Copyright Guide for Thesis Preparation

Purpose of this guide

This Copyright Guide for Thesis Preparation provides information for graduate students about copyright in the preparation of a thesis or dissertation. The Guide discusses the use of copyrighted material in a thesis as well as copyright issues related to electronic deposit of theses at Concordia University. Concordia regulations require that a thesis be deposited in electronic form in Spectrum, Concordia’s open access research repository, and this Guide reviews the copyright implications of this deposit.

Back to top

Academic Integrity: Citation & Avoiding Plagiarism

An important part of engaging in research and scholarship is giving other authors proper attribution and recognition for their ideas, words, and contributions. This is especially important in preparing a thesis, since your thesis must be an original work in your own words. Naturally, you will cite other works, quote and paraphrase from them. You must do so in a consistent and transparent manner, using a citation or style guide.

Whenever you use someone else’s work, cite it according to the conventions or style guide of your discipline. If you are unsure which citation style to use, consult your supervisor early in your thesis writing process. The Thesis Preparation and Thesis Examination Regulations guide prepared by the Thesis Office lists some commonly used citation manuals. The Library maintains information on citation guides, and offers workshops on best practices and use of reference management tools.

Keep track of the sources you use and make proper citation a practice as you conduct your literature review and research. Citation or style guides will show how to cite a variety of scholarly sources, including journal articles, books, conference proceedings, news sources, archival documents, films, audio recordings, and more.

For more information on citing sources and how to avoid plagiarism, consult the following Concordia resources:

What is plagiarism?

Information about different citation and style guides:

Concordia’s Academic Code of Conduct

Back to top

What is copyright, and to what it applies

It is your responsibility to follow copyright law. Both this Guide and The Concordia University Libraries Copyright Guide provide general information about copyright to assist you. Neither is intended to be and cannot be construed as legal advice. You can also consult Concordia’s Policy on Copyright Compliance (SG-2).

Taking the time to become informed about copyright is essential in the preparation of your thesis, and will also be valuable to you as a copyright holder. Today’s online environment and the availability of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), through institutional repositories such as Spectrum: Concordia University Research Repository, make information available to a wider audience and benefit research everywhere. This new reality makes becoming knowledgeable about copyright very important for you as an author.

Obtaining copyright permissions from copyright holders can be a very time consuming endeavor. Therefore it is strongly recommended that you investigate copyright responsibilities early in the process of writing your thesis. Copyright should be reviewed even in cases where you are including your own previously published work as it is possible that, despite you having authored the work, you no longer retain copyright in it (see Section entitled Including Your Own Previously Published Work in Your Thesis).

Although proper citation provides acknowledgment for the sources you use, it is not sufficient in meeting copyright obligations.

Copyright protects works from being copied, performed or distributed without the permission of the copyright holder, usually the author or the creator of the work, and provides exceptions for special circumstances.

Copyright automatically applies to original works such as books, articles, videos, music, paintings, photographs, digital works, broadcasts and performances.

The length of copyright is usually seventy (70) years after the death of the creator (see Copyright basics - Duration of Copyright). After copyright expires, a work becomes part of the public domain and may be freely copied and distributed.

Before copying, adapting, distributing or performing a copyrighted work, you need to consider whether:

  • You are using an insubstantial or substantial part of the work.
  • What you want to do may fall under fair dealing.
  • The copyright holder has granted permission or has issued a special license.
Back to top

Including Someone Else’s Work

Copyright provides the context to determine the specific circumstances when using someone else’s work is forbidden and others when it is allowed. This section highlights certain parameters to abide by in order to respect the Copyright Act of Canada.

Back to top

Including Someone Else’s Work - Insubstantial inclusion

Copyright protects specifically a "work or any substantial part thereof" (S. 3 of the Copyright Act), which implies that use of insubstantial parts of copyright protected works are allowed by the Copyright Act. It is generally understood that quotations fall under the “insubstantial use” doctrine, so long as they are of a reasonable length. The maximum allowable length of a quotation will depend on many factors, such as the length of the original work or the nature of the work. For example, quoting half of a short poem is probably not an “insubstantial” use, while quoting a few paragraphs from a scholarly book may qualify.

