Copyright and your thesis

The Copyright Office is available to help you during the COVID-19 Library closure! Contact us at with any questions or to arrange a virtual consultation.

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.

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 most 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 rightsholders, 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. The main purpose of copyright law is to allow for creators of works to be reasonably rewarded for their creative efforts. To that end, there are statutory rules to determine when copyright protection of a work comes to an end (e.g., the "life plus 50” rule). 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 seeking permission from the copyright owner (the author retains no rights in the work). This is the reason that Emily Carr's paintings and Stephen Leacock's writings no longer are protected by copyright. 

Although the copyright in Shakespeare’s plays expired long ago, many of the published editions of his plays contain added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.), which are copyright protected because the authors have used skill and judgment in creating the new material. This creates a new copyright in the added original material, but not in the underlying text of the original work in which the copyright had expired. 

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 the exception for educational use of material publicly available through the Internet will 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. 

Works can also be in the public domain because the work was either not eligible for copyright protection in the first place or 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. 

Project Gutenberg is a good resource for finding literary works in the public domain. See the Instructors' resources for more suggestions about how to locate works in the public domain.

For more information about duration of copyright protection in Canada see the Government of Canada’s About Copyright publication 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 50 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 About Crown Copyright.

For further information about the use of BC government documents that are under Crown copyright see BC Government copyright page, Guidelines Covering the Reproduction of Provincial Legislation, and the Crown copyright section of the Ministry of Finance procurement handbook.

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?

You ask. 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. 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 rightsholder.

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. 

But if the copyright owner is easily identifiable and locatable, it can sometimes be easier to contact them directly as many copyright owners will give permission to academic users without requiring payment. 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 of a photograph or at the bottom of a webpage. Once you’ve located the owner, simply email or write to him/her, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing, though an email will suffice. It is not advisable to rely on verbal permission because there is no documentary evidence to prove 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.

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

Feel free to 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 occasioned 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. However, statutory damages increase to a maximum of $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, anyone who copies a copyright protected work (e.g. scans a book, photocopies an article) without permission will be held liable for that infringement, whether that person be a student, staff member or faculty member. Staff may 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. Before you engage in any copying or use of copyright protected materials, please consider the parties whom you might be impacting. Please follow all University policies to ensure proper use of equipment for copying works. 

In addition to potential liability, staff at the University Libraries, Archives, Bookstore, Centre for Educational Excellence, Creative Services 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 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 (2017, 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.

Copyright and your Thesis workshop slides by the Copyright Office
This presentation is usually included in the Thesis 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.

The SFU Copyright Office provides links to external sites for informational purposes only, and does not guarantee the validity of information found on these sites.

Copyright Board of Canada
The Board administers, and has the right to supervise, agreements between users and licensing bodies and issues licenses when the copyright owner cannot be located. Through its website you can find a variety of resources for users of copyright protected material, including information on what to do if you cannot locate the copyright owner of a work.

Canadian Intellectual Property Office
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), a Special Operating Agency associated with Industry Canada, is responsible for the administration and processing of the greater part of intellectual property in Canada. CIPO's areas of activity include patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, integrated circuit topographies and plant breeders' rights. Through its website you can find a variety of resources for creators of intellectual property.

Copyright Clearance Center
The Copyright Clearance Center is an organization authorized by many publishers to handle granting of permission for use of their published works. If you are interested in licensing a journal article or other published work for a use that is not covered by fair dealing or one of the educational institution exceptions, search for it through the Copyright Clearance Center's Get Permissions page.

Creative Commons
Creative Commons is an non-profit organization that promotes and enables the sharing of knowledge and creativity throughout the world. The organization produces and maintains a free suite of licensing tools to allow anyone to easily share, reuse and remix materials with a fair "some rights reserved" approach to copyright. To find Creative Commons licensed materials, check out their Content Directories, which list audio, video, image and textual materials, and their Search page.

Public domain materials
​To find materials in the public domain (in which copyright has expired), simply search online for 'public domain' and the type of material you're interested in. Some useful sites include Project Gutenberg and Project Gutenberg Canada (the largest collections of copyright-free books online) and Wikipedia, which has an entire page dedicated to public domain resources. Vancouver Public Library has made many public domain historical photographs available through its photostream in the Commons on Flickr, and the City of Vancouver Archives has made public domain and City-owned digitized materials free for use on its website. A number of American cultural organizations have also made digitized public domain works available online, including the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; please note that Canadian and U.S. copyright laws differ, and while works in the public domain in the United States will most likely also be in the public domain in Canada, you should always confirm this before using such works.

Open Access publications
Open Access publishers make their contents freely available online. Generally, these materials are also free from most copyright restrictions (usually by way of Creative Commons licensing), meaning they can be copied, built upon and redistributed. To find Open Access materials, see the Directory of Open Access Journals and the Directory of Open Access Books. Much work has been done in BC around open educational resources (OER). For more information about this, see the BCcampus OpenEd site. For more information about Open Access at SFU and publishing your work Open Access, see the Library's Scholarly Publishing site.