Copyright and your thesis

Start here for FAQs and resources about using copyright protected materials in your thesis, dissertation or other graduate project.

Please see the Research Commons for assistance with all other aspects of your thesis, and for thesis workshops, which include a copyright component.

Contact the Copyright Office ( with any questions, or to request an in-person or email consultation or thesis copyright review.

Frequently asked questions

Some text derived from University of Waterloo (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) and University of Saskatchewan (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5) copyright FAQs.

See Copyright basics FAQs for information on how copyright works in Canada and at SFU and general information about the Canadian Copyright Act.

Can I include in my thesis works I have already published?

It all depends on the wording of the Author/Publisher Agreement, sometimes called a Copyright Transfer Agreement, that you signed with the publisher of your work. Often times these agreements transfer most copyright in your work to the publisher, leaving you with very few rights to the work. If your Author/Publisher Agreement does not allow for you to re-publish the material in your thesis, you will need to contact the publisher and ask them for permission to use the work.

If you are planning on submitting work to be published, and you already know that you will want to later include this material in your thesis, try to ensure that you get wording in the Author/Publisher Agreement that allows you to include the material in your thesis. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) provides an author addendum and information about negotiating your publishing agreement here.

Does citing a work make it okay to copy it?

No. Citing the source of a work you use is good academic practice and helps you avoid plagiarism, but citation alone does not mean you are permitted to copy the work.

In order to legally copy a copyright-protected work for use in teaching materials, assignments, or theses/dissertations, your use must be permitted by one of the following:

  • explicit permission from the copyright owner;
  • use of an "insubstantial" amount, e.g., a typical short quote of a few sentences;
  • a users' rights exception in the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing;
  • the terms of a license, like those the SFU Library has for ejournals and ebooks [note: these licenses typically don't permit use in a thesis/dissertation]; or
  • the terms of an open license, such as a Creative Commons license, applied to the work by its copyright owner.
Do I need to obtain permission to include a chart, diagram, map or other image in my thesis?

If the thesis includes reproductions of copyright protected images, including but not limited to, figures, drawings, paintings, photographs, logos, maps, diagrams, tables or charts, the author of the thesis must in some cases obtain written authorization from the copyright holder in order to reproduce this material for inclusion in the thesis. If fair dealing applies, the material is usable under a Creative Commons or similar license or the material is not protected by copyright, permission may not be necessary, but documentation of the exception may be required. Contact the Copyright Office ( for more information.

The request for permission from the copyright holder must state that the thesis will be available in full-text format on the internet for reference, study and / or copying and that the electronic version of the thesis will be accessible through Summit, the SFU Digital Research Repository and through the Library’s online catalogue.

For theses and dissertations (but not projects or extended essays) the letter also needs to state that Library and Archives Canada will be granted a non-exclusive license to reproduce, loan, or distribute single copies of the thesis by any means and in any form or format.

A template letter prepared by the Copyright Officer is available for you to modify and use when requesting permissions.

How does copyright apply to data?

Data and factual information (e.g., rainfall or temperature measurements, mortality rates, population numbers, currency values, chemical structures, historical facts and dates, the number of Twitter followers someone has) are not protected by copyright. Additionally, simple and typical visualizations such as line graphs and tables, or the bar chart shown below, are often not creative enough to be eligible for copyright protection. These types of material may be able to be copied and used without permission.

Total precipitation over the last year (monthly data) for Vancouver

However, some types of research products that might be used in a similar way to data (e.g., photographs, audiovisual recordings, detailed diagrams and charts, collections of text mined from websites or publications) are most likely protected by copyright.

If you are using someone else's data in your teaching or research, you will need to consider its copyright status, and ensure that you have the right or permission to copy and share it. Remember that fair dealing and other rights may apply.

If you are generating or compiling data in your research, any copyright in these materials may belong to you, another member of your research team, or an external third party. If your data incorporates works created by others, you will need to consider the copyright status before sharing or making it public, unless your use of the work falls under fair dealing or a similar provision. If you are depositing to a research data repository, such as FRDR, you should ensure you have the right, or permission, from any copyright owners, to deposit copyright-protected material (more information about copyright considerations for data deposits can be found on this page).