Different disciplines have their own accepted practices. Academic integrity and authorship practices in your discipline may provide more important constraints to using insubstantial parts of copyright protected works (i.e. in determining the maximum length of a citation) than the Copyright Act. It is highly recommended that you discuss such norms with your thesis supervisor or thesis committee or write to

Back to top

Including Someone Else’s Work - Substantial inclusion

Using a substantial part or the whole of a copyrighted work in a thesis means you are using the reserved rights defined in the Copyright Act. In those circumstances, you must determine if this use constitutes “fair dealing” or if the use requires you to seek permission from the appropriate rights holder.

Back to top

Including Someone Else’s Work - Fair Dealing vs. Seeking Permission

In general, employing a substantial part or the whole of a copyrighted work requires you to:

  • Qualify for fair dealing, in which case you do not have to seek permission for using the copyrighted work OR
  • Seek and obtain permission for your intended use OR
  • Refrain from using the work.

The guidelines and information below can assist with your decision about including a copyright protected work in your thesis1.

Fair dealing is a general exception to copyright which applies in the context of private study, research, education, parody or satire, criticism, review, news reporting and usually implies that the source of the work must be identified through proper citation. Fair dealing is defined by stating what it is not: "Fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright." (Copyright Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-42, art. 292 ). This makes it more difficult to define precisely when a use qualifies for fair dealing.

The critique or review of a copyright protected work that is quoted in your thesis may qualify for inclusion as criticism or review under fair dealing. The context or the purpose of how you include the work is the first important factor to consider. For example, including a copyrighted image would arguably not constitute fair dealing for criticism or review if you did not discuss the image. The more something is discussed in your thesis, the easier it becomes to qualify for fair dealing in the appropriate context.

Another factor to consider when assessing fair dealing is “proportionality”. This refers to the proportion or amount of the work that you use compared to the complete work. Reproducing a large section of a work that only constitutes a small proportion of the entire work may more easily be considered fair dealing than using a large proportion of the work. The latter may require that you seek a permission to use such work in your thesis.

These factors above are intended to guide you in determining whether you can include the copyrighted work in your thesis, or whether you need to consider alternatives to using the copyright protected work because your proposed use will have a detrimental impact on the work and its rights holder. For example, it is easier to qualify for fair dealing for criticism and review if the reproduction of an image is reduced in size or resolution, the image’s characteristics are thoroughly discussed in your thesis, its suppression would diminish the quality and relevance of the discussion and a full citation for its source is included.

For further information regarding other factors that should be taken into account, consult The Concordia Libraries Copyright Guide. Again, general or accepted uses in your field may be a guide towards what constitutes fair dealing.

1Please note that making copies of articles and other copyrighted works for your personal records easily fits within the context of fair dealing for the purposes of private study or research. In this Guide, we are discussing the use of copyrighted works within your thesis. For more information about copying for private study or research purposes, please read:

2https://www.canlii. org/en/ca/laws/stat/rsc-1985-c-c-42/latest/rsc-1985-c-c-42.html#_Exceptions_189943

Back to top

Including Someone Else’s Work - Types of Information Formats Protected by Copyright

If you incorporate any of these formats that are copyright protected in your thesis or dissertation, it is your responsibility to determine if you are using an insubstantial or substantial amount of the material. If you use a substantial amount, you are required to seek copyright permission to use unless the use of the material falls under fair dealing.


Paper and digital books and articles, as well as web pages, all of which present textual information such as poems, plays, novels, research articles, papers, opinions or blogs, are covered by copyright. Substantial or insubstantial use depends in part on the proportion of the text you use. A few sentences from a novel or essay would probably be considered insubstantial but a single line from a poem can be considered substantial.

Translations of copyrighted works are also copyright protected. Please note that permission to translate substantial portions of a work must be obtained from the owner of the original work.


Images, including artistic works, photographs, maps, charts, drawings, diagrams as well as tables and graphs, are covered by copyright. It is important to verify the copyright status of images taken from a copyrighted work (books, articles, web sites or other sources). Using low resolution images in your thesis or dissertation may be considered as insubstantial use since they do not compete with the commercial interest of copyright owners.


Video, film works and television programs in any format – online, Blu-ray, DVD, VHS, Beta and U-matic tape, as well as 16mm and 35mm films - are covered by copyright. Film or video clips may also be covered by copyright; depending on the proportion of a work used in a thesis or dissertation, it may be possible to claim insubstantial use or fair dealing. For film materials found on the Web, it is important to verify if they are copyright protected.


Sound recordings of music are copyright protected. Using clips of a musical sound recording generally requires copyright clearance from the copyright holders. You will want to determine if your inclusion of such material may be considered substantial or insubstantial or if you can claim fair dealing.

