Copyright & Theses and Disserations

Copyright & Your Thesis

This guide includes basic information related to copyright and your thesis. For more information related to intellectual property and your work as a graduate student, see the the Faculty of Graduate Studies Copyright and Authorship page.

Reproducing Third-Party Materials in Your Work

The copyright act lists a number of limitations and exceptions to copyright that may apply to the works you are using in your thesis or project.

The University of Windsor copyright policy outlines a number of situations where it is lawful to copy copyrighted works without permission or payment.

They include:

  • Material in which Copyright does not Subsist – Copyright does not protect facts and ideas.
  • Material in the Public Domain - Works in which the term of copyright has expired can be copied without permission or payment. This means the works of creators who have been dead for more than 50 years, no matter where they resided or published their work.
  • Creative Commons - Works under a Creative Commons License are still technically under copyright, however the rights holder has chosen to make them available under a license which may permit copying without additional permission. 
  • Insubstantial Portions – Copying an insubstantial amount of a work is not a violation of the Copyright Act and does not trigger the requirement of permission or payment. What will constitute a substantial part of a work is assessed from a quantitative and qualitative point of view. Regardless of the quantity of the work copied, if that part is distinctive, valuable or an essential part of the work, the copying will infringe the owner’s copyright. Examples of insubstantial use include selected sentences, paragraphs, verses or choruses from an article, book, poem or song .
  • Works with Implicit or Explicit Consent to Copy – Material specifically presented for public use – including Open Access publications, works placed in Institutional Repositories and works covered by Creative Commons Licenses – may typically be copied with minimal restrictions. When copying material posted on the Internet, a user should check what use rights the copyright owner permits.

The Fair Dealing Exception

Exceptions are situations where copyrighted works can be reproduced without getting permission or providing compensation to a copyright holder. The most relevant exception for writing your thesis is called Fair Dealing. 

In order for fair dealing to apply to your use of others’ works in your thesis, the copying must be for one or more of allowed purposes: research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review, or news reporting. It is important to note that using a work for one or more of the allowed purposes does not automatically mean the use is fair. In addition, you must consider all the following 6 factors:

  • the purpose of the proposed copying, including whether it is for research, private study, education, satire, parody, criticism, review or news reporting;
  • the character of the proposed copying, including whether it involves single or multiple copies, and whether the copy is destroyed after it is used for its specific intended purpose;
  • the amount of the dealing from the individual user’s perspective, including the proportion of the work that is copied and the importance of that excerpt in relation to the whole work; this is often referred to as a “short excerpt” and must contain no more of the work than is required in order to achieve the fair dealing purpose;
  • alternatives to copying the work, including whether there is a non-copyrighted equivalent available;
  • the nature of the work, including whether it is published or unpublished; and
  • the effect of the copying on the work, including whether the copy will compete with the commercial market of the original work.

For more information please visit our Fair Dealing Guide. In addition, you may wish to review the CARL copyright modules and the CAUT Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Material. 

It is important to keep in mind that upon publication your thesis will be submitted to and available in 2 online repositories including Scholarship at UWindsor and the ProQuest Theses and Dissertations database. The availability and distribution of your work here does increase the exposure of the work. 

Seeking Permission

If you are using copyrighted material your best protection against accusations of copyright violation is to seek permission. Thankfully, many academic publishers are flexible with allowing graduate students permission to reproduce copyrighted content in their thesis or dissertation. So make sure you indicate that you are a graduate student and that your intended use is as part of your thesis or dissertation when seeking permission. 

This may include but is not limited to:
TablesSurvey Instruments
ImagesAudio Files
VideoSubstantial Reproductions of text
  • Rightslink is a tool that easily allows you to request permission for republication. In cases where they cannot give permission, they also often list the contact information for the rightsholder.
  • Many publisher websites will include information about how to request permission (eg. Oxford Journals). You can also look up individual publisher policies on the SHERPA RoMEO website.
  • ProQuest has put together a guide that includes a sample permissions letter that you can use and modify for requesting permission.
Points to Remember 
  • Indicate that you are a graduate student writing a thesis or dissertation to complete your degree requirements at the University of Windsor
  • Give yourself enough time to obtain permission and indicate the response date you need
  • Keep copies of any correspondence and notices and emails

Publishing Your Thesis Elsewhere

You own the copyright to your thesis as a whole and are free to publish your thesis if you wish. If your thesis includes copyrighted works like figures, tables, etc. the publisher may request that you get permission to publish.

You should be aware that many former students in North America are contacted by publishing companies which search the Internet for theses. The companies then contact writers expressing specific interest in his or her thesis, and offer to publish it. You are free to do this if you wish, but you should research the company first to ensure that it is a reputable academic publisher. There are usually discussions between former students online which can give you an insight into the value of publishing with a particular company.

Including Previously Published Work in Your Thesis

If your article has been previously published you've likely already signed a copyright transfer agreement with the publisher that would determine how your work can be reused. The publisher may outline the rights you have for different versions of the work and the purpose of the reuse. For example, Elsevier permits the reuse in a thesis or dissertation for non-commercial purposes. So, if you're unsure of the rights you have it would be best to reach out to the journal and explain your situation.

It is important to note that the University will include your work in our institutional repository Scholarship at UWindsor and it is also submitted to ProQuest's ETD database. Inclusion of your work in Scholarship at UWindsor would be considered non-commercial. However inclusion in Proquest may be considered commercial. You can request an embargo on the release of the work there if the publisher requires it. 

Thanks to UBC libraries from which some of this content was adapted.

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