Any questions about data and copyright can be directed the SFU Copyright Office at

Image credit: Chart generated at


Is there a certain way I have to cite a copyright protected work that I reproduce in an assignment or thesis?

Not usually. Generally, you should follow the style guide recommended by your instructor or used in your discipline to identify all material you did not create, in any medium. Your readers will assume that you have adhered to any applicable copyright laws and policies.

However, there are circumstances in which you may be requested or required to include certain information in a citation. Creative Commons licenses require that you indicate which license applies, and link to the license details if possible. An individual license or permission from a creator or publisher may also require that you include certain information. In these cases you should fit this information into your discipline's style guide if possible. You can ask a librarian for assistance with citations.

What is the “public domain” and can I copy works from the public domain freely?

Copyright does not last forever - it does expire. When the term of copyright expires, the work is said to come into the "public domain" and is then available for anyone to use and copy without permission or payment. In Canada, copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years past their death (though some specific types of works such as sound recordings may have different terms). However, due to the term recently changing from 50 years to 70 years, all works by creators who died in 1971 or earlier are now in the public domain; works by creators who died in 1972 or later, including those still living now, will be protected for their life plus 70 years.

However, content in which copyright has expired may be republished or re-released with additional material. For example, although Shakespeare's plays are not protected by copyright, many of the published editions of his plays contain added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.). There is a separate copyright in the added original material, based on the life of its creator, but the underlying text of the original work is still in the public domain.

Works can also be in the public domain because the copyright owner has given copyright in the work to the public. Some copyright owners have made clear declarations that uses of their copyright works may be made without permission or payment. Such a declaration may be found on the work itself or the website where it is found. The Reproduction of Federal Law Order, for example, permits anyone, without charge or request for permission, to reproduce Canadian laws and decisions of federally constituted courts and administrative tribunals in Canada. However, restrictions can be placed on the uses that can be made of works and, in this case, you must be sure to use the material accordingly. 

Don’t assume that everything you find on the Internet is in the public domain just because it is publicly available. Most of the material you find online is protected by copyright; however, you may be able to use it for educational purposes because fair dealing or other Copyright Act exceptions cover many uses related to teaching. See the FAQs under Instructors – Using copyright protected material from the Internet for further information about using material found on websites.

For more information about duration of copyright protection in Canada see the Government of Canada’s About Copyright page and the Canadian Public Domain Flowchart by the Copyright Office at the University of Alberta (2020), licensed CC BY.

Are government documents protected by copyright?

Yes, all government documents created in Canada are protected by copyright. Federal, territorial and provincial government documents are protected by Crown copyright and the term of Crown copyright is 50 years after the date of publication.

Municipal government documents are not covered by Crown copyright, but instead fall under the normal copyright term of life of the creator plus 70 years. Check the website of the municipal government whose documents you wish to reproduce to see if they allow for reproduction for educational, non-commercial or research purposes.

For further information on the use of federal government documents that are under Crown copyright see the federal Crown Copyright Request page.

For further information about the use of BC government documents that are under Crown copyright see the provincial Copyright page.

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that has developed a suite of licenses that authors and other creators can apply to their works to permit sharing and distribution. Applying a Creative Commons (CC) license to your written, artistic, musical or multimedia work means that you retain ownership of copyright but you permit certain uses of your work without the user needing to contact you for permission each time. You also waive your moral rights, to the extent required for users to use your works according to the applied license. Please note that users of copyright protected works (including those under CC licenses) have certain rights in Canada’s Copyright Act; these rights will supersede the terms of a CC license where applicable.

You must be the copyright holder of the work and any other works contained within it (such as photographs, diagrams, articles, video clips, etc.), or have license or permission to include these works, in order to apply a CC license. Once you make your work available under a specific CC license, you cannot revoke or change the license associated with that specific work (though of course you may stop distributing the material).