Sheet music, scores, and song sheets are also covered by copyright. If you use excerpts of such materials, you may be able to claim insubstantial use or fair dealing.

Software and code

Copyright protects certain aspects of software including the underlying code. It also protects some of the external elements in a program, such as music, pictures or text as well as some of the elements of the user interface. The concept of a program is not protected by copyright, although it may be protected by patents. It is possible to produce similar programs to those that exist as long as the source code is not used.

For further information about how copyright applies to these formats and materials, see the Concordia Libraries Copyright Guide.

Back to top

How to seek permission to include copyrighted works in your thesis - When to Seek Permission

If, after reading about copyright and consulting with your thesis committee, you consider that your thesis includes elements (text, graphs, tables, images, etc.) that are substantial and do not constitute fair dealing, then you must seek permission to reproduce them. This applies to both materials from other authors and your own materials that have been previously published.

As obtaining an official letter or signed form from the copyright holder can take time, you will want to seek permission early in the thesis process, especially if you need to contact multiple publishers.

Back to top

How to seek permission to include copyrighted works in your thesis - Publisher Copyright Policies

The first step is to determine who holds the copyright for the materials that you are using. In most cases, for materials published as part of journals or books, the publisher will hold the copyright. The publisher’s website may provide information on copyright policies and people to contact. Journal websites are particularly useful and many will provide:

  • Advance permission for specific uses including non-commercial reproduction and use in theses;
  • Information on how to obtain permission and whom to contact;
  • Types of uses that are specifically prohibited.

Journal websites are also useful to obtain information on how to reuse your own articles for which the publisher holds the copyright.

Back to top

How to seek permission to include copyrighted works in your thesis - Contacting the Copyright Holder

If you determine that you need to ask permission, following are important elements to include in your correspondence:

  • Clarification that you are a graduate student at Concordia University and that the purpose of the request is to ask permission for including copyrighted material in your thesis
  • A detailed citation of the document (or part thereof) that you are using in your thesis. Include page numbers, table or chart number, or any other relevant information
  • Notification that the thesis will be available online through Spectrum, Concordia University’s institutional repository, the Library and Archive Canada’s website and other websites. Include a copy of these licence agreement or a link to their text: Spectrum Concordia University Research Repository’s Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence.

Ask the rights’ holder to respond to your request by a given date. You may also want to offer to send the copyright holder a copy of your thesis.

Back to top

How to seek permission to include copyrighted works in your thesis - Permission form

To facilitate the process of asking permission to use copyrighted work you may want to use this request form: yrighted-material-in-a-thesis.pdf

If you do not use the form, try to obtain a signed letter, preferably with the publisher’s official letterhead, as signed documents may offer more legal protection than emails. Make sure that the copyright holder specifically agrees with the terms of the Spectrum license and the license with Library and Archives Canada.

Back to top

How to seek permission to include copyrighted works in your thesis - Proof of permission

Keep all correspondence (emails, letters, forms) exchanged with copyright holders. Do not include these documents in your thesis but keep them in your files as they constitute proof that you have obtained permission to use the copyrighted materials.

In your thesis, each time you use material for which you have obtained reproduction rights, you should include a statement such as “reproduced with permission from XYZ.”

Back to top

How to seek permission to include copyrighted works in your thesis - Permission denied

In the unusual case where the copyright holder denies permission to use the material, requests a charge for granting this right, or fails to respond to your request, the material must be removed from the thesis. This should only be done as a last resort when the reproduction is not considered fair dealing and you have made a reasonable effort to obtain permission from the right’s holder.

If you need to remove copyrighted material from your thesis, leave a space where the original document was located and, in its place, include:

  • This statement: “this [text, photo, graph, image, etc.] was removed because of copyright restrictions.”
  • A description of the material (in case of an image, a table or a graph) or a summary of its content (in the case of an article or book).
  • A precise citation for the source of the material, referring to a physical copy if possible. If there is an online copy of the document, provide its URL.

Try to describe the missing material as precisely as possible so that readers will be able to understand references to it in your thesis.


This table (fig. 31) was removed because of copyright restrictions.

It describes voting coincidence between Latin American countries and the United States at the U.N., showing identical votes, opposite votes, abstentions and absences.

Source: “Table 1007. U.N. Voting Coincidence with the United States, 20 L, 1990-99,” Statistical Abstract of Latin America, vol. 37. (Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, 2001), 245.

