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Copyright Guide for Students

Copyright and Your Thesis

In Canada, copyright protection comes into effect as soon as a work is created. Students are responsible for ensuring that their use of copyrighted material is compliant with Canadian copyright law, and that copyright has been cleared (if necessary) before submitting their work to the university and Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Students sign a non-exclusive license when they submit their work to the repository and LAC. This license grants our institutions the right to publish and archive a copy of the work, while allowing students to retain their rights to the work and to enter into other non-exclusive agreements.

Copyright considerations are in addition to those surrounding academic integrity. You must always fully cite all of your references, even if permission is granted to use a work. 

Please note: This guide does not provide legal advice, but is intended to give guidance about acceptable use of copyright protected materials.

When Do I Need Permission?

Up until the time that your thesis is added to the Institutional Repository/Theses Canada (Library and Archives Canada), it is considered a private research paper and copyright protected material can be used without permission as long as it is properly cited and adheres to the university’s Fair Dealing Guidelines.

However, once your thesis is ready to be added to our repository and Theses Canada, substantial portions of copyright protected materials used in your thesis will likely require permission from the copyright holder. Instances where permission is usually required include:

  • Images from copyright protected sources - including newspapers, online resources, journal articles, etc.
  • Long quotations and/or multiple excerpts from the same source.
  • Parts of your work that are co-authored.
  • Parts of your work that have already been published or are accepted to be published.
  • Testing instruments, measurement, and assessment resources.
  • Poetry, song lyrics, and other highly creative works.

It is important to keep in mind that changing a work (adapting or altering) generally does not negate the need for permission from the copyright holder. If you need to adapt an original work, you will need to seek permission unless the terms of use or open license attached to the work allow for the adaptation.

This content is adapted from the University of Saskatchewan site and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License

How to Obtain Permission

Seeking permission is a straightforward process, but it can take some time for the copyright owner to respond. You are strongly encouraged to send out any permission requests as soon as possible. The Copyright Office is happy to help walk you through the permission seeking process. Please contact us at Copyright@smu.ca.

Identify the Copyright Holder

Begin by identifying the copyright holder. Usually you will be able to identify the owner somewhere on the work by looking for the copyright symbol ©, which should have the copyright owner’s name next to it. You’ll often find this at the beginning of a book, at the side of a photograph or at the bottom of a web page.

Permission from Individuals

If the copyright owner is an individual, then the next step is to email or write to that individual, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing; an email message will suffice. It’s also a good idea to keep a record of who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave the permission.

Permission from Commercial Publishers

If the copyright owner is a commercial publisher, the fastest course of action is often to search for the work in question at the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). The CCC handles permissions for a large number of publishers, and permission to include images in theses can often be obtained through the CCC website swiftly and at no cost.

If you cannot obtain permission through the CCC, then the next step is to check the publisher’s website. Many publishers will require that you submit your request directly to their permissions department, while others will require that you use an online form.

When you arrive at the website, look for a link that says “Rights and Permissions” (or something similar), then read through the available information to determine the correct method for requesting permission.

Permission from Journals

If the copyright owner is an academic journal (or an academic association/society that publishes a journal), then you may be able to obtain permission through the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), as discussed above. If permission is not available through the CCC, then you should check the journal’s website, which may provide one or more of the following:

  • Advance permission for specific uses - usually outlined in the Terms and Conditions.
  • Advance permission to journal authors who have signed over copyright
  • Information on how to request permission
  • Information on uses that are specifically prohibited

If you can’t locate any information about copyright and permissions on the journal’s website, then visit the website of the company or organization that publishes the journal.

If permission to use copyrighted material is given on a website, then print out or save an electronic copy of the web page that states this and keep it for your records. Note, saving a link to the page is not sufficient, as the link may break or the content of the website may change.

Proof of Permission

You should keep copies of all letters and forms granting you permission to use copyrighted material. Copies of these letters should be submitted with your thesis. The best possible proof of permission is one of the following:

  • a completed copy of the Permission to Use Copyrighted Material form.
  • an original signed letter on the copyright owner’s letterhead.
  • an email addressed to you that grants permission to use the content and the terms associated with the use.

The information in this section has been adapted from UBC's Theses and Dissertations site and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Unable to Get Permission?

Your thesis should be as complete as possible when submitted to the repository. However, there may be cases when you are unable to obtain permission, such as:

  • When the copyright holder will not grant permission to use the material.
  • When there is a charge associated with obtaining permission
  • When the copyright holder has not responded to your request in time for submission

If you have removed copyrighted material from your thesis, you must:

  • Insert a statement that the material has been removed because of copyright restrictions
  • Give a description of the material and the information it contained, plus a link to an online source if one is available
  • Provide a full citation of the original source of the material

Example: Figure 3 has been removed due to copyright restrictions. It was a diagram of the apparatus used in performing the experiment, showing the changes made by the investigating team. Original source: Wu, G. and Thompson, J.R. (2008) Effect of Ketone Bodies on Dairy Cattle. Biochem J. 255:139-144.

The brief description of the removed figure is important, as it gives the reader a chance to follow the thesis argument without needing to look up the actual figures. If possible, including a link to an online source is also very useful.

The information in this section has been adapted from UBC's Theses and Dissertations site and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Where Can I Get Additional Help?

There are a number of resources that can help you understand your rights and obligations:

Additional information about copyright guidelines for Theses & MRP submission, including examples of copyright permission forms, can be found on the Saint Mary's University Archives web page.

The Copyright Office can also help. While we cannot give legal advice, we can answer questions about copyright, discuss best practices, and support you during the permission seeking process.