There are six different CC licenses, each with various parameters and requirements, ranging from extremely open and permissive to slightly less so. All CC licenses will permit typical teaching uses such as displaying in the classroom, distributing to students or posting in Canvas. These licenses are described below.

by  CC BY (Attribution)

The most open of Creative Commons licenses, this option permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work in any way without contacting your for permission. However, they are required to credit you in any use they make of your work.

by-sa  CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike)

This license permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work in any way without contacting you for permission. However, they are required to credit you in any use they make of your work, and also to license any derivative work (e.g. an adapted version) under the same license.

by-nd  CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivs [No Derivatives])

This license permits others to copy and distribute your work without contacting you for permission. However, they are required to credit you on the copies they make and they are not permitted to change your work in any way.

by-nc  CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial)

This license permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work without contacting you for permission. However, they are required to credit you in any use they make of your work and they are not permitted to use the work for commercial purposes. Non-commercial purposes are defined by Creative Commons as those “not primarily intended or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.”

by-nc-sa  CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)

This license permits others to copy, distribute, adapt and otherwise use your work without contacting you for permission. However, they must credit you in any use they make of the work; they are not permitted to use the work for commercial purposes; and they must license any derivative work (e.g. an adapted version) under the same license. Non-commercial purposes are defined by Creative Commons as those “not primarily intended or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.”

by-nc-nd  CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs [No Derivatives])

This license permits others to copy and distribute your work without contacting you for permission. However, they must credit you on any copies they make; they are not permitted to use the work for commercial purposes; and they are not permitted to change your work in any way. Non-commercial purposes are defined by Creative Commons as those “not primarily intended or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation.”


How do I get permission to use someone else’s work?

If your use is not permitted by a license, or one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, you will need to ask for permission. The permission must come from the copyright owner so the first step is to identify who the copyright owner is and whether there is an organization that represents the owner. Usually you will be able to identify the owner somewhere on the work by looking for the copyright symbol ©, which should have the copyright owner’s name next to it. You will often find this at the beginning of a book, at the side or caption of a photograph or at the bottom of a webpage. For published works, such as books and journal articles, the publisher or journal is usually the best place to start - they likely own copyright, or they can direct you to the correct contact.

If the copyright owner is easily identifiable and locatable, simply email or write to them, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing so that there is evidence of what was agreed to between you and the copyright owner. You should also keep a record of who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave the permission. Leave plenty of time for this process, since you can't control how quickly the copyright owner might respond.

There are a number of copyright collectives which can give you permission (in the form of a license) on behalf of the copyright owner to use their work. So, for example, if you want to use music and your use does not fall within any of the Copyright Act’s exceptions, you may be able to obtain permission from copyright collectives such as SOCAN, Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) or Re:Sound that administer copyright in music. 

Remember that copyright owners have the right to say no, charge a fee or impose conditions on the use of their work.

Contact the Copyright Office ( with any questions you might have about obtaining copyright permissions.

Do I own copyright in my thesis?

Yes. However, when submitting your thesis, you will be required to grant a partial copyright license allowing the University Library to post your thesis in Summit, the University’s digital research repository, and allowing Library and Archives Canada to make your thesis available on the Internet and in searchable databases. These license clearly stipulates that you own the copyright to your thesis, but that you have allowed "non-exclusive" use of your thesis by the University Library and by Library and Archives Canada.

Should I be worried about misuse of my thesis/dissertation once it's openly available in Summit?

You likely don't need to worry. In fact, your thesis or dissertation (and other scholarship) being openly available can increase readership and citation rates, among other benefits.

Here are some concerns you may have heard, and some evidence for why they are mostly unfounded.

Plagiarism: What if someone takes credit for my work?

The fact that your publicly-available thesis or dissertation might be copied also means that it is easy to find in order to compare texts and check for plagiarism. A work being openly available as soon as possible - and clearly dated and time-stamped - deters plagiarism by providing proof of the earlier appearance of one work compared to another similar work (see Suber 2012; Cirasella and Thistlethwaite 2017).

