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Theses, Dissertations, and Creative Components: Rights and Responsibilities

Important things for students to know when completing their thesis, dissertation, or creative component.

Reusing others' copyrighted works

Reusing copyrighted works can be necessary for your research, but it's important that you understand how this intersects with copyright. Use the resources on this and the following pages to help you navigate this complicated topic.

Best practices

When reusing someone else's works in your thesis or dissertation, there are a few best practices to keep in mind to avoid infringing on the owner's copyright: 

  1. Use open access, CC-licensed, or public domain works: If you need to incorporate examples, look for openly licensed images and figures, like ones in an open access article or available in Wikimedia Commons. Works available under a Creative Commons license or in the public domain do not require permissions for reuse. 
  2. (Re)create tables, graphs, and other data visualizations: Since only the presentation of data can be copyrighted, you can freely recreate a table or graph from another source. If you do this, be sure to cite the original source! Even if you made the new table, the data within it is not your original work.
  3. Cite or link to the item instead! Consider whether you need to use this copyrighted resource as is, or whether you can describe it in text, link to it, or cite it instead. Linking to outside, legal copies of a resource should not be considered copyright infringement. 
  4. Determine if your use would be considered Fair Use. If you believe your reuse falls under this category, carefully document your reasoning and consult with University Counsel, if you are unsure. For more information about Fair Use and your thesis, see the tab on the lefthand menu.

If none of the above applies to your situation... 

Get permission to copy, reproduce, adapt, or redistribute all or part of their work from the copyright holder. This may be the publisher, author, or it may be someone else. See our page on Getting permission for reuse for more information.

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Abbey Elder
150 Parks Library
Iowa State University