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Research Guides

Submit and Publish Your Thesis

Limits to Copyright and Your Thesis


Copyright and Third-Party Content: Thesis Submission vs. Scholarly Publishing

Are you including third-party material in your thesis?


No, everything I've used is insubstantial or my own work  Yes, but I do not plan to publish any part of my thesis Yes, and I do plan to publish some or all of the content
  • The Fair Dealing Guidelines will still apply to the version you submit for graduation, but commercial publication may change the balance of the fair dealing factors
  • Publishers are often very conservative when it comes to relying on "users' rights" to publish third-party materials commercially
  • You may need to seek permission to reproduce these materials in an article or book


Fair Dealing and Other Limitations on Copyright

Fair Dealing

The fair dealing provisions in sections 29, 29.1, and 29.2 of the Copyright Act permit dealing with a copyright-protected work, without permission from or payment to the copyright owner, for specified purposes.

“Fair dealing” is not defined in the Act. The concept has evolved significantly over the last decades through case law, including at the Supreme Court level through cases such as CCH Canadian v. Law Society of Upper Canada in 2004, and Alberta (Minister of Education) v. Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright), and Society of Composers, 2 Authors and Music Publishers of Canada v. Bell Canada, both in 2012. These decisions set out a multi-factor analysis for assessing whether a particular copying activity or other dealing falls within the ambit of fair dealing.

For a dealing to be fair, it must pass two broad tests:

  • The dealing must be for an allowable purpose:
    • Research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review, or news reporting
  • The dealing must be fair - consider these six factors
    1. The purpose of the dealing
    2. The character of the dealing
    3. The amount of the dealing
    4. The nature of the work
    5. Available alternatives to the dealing
    6. The effect of the dealing on the work

The relevance of the factors depends on the context. Sometimes, certain factors will be much more significant than the others. Occasionally other factors, beyond these six, may be relevant. It is not necessarily the case that all six factors need to be satisfied.


Seeking Permission

I need to seek permission from a copyright owner. Any advice?

  • Securing permission may take time. It is possible you’ll never get a response to your request
  • If you are using substantial portions of works in your manuscript, think about permissions early in your thesis preparation process
  • In some cases, a rights holder will ask you to pay for the material you are using
  • TIP: Keep a record of the permissions you’ve received (you will be asked to upload a record of these permissions during the thesis submission process)
  • TIP: When using works available through the internet, look for sections labeled ‘copyright’ or ‘terms of use’ – these pages will usually outline how you can use the work and when you need to ask for permission

Where do I ask?

  • Trade/Scholarly Book Publishers will generally have a unit devoted to ‘rights and permissions’ which may be contacted via automated forms or an email address
  • You might have to track down an individual, their agent, or a rights organization and send them a permissions request
  • For more ephemeral material (such as material contained in social media posts), you might have to do some digging and contact users directly
  • A copyright agency or copyright collection might represent the rights holder
  • Make sure that your publisher doesn't already have a reciprocal permissions policy in place with the publisher of the material you would like to reuse. The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) has Permissions Guidelines which grant permission for a limited number of reproductions of third-party materials published by STM members who are signatories.

School of Graduate Studies (SGS) Copyright Permission Request Sample Text


Re: Permission to Use Copyrighted Material in a Doctoral/Master’s Thesis

Dear , I am a University of Toronto graduate student completing my Doctoral / Master’s thesis entitled “____***_____”.

My thesis will be available in full text on the internet for reference, study and / or copy. Except in situations where a thesis is under embargo or restriction, the electronic version will be accessible through the U of T Libraries web pages, the Library’s web catalogue, and also through web search engines. I will also be granting Library and Archives Canada and ProQuest/UMI a non-exclusive license to reproduce, loan, distribute, or sell single copies of my thesis by any means and in any form or format. These rights will in no way restrict re-publication of the material in any other form by you or by others authorized by you. I would like permission to allow inclusion of the following material in my thesis: [insert copy or detailed explanation including the title of the article or book, the figure or page numbers of the material used, the journal name, year, volume number or unique publication identifier, the publisher and year]. The material will be attributed through a citation. Please confirm in writing or by email that these arrangements meet with your approval.

Thank you

Finding Openly-Licensed Resources

I'm using images that I found online in my thesis. Is that ok?

  • "Free" doesn't mean that images aren't protected by copyright
  • You may be able use fair dealing to reproduce some images, but selecting images that are "open" and labelled for reuse will present fewer challenges and risks
  • How? One powerful method is to use a feature of google image search! 
    • Select Tools > Usage rights > Labelled for reuse or > Labelled for noncommercial reuse

Screenshot of image results from Google Images with reuse license options