Using Copyright Materials in Your Thesis and Major Research Paper
Whenever you include someone else’s work in your thesis (e.g. figures, graphs, photos, images, extensive quotes etc.), you need to ensure that your use complies with the Copyright Act.
What types of materials can you include without worrying about copyright?
- Material that is out of copyright – this generally applies to materials whose authors have been dead for more than 50 years.
- Material which is not protected by copyright – copyright does not protect facts, ideas or short words or phrases.
- Insubstantial parts of a work – Copyright infringement does not occur when only an insubstantial part of a work has been reproduced. You’ll need to make a judgment as to whether the excerpt you wish to use is a substantial part of a work, based on both the quantity reproduced (i.e. what portion of the work was copied) and the quality (i.e. whether a material or essential part of the work was copied). For example, short quotes from a book would likely constitute an insubstantial part.
When can material be included under the fair dealing exception?
The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows you to use other people’s copyright for certain purposes, including research, private study and criticism/review, without permission from the copyright owner, provided that the use of their work is ‘fair’. Whether something is 'fair' will depend on the circumstances, including the amount used, the character and purpose of the use, the nature of the work, the effect of the use on the work and whether there were any appropriate alternatives.
You’ll need to consider each of these factors and make a determination as to whether the material you wish to include is “fair”. It may help to discuss your evaluation with your supervisor and the Office of Graduate Studies, as uses which accord with industry custom and practice are more likely to be fair.
What if none of these possibilities (fair dealing, material is out of copyright, etc.) apply?
If you are reproducing a substantial part of a copyright work and neither fair dealing nor any other of the exceptions explained above, you will need to obtain permission from the copyright owner.
How do I get permission to include copyright materials in my thesis?
For journal articles, check the journal website to see whether the journal gives you advance permission to include excerpts in a thesis and if not, look for any information the website provides on how to request permission. For many journals, you can use Rightslink, an online tool through which you can request permission for re-publication and in some cases, obtain permission on the spot for free. You can also use the Sherpa Romeo website to find out journal publisher policies.
For all other materials and for journal publishers whose policies do not give advance approval to include excerpts in a thesis, you will need to identify and locate the copyright holder (the Library can assist you with this) and send them a letter or email which:
- explains that you are a Brock University graduate student preparing a thesis or major research paper;
- identifies the work you wish to use;
- notifies the copyright holder that your thesis will be available in Brock University’s online digital repository, which is available to the public;
- explains that you will be granting non-exclusive licences to Brock and to Library and Archives Canada – you should provide copies of or links to the licences:
- Requests permission, by a set date.
It may help you to base your request on this sample permission letter.
What if I can’t get permission?
Under the Faculty of Graduate Studies Thesis Format Specifications, where permission cannot be obtained for third party copyright materials, the copyright material must be removed from the archival copy of the thesis and a page insterted in its place, explaining that the material has been removed due to copyright restrictions, what the material contained, and the original source of the material. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may include someone else’s copyright materials in your thesis, subject to certain limitations. However, in some cases, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright owner.
If you have more questions about including third party copyright materials in your thesis, which aren’t answered here, speak with your supervisor or contact email@example.com or the Library.