Technology is providing convenient access to an incredible amount of information. It has also made access and copying/distribution practically seamless, requiring nothing more than a click of the mouse. However, the ability or permission to access a resource does not automatically imply permission to re-use.
Electronic journal subscriptions and ebook bundles through the Library are licensed for a defined user population and are not to be shared with friends and colleagues from other institutions. Resources on the internet may be posted with specific permissions to copy or distribute; but when they do not, there is no implied permission or the freedom to re-use.
Also, the lack of an identifiable copyright owner does not excuse use without permission. Legislation has been evolving to address these unavailable resources known as "Orphan Works".
The Penn State Graduate School provides an annually updated Thesis Guide for students. A section is devoted to Copyright concerns regarding a student's responsibility as a user of copyrighted materials in the dissertation/thesis and also as the author of the work. Due to dissemination of the work via Proquest UMI and also the University's eTD (electronic thesis and dissertation) database, fair use guidelines must be complied with or permissions sought. A link to the Proquest guidelines is provided for reference. Provision is also made for students who want to delay publication of the final work. CAUTION: If you are interested in submitting your work to a publisher that does not accept "previoiusly published" materials, consider requesting an exemption from these open access venues.
This kind of academic exercise "usually" does not involve copyright permissions. However, if your project or paper is going to be archived electronically and made available for public access, then copyright considerations will enter in - your work will be considered a publication and potentially distributed to anyone accessing it. As a result, use of copyrighted materials beyond "fair use" (without permission) may be a violation.
Entertainment - Illegal downloading and distribution are both violations of University Policy AD 20 and can result in sanctions. This applies to software also.
Email - Even though forwarding another person's mail occurs frequently, emails are technically protected by copyright. Being the recipient of a message does not make you the copyright owner of it.
Social media - Posting/sharing other people's works can be problematic when done without permission. Consider sharing links instead.
Private use - Copying a reasonable amount (e.g. recipe from cookbook, song from a Church hymnal) is usually considered permissible