Back to top

Including Your Own Previously Published Work in Your Thesis

If you have published or are publishing a portion of your work (i.e., articles, poems, plays, music) and you wish also to include a substantial portion from that work in your thesis, please consider the copyright implications.

As early as possible in the publication process, inform the editor or publisher that you need to reproduce material from your work in your thesis. If you have co-authored the work, you should also inform the co-author(s) that you intend to use the results of your work in your thesis.

Authors usually sign a copyright transfer agreement when they publish. Quite often, this agreement transfers the copyright from the author(s) (i.e. you) to the publisher. If you want to use the content of the article in your thesis, you will need to maintain the right to re-use your own work. When signing an agreement with the publisher, read the terms of the publication agreement very carefully. Look for wording in the publishing agreement about the right to reproduce content from the article in a thesis that will be freely available on the web in an institutional repository (i.e. Spectrum). If you do not see such wording, ask to have it added.

Consider filling out and including a copy of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) Author Addendum with your publishing agreement. The Author Addendum is a form you can submit to your publisher which states that you want to retain the copyright for your work.

Keep your publishing agreement/waiver and all correspondence with the publisher on file as they are proof that you have permission to use the material in your thesis.

Finally, familiarize yourself with the section on the Manuscript-Based Thesis in the Thesis Preparation and Thesis Examination Regulations guide (pp. 9-11).

Back to top

The licence you will agree to

As a graduate student at Concordia, you hold the copyright of your thesis for the entire term of copyright protection. As a condition of receiving your degree, you are asked to grant  Concordia University permission to make the work openly available. At Concordia, your thesis is submitted through Spectrum, the University’s institutional repository. Upon deposit, you agree to Spectrum Concordia University Research Repository’s Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence.

The Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence

The Spectrum Concordia University Research Repository’s Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence has been revised (November 5, 2022) to include Library and Archives Canada’s Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence, formerly a separate document requiring signatures. 

The Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence stipulates that you own the copyright to your thesis but that Concordia University and Library and Archives Canada will: 

... archive, preserve on any medium and format, perform, produce, reproduce, translate theses and dissertations in any format, including but not limited to electronic, digital or paper format, and to make available in print or communicate online by telecommunication to the public, loan, distribute for non-commercial purposes, for research and private study.

You can enter into other agreements, such as publishing your thesis, so long as subsequent licence agreements respect that Concordia University and Library and Archives Canada have a non-exclusive right to make your thesis available. For example, you cannot assign an exclusive licence for your thesis to a publisher as part of a publishing contract, as you have already been granted a non-exclusive licence. Generally, you should inform any publisher interested in your thesis that it will be available on the Internet and in other databases by Concordia University and Library and Archives Canada.

While depositing your thesis is a requirement, you can place an embargo on your thesis for up to two years from your final submission date. Under exceptional circumstances and with written justification to the Thesis Office, the embargo may be renewed. See “deferment” in Student Guide To Thesis Preparation. Once embargoed and deposited, the abstract and basic bibliographical details will still appear to the public. 

IP Policy Background for the Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence

The Thesis Non-Exclusive Licence originates from the University’s Policy on Intellectual Property, which is also reflected in the University’s Graduate Calendar and the Thesis Regulations from the Thesis Office.

Paragraph 34 in the Policy on Intellectual Property (VPRGS-9):

34. Upon submission of a thesis by a graduate student, the graduate student shall be deemed to have granted the University a non-exclusive, royalty free licence to reproduce, archive, preserve, conserve, communicate to the public by telecommunication or on the internet, loan, distribute the thesis worldwide for non-commercial purposes, in any format including electronic. In the event of a deferment of a thesis for distribution or publication, it is understood that the University’s licence to communicate, loan and/or distribute shall only take effect as of the expiry of the agreed upon deferment period.

Back to top


This Guide has provided a summary of the copyright issues to be aware of while preparing your thesis. The websites and documents that have been referenced in this Guide may be helpful in giving you more information about particular topics.

Different disciplines have their own accepted practices. Academic integrity and authorship practices in your discipline may provide more important constraints to using copyright protected works than the Copyright Act. Also, understanding how copyright functions is fundamental when considering using protected works. It is highly recommended that you consider such norms and issues, in consultation with your thesis supervisor, as early as possible while you write your thesis.

Please contact if you have questions or comments.

Back to top
Back to top arrow up, go to top of page