Image copyright

Copyright is a set of exclusive property rights given to owners of original written and artistic works such as books, films, drawings and photographs.

Usually, original works cannot be copied without the creator’s permission, which would prevent you from including original works, such as images, in your thesis. However, there is a legal exception which allows material to be copied for research and study purposes. This means you can include copyrighted material such as images in your thesis for it to be examined.

Copyright for postgraduates

A potential problem arises when you submit your thesis to the University Library. If you are about to graduate, you must supply a digital copy of the final version of your thesis to the Library. This will be deposited in our Open Access Institutional Repository. Because this repository is freely available to the public, the legal exemption that allows you to include original images in your thesis without permission no longer applies. Therefore you must seek permission for any third party material, such as images, that you plan to include in your thesis. 

Postgraduate FAQs

Why does my thesis have to be deposited in the Open Access Repository? It seems like the University is just making my life harder with this requirement.  

An important component of the university tradition is that knowledge is openly available for examination and criticism by peers. Victoria’s Human Ethics Committee Guidelines require that research results be disseminated and not kept secret. Therefore it is normally expected that the final version of your thesis, which must be submitted to the University Library in electronic form, will be freely available to the public.

Can I ask the University not to put my thesis in the repository?

Yes, but you will need to apply for special permission from the Faculty of Graduate Research to withhold your thesis.

What if I don’t get permission to include copyrighted images in my thesis?

If you are unable or don’t want to get permission to include certain images in your thesis, you have two options:

  1. Remove the images and find other images to use that don’t have copyright issues.
  2. Leave the images in your thesis for it to be examined, but submit two electronic copies of your thesis to the Library. One copy will have all third party material without permissions redacted, while the other will be the complete version. The redacted copy will be made publicly available, while the un-redacted copy will be held as the archival copy. You would need to include a note in the appropriate place/s saying something like, "Image removed for copyright reasons."

How can I tell if I need to get permission to use a particular image?

The best approach is to assume that you don’t have permission to use an image unless the source you have obtained it from indicates otherwise.

Check the terms attached to use of the photo when you acquire it e.g. check the relevant web site (not Google Images, but the site where the image was originally posted). 

If the image is not licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons license, or there is nothing on the web site to indicate you can freely use the image, then you should seek permission to include it in your thesis.

How do I know who to ask for permission? 

Sometimes finding out who the copyright owner is of an image can be difficult. Start with the publisher of the web site or other resource e.g. the book publisher. There is a template letter for requesting permission on Victoria University’s web site.  

What if I send a letter asking for permission and don’t hear anything back?

In this case you don’t have permission to include the image and should find something else to use.

How early should I ask for permission?

The sooner the better, so that completion of your thesis is not delayed.

What if I only want to include part of an image or crop it?

The copyright law pertaining to this is unclear. To be on the safe side, you should treat it in the same way as you would if you were using the entire image. 

If I take a photo of a copyrighted image, because I own the photo that gets me around copyright, doesn’t it?

No. Copyright exists to prevent unauthorised copying of an original work, which is exactly what you have done.

If I do have permission to use an image, should I indicate this in my thesis?

Yes. “Reproduced with permission” should be attached to the caption for the image in your thesis.

What if I take a diagram created by someone else and adapt it for my thesis?

You don’t need to get permission to adapt the diagram, but you should acknowledge its creator in your thesis.

For more information

Thesis Self Deposit: A guide to formatting your thesis in preparation for depositing in the Library.

Copyright in research for students: A guide to copyright in research provided by Victoria.