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Using Copyrighted Materials in Your ETDR

It is standard practice to credit sources used in writing your ETDR by citing them in the text and listing them in your References chapter. It is not so clear-cut, however, when it is necessary to request permission to use certain materials in your ETDR. Recent copyright law has outlined the concept of "fair use;" when it is permissible to use copyrighted materials without obtaining permission. Rather than providing strict guidelines, however, copyright law identifies only the following factors to consider in determining whether a particular case constitutes fair use:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

If you plan to include copyrighted material in your ETDR, be sure to read Copyright Law and Graduate Research (see Additional Information below). This paper gives a thorough overview of fair use and provides guidelines on when and how to obtain permission. Based on previous fair use cases, we can offer the following general guidelines for use of certain types of copyright materials in your ETDR:

Charts, tables, graphs

Reproduction of a single chart, table, or graph from a copyrighted source in your ETDR would ordinarily be considered fair use. If you use many tables or other elements from the same source, or if the chart or graph contains pictorial elements or embellishments beyond a straightforward presentation of data, you should obtain permission from the publisher.


Short quotations are generally considered to be fair use. For quotations longer than 1 or 2 paragraphs, you should obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Pictorial and graphic materials

Fair use guidelines for using images and graphics are not clear, and cases are affected primarily by the 4th fair use factor. Using a small portion of an image to illustrate a point would fall under fair use guidelines. Reproducing an entire painting, poster, or other image in full color, particularly if the work is popular or in high-demand, is unlikely to be considered fair use. In this latter example, you should obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Survey instruments and standardized tests

If you plan to include published survey instruments or standardized tests in your ETDR, you should obtain permission. Keep in mind that standardized test publishers generally do not want their tests widely circulated and are unlikely to grant permission to reproduce them.

Additional Information

Copyright. This site from the KSU Libraries provides an overview of copyright basics, guidelines for using copyrighted works, a checklist to evaluate Fair Use, and a copyright consultation service. http://www.ksu.edu/copyright/

Crews, Kenneth D. Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities

Strong, William S. "Rights and Permissions." Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. pp 106-132. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

U.S. Copyright Office. Fair Use. http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

____. Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians. Circular 21. 1995. http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ21.pdf