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Student Copyright Guide

Exploring copyright & your thesis

Explore the sections below to better understand how copyright impacts your thesis or dissertation: 

Fair Dealing & my thesis

Copyright permissions


Publishing your thesis 

Fair Dealing & my thesis

When copying copyrighted works for use in a thesis, such copying is primarily for the purposes of research, criticism, and/or review. Any fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review must mention the source and, if given in the source, the name of the author or creator of the work. Fair dealing should never be used merely for illustrative purposes or enhancing the content of the thesis without engaging with the third-party copyrighted materials for the fair dealing purposes listed above.

Sometimes you may hear that “copying for research or educational purposes is always fair” but this can be a misleading oversimplification. Ultimately, the fairness of the dealing is determined by a court of law if and when the rights holder makes a claim of infringement against the party that copied the work.

To determine whether a particular instance of copying may be considered “fair” for the purposes of fair dealing, the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that all relevant factors need to be considered, which comprise what is referred-to as the “six-factor” fair dealing analysis.

There is no specific Canadian case law on how the six-factor test would apply to use of third-party content in theses that are freely distributed on the Internet and what kind of copying would be permitted. The CAUT Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Material is a useful resource to learn about the six-factor test and to help determine if using others’ works in your thesis might be considered fair. For more information on fair dealing in general, including the University’s approach to determining whether something is a “short excerpt”, please see the What's a "short excerpt"? section under the Fair Dealing page. 

In summary, if your use of others’ work in your thesis is “fair”, then you do not need to ask for permission to use it. If your use of the work would not be “fair” then you do need to seek permission to use it. As a graduate student, you are responsible for the content of your thesis and, thus, for determining whether your proposed use of copyrighted works qualifies as fair dealing or whether you need to seek permission. The University is unable to provide you with legal advice in this regard.

For more details, explore the Fair Dealing page. 

Copyright permissions

There may be instances that your use of a work is beyond fair dealing, and you will need to seek the permission of the copyright owner to use a work. 

Explore the Requesting Permissions page for when and how to seek permission of a copyright owner. 

Unable to get permission? 

When you are unable to obtain permission or there is a charge for obtaining permission, you must either (1) remove the copyrighted material and insert the text described below; or (2) replace the material with a different work for which permission is either obtainable or not required (such as works that are covered by Creative Commons licenses or that are in the public domain).


caution symbolYour thesis must be as complete as possible. Removal of material is only acceptable if you are denied permission, if a fee will be charged for use of the material, or if you receive no response from the copyright owner after making a reasonable effort at contact. (For more information, see the section on removing images)


If you have removed copyrighted material from your thesis and not replaced it, you must insert the following:

  • A statement that the material has been removed because of copyright restrictions
  • A description of the material and the information it contained, plus a link to an online source if one is available
  • 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.

Removing Images

Can't I just remove any copyrighted images from my thesis prior to submitting it, so I don't need to worry about seeking permission? 

Your thesis should be as complete as possible. Removal of material should only be an option if you are denied permission, if an unreasonable fee will be charged for use of the material, or if you receive no response from the copyright owner after making a reasonable effort at contact.

Theses are scholarly documents, and students are expected to complete them in accordance with scholarly best practices and their program’s requirements. Furthermore, by submitting your thesis to VIUSpace, VIU’s digital repository, it will be publicly accessible online, so you want it to be as complete as possible to ensure that it appears professional, especially to future colleagues and employers. Your thesis is not only the culmination and crowning achievement of your graduate degree, but also the main surviving record of the work you completed during your degree. It is in your best interests to ensure that it is as complete as possible. By omitting images from your thesis, you run the risk of obfuscating the very arguments that you devoted so much time and effort to creating.


Explore the Copyright Alternatives page to see what different license types exist for your publication. 

Creative Commons (CC) licences provide copyright owners with a simple and clear way to grant others permission to access and (depending on your preferences) to share and adapt your work for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

By applying a CC license to your thesis, you can enhance the ease with which others can share and reuse your work. 

Non-exclusive distribution licenses

What exactly is a "non-exclusive distribution license" and why do I need to grant this license to VIU in order to submit my thesis? 

You own the copyright for your thesis, which means that you have the right to produce, reproduce, perform, publish, adapt, translate and telecommunicate your thesis, and you have the right to control the circumstances in which others may do any of these things.

By signing the VIUSpace submission form, you are giving the VIU the permission to publish and archive your thesis in VIUSpace.

Because this licence (or permission) is “non-exclusive,” you retain all of your rights as the copyright owner, and you may grant similar rights to others, at any time. This is in contrast to an “exclusive” licence, which would mean that the VIU alone would have the right publish and archive your thesis.

Visit the Student Work in VIUSpace site to access a copy of the submission form, which includes the non-exclusive distribution license. 

Exclusive distribution licenses

An exclusive license would mean that the publisher alone would have the right to publish and archive your work.

If you are publishing with a journal, make sure to very carefully review the license and terms of use for that publication. There may be language that determines who owns copyright for that work and it may be that the publisher may want to hold an exclusive license for the work. 

Your research & publication

Make sure to visit the Student Research site for details on what to expect when publishing your thesis or dissertation at VIU. 

To explore what Research and Publication means at VIU, visit the Scholarship, Research & Creative Activity website. Visit the Safeguarding your research page to learn more on protecting your data and research. 

Publishing your thesis

You own the copyright to your thesis and are free to publish your thesis if you wish. However, if your thesis includes any copyrighted works (e.g. figures, tables, etc.) that you did not create and you are not able to use this work under an exception available to you under the Copyright Act (such as fair dealing), then you will likely need to obtain permission from the copyright owners in order to publish them.

This is true even if you have already obtained permission to use the works in your thesis, as the act of publishing your thesis would count as a different use of the works in question, and would therefore require separate permissions. With this in mind, as you make your initial requests for copyright permissions for your thesis, you may wish to think about asking for permission should you decide to revise your thesis for publication as a journal article or book at a later date.

Also, you should be aware that students who have graduated may be contacted by publishing companies that have an interest in publishing their thesis. These companies often contact authors directly. You are free to grant permission, but you should research the company first to ensure that it is a reputable academic publisher. There are usually discussions among former students online that can give you an insight into the value of publishing with a particular company.

Explore the Student work in VIUSpace to see details on the publication process and the VIUSpace submmission form.

This webpage adapted content from the UBC These & Dissertation website

Do you have questions? Want to learn more? Contact the Copyright Office

The information on this website is provided as guidance for educational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. 

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