Copyright for Students

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Using copyrighted materials in student works 

Students completing course work, such as assignments and class presentations, may wish to incorporate excerpts of text, images, figures, music, video clips or other copyright-protected material.  Similarly, students may wish to include copyright-protected content in their thesis, dissertation, or major research paper.  While copying a substantial part of a copyrighted work generally requires the consent of the copyright owner, some limited copying is permitted under exceptions in the Copyright Act or may also be allowable under the terms of a work’s license.  

The information below outlines ways in which students may make use of copyrighted materials in their own work without infringing copyright. For general information about copyright and the types of materials that are copyright-protected, see Using Copyright Protected Works.

Some categories of works, or portions of works, are not subject to copyright protection.  For more information about content that can be freely copied and used see Works that can be copied without permission

Fair dealing and course work 

Fair dealing is a well-known and commonly used exception in the Copyright Act which gives users of copyrighted works the right to copy, within limits, for the purposes of research, private study, education, parody or satire, as well as for criticism, review or news reporting, with appropriate attribution. The inclusion of copyrighted material in student course work will generally qualify for one of these fair dealing purposes, such as criticism, review, or education. 

While the Copyright Act does not define the amount that can be copied under fair dealing, educational guidelines suggest that copies could be short excerpts of text, or brief clips from a movie or a sound recording, for example.  For more information on how to assess fair dealing, see Evaluating whether your use of a work is fair dealing.

Licenses and terms of use 

Many copyrighted works, and particularly online works, are subject to the terms of a license that may override the rights that are provided by the fair dealing exception.  For more information on using licensed content, including library e-journals and e-books, subscription services such as Netflix, or online platforms such as YouTube, see Licenses and Terms of Use

Copyright and your thesis

The content below has been adapted, with permission, from Queen’s University Library’s Copyright & Your Thesis and the University of British Columbia Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies’ Copyright and Publishing

Copyright ownership of your thesis

University of Guelph (U of G) students own copyright in the works they produce as part of their program of study, including works they submit in partial fulfilment of the requirements for completing a degree. As a thesis author, it is necessary to understand your rights as a copyright owner, as well as your obligations when using the copyright-protected material of others.  

For more information about your rights as an author, see Author Rights

U of G requires that all theses completed in fulfilment of the requirements of a thesis-based graduate degree be deposited in the Atrium Institutional Repository. By depositing your thesis in the Atrium, you are granting U of G a non-exclusive license to reproduce, translate, and/or distribute your thesis, worldwide, and in any format. All theses deposited in the Atrium are also made available (after any applicable embargo) through Library and Archives Canada’s Theses Portal

Please note that the copyright information outlined here also applies to Major Research Papers, although these do not require deposit in the Atrium and Library and Archives Canada. 

Retaining copyright ownership when publishing your thesis 

If you elect to publish part or all of your thesis as a research article or book chapter, be careful not to sign away your copyright ownership to your publisher. If you sign away your ownership, you may lose the ability to use your work for other purposes. In particular, it’s important to retain copyright ownership of your thesis so that you can meet your obligations to deposit your thesis in the Atrium. For more information about your rights as an author, see Author Rights.

Using copyrighted material in your thesis 

It is your responsibility as the thesis author to ensure that your use of copyrighted materials from other sources complies with the Canadian Copyright Act. It may be necessary to obtain permission from the copyright owner to reproduce someone else’s work in your thesis, whether you decide to publish your thesis or not. Not all works, or portions of works, are subject to copyright protection, and not all uses of works require permission. There are also exceptions in the Copyright Act that may apply to the works you are using in your thesis or project, such as the fair dealing exception. For more information see Using Copyright Protected Works

When you submit the final copy of your thesis to the Atrium, you will be required to complete the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies’ Submission Checklist - Thesis Submission Control Form and agree to the Atrium’s Digital Repositories Policy whereby you are confirming that any copyrighted material in your thesis complies with the provisions of the Copyright Act, or you have obtained permission to use it. If your thesis contains other works in a way that is not permitted under the Copyright Act or without permission from the author, you will need to remove them from your thesis. When you do so, replace it with a description, a full citation, the location of the source, and an explanation that the source has been removed due to the publisher’s copyright restrictions. 

Using a published article in a manuscript style thesis 

If you wish to include one of your own published articles in your manuscript style thesis: 

  • Check the publisher/journal website for policies on material reuse and permissions. It may provide one or more of the following: 
    • Advanced permission for specific uses. 
    • Advanced permission to journal authors who have signed over copyright. 
    • Information on how to request permission. 
    • Information on uses that are specifically prohibited. 
  • Use Sherpa Romeo to look up journals and find their policies on use of your published papers in a thesis. 

Obtaining permission 

If you have determined your use of a work does not meet the fair dealing criteria (see above), then it may be necessary for you to obtain permission to include it in your thesis. Also, if you decide to publish your thesis, many publishers will require you to seek permission for all copyrighted materials that you have included in it, even if your use may be permissible under fair dealing. 

If you determine that your use of a work requires that you obtain permission, ensure that you contact the copyright owner as early as possible. In most cases, permission is willingly given; however, obtaining letters or completed forms may take a long time.  

Permission from co-authors is always necessary if you include full articles that have been published elsewhere (i.e., a manuscript style thesis). Any permissions you obtain should be granted in writing, and you should retain any relevant permission forms, letters, or emails for your records in case your use of a work is challenged. 

If permission is denied you will need to the work from your thesis and replace it with a description, a full citation, the location of the source, and an explanation that the source has been removed due to the publisher’s copyright restrictions.  

How to obtain permission 

To request permission to use copyrighted material in your own work, contact the copyright holder and include the following information in your request: 

  1. Introduce yourself - Tell the copyright holder that you are a graduate student preparing a thesis or dissertation for submission as part of the requirements for your degree at the University of Guelph.  
  2. Identify the work you are seeking permission to use - Give standard reference information for the work, including figure/table number, if any, and page numbers. You can briefly describe the context in which you propose to use the work in your thesis.  
  3. Tell the copyright holder that:  
    • your thesis will be available in the University of Guelph Institutional Repository, the Atrium, and will be available online to the public.  
    • you will be granting non-exclusive distribution rights as listed in the library’s Digital Repositories Policy. Send the copyright holder a copy of this policy.   
  4. Ask for specific action - Request a reply by a given date.  

Citing (attributing) sources 

If you decide to copy and use content under the fair dealing exception, you will need to ensure that you credit (attribute) the original source of the material, including the title and author/creator or copyright owner. Attribution is a legal requirement if your use is for the purpose of criticism, review, or news reporting. You must include proper citation for any copyrighted material you have used regardless of source, including text, photos, pictures, charts, graphs, and tables. 

If you obtained permission to use copyrighted material in your work, the citation must include the copyright symbol, name of the copyright holder (who may or may not be the author), and, if applicable, a statement that the use of the material or adaptation (in the case of adapted graphics) is by permission of the copyright holder. 


© Journal of XYZ, 2009, by permission. 
 © Journal of XYZ, 2009, adapted by permission. (For adapted graphics.) 

Sometimes copyright holders will ask you to use a specific wording in your citation. If so, it's important to follow their instructions exactly. 

More information

Learn more about using copyright protected works including: 

  • The fair dealing exception and how it applies to your work 
  • Works that can be copied without permission 
  • Evaluating whether your use of a work is fair dealing 

Get assistance

If you need assistance, we can help. Contact us


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