Citation and copyright basic rules

Copyright protects two types of rights: moral and economic rights. Only the economic rights can be transferred (e.g. publisher). The author is and always remains the author of his work (moral rights). Only the author (or the right holder) can authorize or not the use of his work.

The concept of moral rights does not always exist as such in the legislation of common law countries (United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Commonwealth countries in particular), at least moral rights in these countries are sometimes transferable.

Essential Bibliographic: Guide to bibliographic  references writing

(short version, freely available online)



Rational Bibliographic : Guide de rédaction des références bibliographiques

(in French, freely available online, printed version available at the desk on-demand)

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.

Citation allows readers to highlight the materials drawn from other publications and thus to distinguish these parts from the author’s personal and 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. This amounts to cheating (plagiarism Art. 8). (Lex 3.3.3, section 2, art. 4).

Failure to respect the rules of citation is called plagiarism, which gives rise to the launching of an internal disciplinary procedure. Moreover, relying on duly documented and well-founded information gives credibility to the work. The originality of the work is then easier to highlight.

Finally, the references provided by the author, those which enabled the writing of the document, are useful for the readers who want greater insight into the subject. They are also essential for proofreaders to check the reliability of the sources used.

  • 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.
  • A passage from a source work, reformulated according to a specific wording and structure. This is of course authorized but does not exempt from duly referencing the source.
  • A secondary quote. When an author has read a secondary citation that cites a primary citation, the secondary source (the one directly consulted) should be cited.
  • Informal communications (e.g. oral communications) between a student and a professor (or an assistant), or a conversation with colleagues. Although often a significant contribution and considered acceptable to cite, 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.

Hint: 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, 2005, p.234)
  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, 2005, p.234)
  3. An accurate and complete reference must be included in the bibliography: ADAMS, Douglas, 2005. 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.
  • By publishing images under a Creative Commons license, the copyright holder explicitly 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.

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.

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Student works and copyright


Research and copyright


Copyright and teaching activities