URL: https://westernu.libguides.com/theses-dissertations

Theses and Dissertations: Reusing Copyrighted Material


What Do I Need Permission For?

You generally DO need permission to:

  • Reuse a survey or assessment instrument created by another person
  • Reprint a table, figure, or image from a book or journal article
  • Reprint a copyrighted image from the Internet (assume all images are copyrighted unless stated otherwise)
  • Make modifications to a copyrighted image or an image released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license
  • Reprint copyrighted images or images released under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license in a book, journal, or other commercial venue

You generally DO NOT need permission to:

Finding Permission-Free Images

Pumerantz Library's Medical Images & Videos research guide has a section dedicated to resources for finding public domain and Creative Commons-licensed images. 

You can also limit Google Images searches to images you can freely reuse or modify for commercial or noncommercial purposes:

Screenshot demonstrating Google Image search. Click Tools, then Usage Rights, then limit by the type of use you want.

Citing Images

A citation for an image or figure should have the following:

  • Title of the image
  • Author or creator of the image
  • Source of the figure or image 
  • Copyright or Creative Commons license
  • Date
  • "Reprinted with permission from [Copyright holder]' (if relevant)
  • Description of any modifications to the image (if relevant)

Sample citations for Creative Commons images can be found here.

If the original source is a book or journal, include the full citation for the source, not just a URL (even if you originally retrieved the work online). More information about book and article citations can be found on the Pumerantz Library's Citation Style research guide.

If the original source is a website, embed the link to the title rather than typing out the full URL in the citation.

How Do I Request Permission to Reuse Material?

Who owns the copyright?

  • Journal articles: The copyright owner is usually the journal (or the journal's publisher), not the author. 
  • Books: The author usually retains the copyright, but the publisher generally handles reprint requests. 
  • Websites: This can be tricky to determine. Some websites create all their own content, including images, and own the copyright on everything on the site. Other websites, like blogs or aggregator sites, may use images and other content from multiple sources. You can paste the image's URL into a reverse image search to track down the original copyright owner.

How do I contact the copyright owner?

  • Journal articles: You can often find a link on the article's website that says something like "Get rights" or "Request permissions." This will take you directly to a page where you can request permission. If not, you can usually find a "Contact us" link on the journal's home page and submit the request that way.
  • Books: You can contact the publisher using the mailing address listed on the copyright page of the book or look for a "Contact us" or "Request permissions" link on the publisher's website.
  • Websites: If you are fairly sure the website is the original owner of the content you want, use the "Contact us" form or other contact information listed to submit your request. If the website is not the owner, try to find contact information for the original creator--a link to the owner's site is often embedded in their name, if it is listed.

How long does it take to hear back?

It depends! In some cases, you will hear back in a few days. Other times, you may hear back in weeks, months--or never. It is a good idea to give yourself at least a month or two if you can.

Will I be charged a fee to reuse material?

Again, it depends on the copyright owner. Many creators and publishers will allow students to reuse items in their theses or dissertations for free. Others may charge a nominal fee or fees ranging in the hundreds of dollars.

What are my options if permission is denied or too expensive--or if I just never hear back?

It is a good idea to have a backup plan, like another permission-free image or a brief written description of the desired figure (in your own words) to use instead. If only the original material will work, you can consider appealing (once, and politely) to the copyright owner. If this does not work, you may need to cut the material altogether.

Can I just redraw the figure myself? Then I'll have the rights to the image, right?

No. This is legally murky at best (if you redraw the image in a completely different way) and shady/illegal at worst. Use one of the solutions listed above instead.


Copyright and permissions can be difficult to navigate. If you need help, please email Kelli Hines or use the icons above to contact one of the reference librarians.

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