Copyright FAQs

Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

01

I want to use a figure from another thesis or dissertation from my group. Do I need to ask permission?

Usually. The student who wrote the thesis or dissertation owns the copyright and must be asked for permission. Figures are generally considered works in and of themselves and do not usually constitute a small portion of the work. See "How to Use Copyrighted Materials" for more information. 

If, however, the figure is a simple representation of data, you may not need permission.  Data cannot be copyrighted, so non-creative ways of representing the data are generally considered fair use.

02

My advisor wrote a journal article and says it's ok for me to use a figure from it in my thesis or dissertation. I am not a co-author on the publication. Do I need to ask permission?

Usually. Your advisor cannot grant you permission to use material since the publisher now owns the copyright. See "How to Use Copyrighted Materials" for more information.

If, however, the figure is a simple representation of data, you may not need permission.  Data cannot be copyrighted, so non-creative ways of representing the data are generally considered fair use.

03

I want to use a figure from a journal article or book chapter that I wrote in my thesis or dissertation. Do I need to ask permission?

Usually. Unless you have retained the rights to the article, the publisher now owns the copyright and only the publisher can grant permission. See "How to Use Copyrighted Materials" for more information.

If, however, the figure is a simple representation of data, you may not need permission.  Data cannot be copyrighted, so non-creative ways of representing the data are generally considered fair use.

04

I want to publish a journal article and use this as a chapter in my thesis or dissertation. Do I need to ask permission?

Usually. When you sign the copyright transfer agreement, you transfer the copyright to the publisher. Some publishers allow you to retain certain rights, which might include reprinting the article in a thesis. Either way, you should document that you have permission to use the article or have retained the right to publish the article. See "How to Use Copyrighted Materials" for more information.

05

My figure is from the internet. Do I need to ask permission?

Usually. All web pages are copyrighted, and most have a legal notices page that details their policies and procedures. Material on the web - although easy to get - is still copyrighted in the same way as a book or journal article. See "How to Use Copyrighted Materials" for more information.

06

I want to use a figure from my thesis in my dissertation. Do I need to ask permission?

It depends. If you published any of the material in a journal or book, you will need to abide by the copyright transfer agreement you signed with the publisher. If the material has not been published elsewhere, you retain the copyright to your thesis, and do not have to ask permission.

07

The publisher won't respond to my letters, e-mails or phone calls. What do I do?

Most publishers respond quickly to requests for permission. Publishers, however, are under no obligation to respond. If they don't respond, your best course of action is to remove the material from your thesis or dissertation.

08

I have a photograph I want to use in my thesis or dissertation that a friend gave me. It has never been published. Do I need to ask permission?

Yes. You own the copyright to something as soon as you create it. It does not matter if the material has been published or not. You should give credit to the photographer in the caption of the figure and obtain a permission letter.

09

I modified a figure from a journal article. Do I need to ask for permission?

It depends. Significant modifications result in a figure that is uniquely yours. The source of the inspiration or base of the figure must be acknowledged in your caption. To clarify the source and figure creator, we recommend a credit line in your caption similar to, "Figure adapted by author from SOURCE." where SOURCE would be replaced with an appropriate citation. If the figure is just a tracing of the original figure, or does not contain a significant amount of creativity, you have not created it, and must ask for permission.

10

I created a figure from a set of data gathered by somebody else. Do I need to ask for permission to include this material in my thesis or dissertation?

No. Data cannot be copyrighted, so you are free to use data to create any figure you like. The source of the data must be properly acknowledged, however, and a plain citation can cause the reader to believe that the figure (and not just the data) was taken from the source. To clarify confusion and properly identify the source and figure creator, we recommend a credit line in your caption similar to, "Figure created by author from data in SOURCE." where SOURCE would be replaced with an appropriate citation.

11

The copyrighted material is going into an academic book. I think this is fair use of the material. Do I really need to ask for permission?

Fair use is complicated, and in reality, the courts determine if your use is fair. Putting copyrighted material in a thesis or dissertation is not the same as photocopying an article, or using a figure from the internet for a paper submitted to a professor for class. Things that are definitely not fair use include long quotations, whole journal articles and most figures from any source. Additional information can be found in the Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis publication prepared by ProQuest.

12

I'd like to use a figure from a journal article or web site in my thesis. How do I do that?

Unless figures are truly in the public domain, US Copyright Law protects images and words from any source from being copied into your thesis or dissertation. The same laws protect you against others copying your work and placing it in their documents without your permission. If you are the author of the journal article, consult the copyright transfer agreement you signed to see what rights you retained as an author. If you are not the author of the material, contact the publisher to obtain permission to use the material. Most publishers have a form that can be filled out on their web page to request permission. Please see our copyright page for more information about how to request and document permission to use materials in your thesis or dissertation.

US Copyright Law does allow limited use of copyrighted material under the "fair use" doctrine. This permits you to use limited portions of copyrighted material in any document you publish. Please see the Copyright Office FAQ to assist you in determining if the work you want to use is considered fair use, or if you need to ask permission. Typically, quotations of less than one page are considered fair use, but reproduction of a figure from a journal or web page is not.