Predatory publishers: What if someone publishes my thesis in a questionable journal?

We have not encountered any data or anecdotal evidence to justify a concern about predatory publishers taking publicly-available theses or dissertations and publishing them without the author's consent. SFU grad students own copyright in their theses and dissertations; it would be an illegal act of copyright infringement for a publisher to publish one without the author's permission. If you have been contacted by a publisher about publishing your thesis or dissertation, the Library provides information and tools for assessing a publisher or journal.

Ability to publish: Will a publisher reject my manuscript because my dissertation is already available?

A number of surveys of publishers with offices in North America and the UK have found that only a small percentage of publishers across disciplines would outright reject a manuscript based on a thesis or dissertation (see Gilliam and Daoutis 2019; Ramirez et al 2013; Ramirez et al 2014). In most cases an article, chapter or book will be significantly reworked from the earlier version: Harvard University Press has said that "we expect that the final product will be so broadened, deepened, reconsidered, and restructured that the availability of the dissertation is irrelevant."

Still have concerns? Talk to your supervisor or contact the Digital Scholarship Librarians at



What is copyright infringement?

A person who does something with a copyright protected work that only the copyright owner is entitled to do, and does so without the permission of the copyright owner, infringes copyright and can be held liable. Either civil or criminal penalties can be imposed for copyright infringement. Criminal penalties can include fines and/or imprisonment and depend on the seriousness of the infringement. While criminal penalties are usually reserved for those engaged in piracy for profit, civil penalties, including an order to pay damages or an injunction to cease infringing, can be imposed for other types of infringement. Monetary damages could be awarded to the copyright owner for loss of income caused by the infringement or for other losses. Statutory damages for all infringements for all works involved are limited to $5,000 if the infringements are for a non-commercial purpose, or $20,000 for all infringements of each work involved when the infringements are for a commercial purpose. 

Generally, the person who actually infringes the rights of the copyright owner will be held liable for the infringement. In the absence of the fair dealing exception or a license, a student, staff member or faculty member who copies a copyright protected work (e.g., scans a book, photocopies an article) without permission will be held liable for that infringement. Staff sometimes copy materials at the request of others (e.g., a faculty member or a student). In that case, both the person who actually infringes copyright (the staff member) and the person who requested the staff member to so infringe (the faculty member or the student) can be held liable for the infringement. In addition, you may place liability on the University if as an employee you copy works in an infringing manner in the course of your employment. Employees are responsible for following all University policies.

In addition to potential liability, staff at the University Libraries, Archives, Bookstore, Centre for Educational Excellence, Communications and Marketing and Document Solutions have a professional responsibility to respect copyright law and may refuse to copy or print something if it is thought to be an infringement of copyright law.

What will happen if I don’t comply with the university’s copyright policies and licensing agreements?

Simon Fraser University's copyright policies align with the Government of Canada’s copyright legislation (Copyright Act) and outline the institution’s requirements of faculty, staff and students to comply with all legal requirements. 

Simon Fraser University is committed to compliance in all copyright matters. It is the responsibility of each individual to comply with copyright laws and respect copyright ownership and licensing. The use of copyright protected materials without proper consent may be actionable under both the Copyright Act and the Criminal Code. In addition to any actions that might be taken by any copyright owner or its licensing agent, the University will take any breaches of its copyright policy very seriously. In the case of employees, disciplinary procedures may be applied. In the case of students, disciplinary action for academic and/or non-academic misconduct may be applied.

Who in the University is responsible for ensuring that faculty, staff and students comply with the University’s copyright policy?

Everyone. Faculty, staff and students should always seek to comply with the Copyright Act as a best practice of academic professionalism. You are only permitted to make lawful copies of works, and use works in lawful ways. Failure to comply with the Copyright Act could lead to personal liability, as well as liability for the University. Ensure that you use copyright protected materials appropriately. Advise students and colleagues to use copyright protected materials appropriately. Contact the Copyright Officer if you have questions.

