For Graduate Students

Preparing Your Graduate Thesis

(Last Updated: 29 March 2018)

FGSR's Policy on Public Access to Thesis Results includes authorizing the University of Alberta to share your thesis with Library and Archives Canada and the University of Alberta Libraries. Your thesis will be made widely available online through both these providers, enabling people around the world to access and learn from your graduate work.

While the Copyright Office cannot provide legal advice, we suggest that graduate students follow these steps to help avoid potential copyright infringement scenarios:

  1. Determine who holds the copyright to the content in your thesis.
  2. Identify acceptable uses of the content for which you do not hold the copyright.
  3. Seek permission to include content that is not otherwise available for use in your thesis.



In general, you hold the copyright in the original content of your thesis. However, you should consider whether any of the content in your thesis is:

A.  reproduced from your own previous or forthcoming publications (e.g., journal articles, book chapters, etc.), or

B.  co-authored or co-owned with someone else, your employer, or your supervisor, or

C.  reproduced from works created or owned by other people or organizations (e.g., text (greater than short quotes), tables, graphs, images, etc.).

If none of the above applies, then it is unlikely that you will have to consider copyright issues addressed by this web page.

If you answered “yes” to 1A, above, then check your publication agreement(s) carefully. Hopefully you retained the right to reproduce your own work! (If not, keep reading.)

If you are answered “yes” to 1B, above, then consult with your co-author(s) about re-use. For more information about authorship and intellectual property related to your employment as a graduate student, see Section 10 of the FGSR Graduate Program Manual

If you answered “yes” to 1C, above, then you will need to…



First, determine if the content you want to use is exempt from copyright. Permission is not required to reuse content when it is:

  • an insubstantial part of the overall work (e.g., a short quote).
  • LINKED to from your thesis but not REPRODUCED within your thesis (e.g., you include a stable URL to the content, not the actual content itself).
  • in the public domain. Generally, public domain works are older than the life of the author/creator plus fifty additional years past their year of death. Note that *republished* content might hold a more recent copyright term.

If your thesis includes a substantial amount of a work that is not in the public domain and you do not hold the copyright for that content then you will need to determine acceptable uses for that content.

Take it one step at a time:


Learn about the content owner’s/provider’s expectations related to reuse.

  • Does the content have a Creative Commons (CC) licence? Works with a CC licence are generally marked with its symbol: CC-BY, CC-BY-NC, etc. Works with a CC licence can usually be used in your thesis, subject to some conditions. Detailed information about CC licences and expectations around reuse of these works is available here:
  • Is the content from a licensed resource/database restricted to UofA users (e.g., ArtStor, EBSCO ebooks, journal article databases, etc.)? If so, find the Terms of Use section for that resource/database and read it carefully. Some content providers make their expectations clear: “Posting content on an unrestricted website or in a publication made available on the web without access restrictions is prohibited.” (Your thesis will be made available on an unrestricted website.) Some content providers are not so clear about their expectations. If you are unsure, seek permission from the rights holder and/or contact the Copyright Office at
  • Is the content available in an open access environment (i.e., online without restrictions)? Again, look for Terms of Use information. In addition, consider the source and beware of infringing content: did the person posting the content online have the right to do so?


  • Does fair dealing apply to your use of others’ works? Certain uses of substantial amounts of a copyright-protected work are acceptable without separate permission if the dealing is deemed “fair.” There are six criteria that determine fairness, including purpose. Ultimately, the fairness of the dealing is determined by a court of law if and when the rights holder makes a claim of infringement against the party responsible for reproducing the work.

As a graduate student, you are responsible for the content in your thesis and, thus, for determining whether the use of others’ works in your thesis is lawful.

There is no Canadian specific case law in this area to guide us (i.e., case law that deals with the use of third party content in theses that are freely distributed on the Internet). Instead, see the Fair Dealing section of the Copyright Office web site and the CAUT Guidelines (linked below) to learn about the six factors that determine fairness and to help determine if using others’ works in your thesis might be considered fair. In summary, if use of the work for which you do not hold copyright is “fair” then you do not need to ask for permission to use it. If your use of the work would not be “fair,” then you do need to seek permission to use it (if the latter, see step 3, below).

Section 3, Fair Dealing. CAUT Guidelines for the Use of Copyrighted Materials. February 2013.

3) SEEK PERMISSION to use others’ work in your thesis.

A. First, determine who holds the copyright for the content you want to use. (Publishers can often help identify the rights holder for published works.)

B. Next, send the copyright holder a Permission Request Letter or email to ask for permission to use their content in your thesis. The language in this template letter grants permission to include the content in your thesis online through the University of Alberta and Library and Archives Canada only. Note that this copyright permission letter must be included in your final thesis submission, as per Section 5.3 of FGSR Thesis Requirements and Preparation. If you intend to publish your thesis on any other website or in any other publication you will be responsible for obtaining any other permissions which may be required for this additional use of that copyrighted content. Note that some publishers provide a form or direct contact for this purpose on their web site. It is a good idea to retain all documentation related to seeking permissions.

Remember: the Copyright Office staff are here to help!  While we cannot provide legal advice, we can help you navigate and learn about copyright issues.

For further information about copyright issues related to theses, check out the frequently asked questions (FAQs) here. If you have any remaining questions after consulting those sources, please email the Copyright Help Desk at