of the copyright holder. In the event that several authors contributed to the work, they must all grant their approval. This is true even when the person requesting to use the document is one of the original authors.

  2. For strictly personal us(not for publication) or for teaching

Article 19 of the Federal Law on Copyright and Related Rights makes exceptions in both of these cases, granting the right to use a work without informing its author. In a teaching environment, publications may only be made accessible to instructors and their students. Remember that if works are published under a  Creative Commons license, the  author has already given his or her explicit consent.


Loi fédérale sur le droit d’auteur et les droits voisins, 2011. [online], RS 231.1. [Accessed 28 March 2013]. Available from: (in French)

By plagiarizing, a student exposes himself to penalties that can range from a zero grade for his paper to, in repeated cases, exclusion from the school. In the case of a PhD candidate, plagiarism is punished more severely than for a Bachelor’s or Master’s student and can lead to the expulsion from doctoral studies, even without precedent. Plagiarism detected at a later time can lead to the revocation of the doctoral degree. EPFL uses software to monitor work for plagiarized elements.

The consequences that plagiarism can have for a researcher are defined in an EPFL directive:

  • Plagiarism or self-plagiarism, whether committed intentionally or by omission, constitutes misconduct, which gives rise to the launching of an internal disciplinary procedure.

Other consequences : plagiarism brings discredit to its author, which has repercussions on his research team, negates the value of the work carried out and brings disgrace on the institution involved. It may also give rise to external procedures. 

(Directive concerning research integrity and good scientific practice at EPFL, art. 18, par. 3-4)

Victims of acts of plagiarism are advised to contact the offender or the institution the offender isaffiliated to, in order to call attention to the offense and to request rectification. If the offender does not abide, he or she can be prosecuted if the copyright holder presses charges (LDA, art. 67-73). The plagiarist can be fined, and if the author can provide evidence of financial losses incurred because of the event, the plagiarist can be required to compensate for these. If a member of the EPFL is involved, EPFL’s disciplinary law applies. In this case, [email protected]should be contacted.


EPFL, 2013, Directive concerning research integrity and good scientific practice at EPFL [online]. 1 January 2013. LEX 3.3.2. [Accessed on 2 May 2013]. Available from:


A copyright protects “authors of literary and artistic works” (freely translated from the Loi fédérale sur le droit d’auteur et les droits voisins, 2011, art. 1 par. 1a). It differs from American copyright law. Only economic rights can be transferred to the copyright holder (e.g. to an publisher). The author is and will always remain the author of his work. Copyright law provides a means to transfer all rights to a third party using a contract.

Creative Commons

Using a Creative Common license, authors (or other right holders) can explicitly grant permission for their work to be used under conditions defined in the license (for commercial or non-commercial purposes, etc…).

Information on Creative Commons licenses can be found on the Creative Commons Foundation website.


A work is disclosed once it has been made publicly accessible for the first time by the author, or with the author’s consent, to a large number of people.

Free software

See Software license


An invention is a creation, either in the form of an idea or an actual production, which allows to address an important technological problem or provides a novel solution to a major challenge. Not all inventions are patentable.

Open Access

Based on the Budapest Initiative, the Open Access movement promotes “free availability [of literature] on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.” (Chan et al., 2002)

Universities can join the movement by signing the Berlin Declaration.

Open source

See Software license

Pedagogical exception

Right given by the law (Loi sur le droit d’auteur et les droits voisins) to the teacher and the students to use and reproduce a work without asking the right to so to the right holder if the access is limited to the class.

Caution! This doesn’t mean that they are allowed to copy/scan a complete work commercially available and give access to it to the class.


“Plagiarism consists of representing oneself as the author of all or part of the work or results in fact originating from one or several other person(s), by failing to respect the rules concerning the citing and referencing of sources.” (EPFL, 2013, art. 8 par. 1)


The term publication is used for works that are made available and accessible to anyone (sometimes at a cost), as opposed to works are not published.

Scientific records

Records of science may be divided into four main groupswhen being archived:

1. Administrative records (e.g. project plans and descriptions, funding applications, contracts, correspondence with sponsors etc.)

2. Raw data: all information used for scientific processing (e.g. surveys,

laboratory or field note books, X-ray pictures, even soil, blood samples or core samples)

3. Analyzed data (“working” data as e.g. reports drafts, excerpts, calculations or electronic records as a part of data processing)

4. All material reporting on the results at all stages: interim, final reports, publications and articles. 

(Arovelius et al., 2010, p. 11-12)

The first three groups fall into the category of primary scientific records. Publications are considered secondary scientific records (Keller-Marxer, Bütikofer, 2008, p. 5).


Self-plagiarism is a fraud that “consists of copying all or part of a previous personal work without citing it or referencing the source, and consequently presenting this work as a new contribution.” (EPFL, 2013, par. 2)

Software license

The software license is a contract that users must accept during the installation process and defines the their rights regarding the use of the software. In the case of proprietary software, users are only granted the right to use run (use) the software.

In the case of free software, users are granted additional rights. Besides running the software, they may study how it works and change it, and they may distribute copies, including copies of versions they modified. (Free Software Foundation, 2013).

The Free Software Foundation provides a list of existing free software licenses.


On this website, the term work is used according to its definition in art. 2 of the Loi fédéral sur le droit d’auteur et les droits voisins:

  1. A work is defined as any form of intellectual creation, be it literary or artistic, that has an individual character.
  2. Intellectual creations include:

    a. those based on language, such as literary, scientific, or other works;

    b. musical or other acoustic works

    c. fine arts, in particular paintings, sculptures, and graphical works

    d. scientific or technical works, including drawings, plans, maps, and sculpted or modeled works.

    e. architectural works

    f. works in applied arts

    g. photographic, cinematographic, or other audiovisual works

    h. choreographic works and pantomimes.

  3. Computer programs (software) are also considered as works
  4. Drafts, titles, and parts of works are also protected if they can be considered intellectual creations with a unique, artistic character. 

(freely translated from the Loi fédérale sur le droit d’auteur et les droits voisins, 2011, art. 2)

  • AROVELIUS, Renata, BARRETT, Anne, HASPEL, Benni, MIKOLETZKY, Juliane and DEKEN, Jean, 2010, Management and preservation of scientific records and data [online]. Paris : International council on archives. [Accessed 14 April 2013]. Available from:!/file/Handbook%202010%20final%20SUV%20logo.pdf
  • CHAN, Leslie, CUPLINKAS, Darius, EISEN, Michael, GENOVA, Yana, GUÉDON, Jean-Claude, HAGEMANN, Melissa, HARNAD, Stevan, JOHNSON, Rick, KUPRYTE, Rima, LA MANNA, Manfredi, RÉV, István, SEGBERT, Monika, DE SOUZA, Sidnei, SUBER, Peter, VELTEROP, Jan and FRIEND, Fred, 2002, Read the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Open Society Foundation [online]. 14 February 2002. [Accessed 15 April 2013]. Available from:
  • KELLER-MARXER, Peter and BÜTIKOFER, Niklaus, 2008, Elaboration d’un modèle pour un archivage à long terme centralisé des données scientifiques primaires et secondaires en Suisse [online]. 22 December 2008. ikeep. [Accessed 14 April 2013]. Available from:

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