How can I get more information about copyright?

See the pages for Instructors, Staff, Students or Authors and other creators on the Copyright website for FAQs, links and resources.

Who can I contact at SFU for help with locating and contacting copyright holders?

For help with locating and contacting authors, publishers or other copyright holders for materials you wish to include in your thesis or other work, contact the liaison librarian for your department. A template letter prepared by the Copyright Officer is available for you to modify and use when requesting permissions for works included in your thesis.


Copyright Decision Tree
Provides steps to determine whether you can use a copyright protected work in the way you would like to, both for teaching and for other purposes. Use this in conjunction with other resources and information on this website.

Copyright Decision Tree (text version)

SFU employees have the responsibility to abide by Canada’s Copyright Act and by the University’s own copyright policies.

This decision tree will help you determine whether you can use a copyright protected work in the way you would like to.

Is the work protected by copyright? 

Material not protected by copyright includes material in the public domain and material lacking in creativity or originality such as data, facts or ideas. The FAQs at can help you.

  • Yes (go to next step)
  • No (use the work)

Are you the creator of the work? 

If so, do you own copyright in the work? Or have you retained the right to use it for this purpose, or to use a different version (e.g. a pre-print)?

  • Yes (use the work or the specific version allowed)
  • No (go to next step)

What do you want to do with the work? Is the work licensed for this type of use? 

(E.g. Library license, Open Access, Creative Commons)

  • Yes (use the work and comply with conditions of license)
  • No (go to next step)

Is there a licensing agreement or statement specifically disallowing this use of the work? 

(E.g. website terms of use, restrictions on Library license)

  • Yes (find a different source for the same work without the restriction OR go to "If you are unable to use this material")
  • No (go to next step)

Is the work protected by a technological protection measure (TPM)? 

(E.g. password or download-blocker)

  • Yes (find a different source for the same work without TPM (e.g. scan a print version instead of downloading a pdf) OR go to "If you are unable to use this material")
  • No (go to next step)

Does fair dealing or another Copyright Act exception apply? 

See the Instructors section at for what you can do with copyright protected works for teaching purposes, or contact the Copyright Office ( with any questions.

  • Yes (use the work and comply with conditions in the Act)
  • No (go to next step)

If you are unable to use this material

You could:

  • ask the copyright holder for permission to use the work in this way,
  • adapt the material, repurpose the data in your own way or paraphrase (with attribution in each case),
  • provide a link to the work instead,
  • remove the work, or
  • use a different work.

All works must be legally obtained. Works must be properly cited. 07/2019.

Canadian Public Domain Flowchart
A visual tool by the Copyright Office at the University of Alberta (2023, licensed CC BY) to help determine when the copyright term for a work expires, the work enters the public domain in Canada and it can be used freely (in Canada) without permission or payment of royalties.

Template permission letter
For contacting copyright holders for permission to reproduce their material in your thesis. This letter can be adapted to other situations where you need a copyright holder's permission to reproduce their material. Note: You do not need a formal signed letter granting permission - email correspondence in which you request permission and let the copyright holder know that your thesis will be publicly available online, and in which they clearly grant permission, is acceptable.

Copyright and your Thesis workshop slides by the Copyright Office
This brief presentation is usually included in the Research Commons' Thesis Word Template workshop.

Copyright Workshop Videos by the Copyright Office
These videos are based on our faculty workshops, and include Copyright Basics (an introduction to the basic elements of copyright law in Canada), and Teaching and Copyright (a two-part look at finding and sharing material, which is aimed at instructors but Part 1 particularly can also be applied to finding material you can reproduce in your thesis).

Grad workshop handout noting key copyright considerations for students writing their theses.

About Creative Commons licenses by the Copyright Office

Scholarly Publishing (SFU Library)
Provides authors with information about options for publishing their scholarly works, including the traditional publishing business model as well as alternatives such as open access journals, open access institutional and disciplinary repositories, Creative Commons licensing and retaining certain creator rights.