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Using Images and Non-Textual Materials in Presentations, Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Fair Use

This guide offers basic information on using images and media in research. Reasonable use of images and media in teaching, course papers, and graduate theses/dissertations is generally covered by fair use.

The Basics

This guide offers basic information on using images and other non-textual materials in presentations, papers, and theses/dissertations.  Reasonable use of images and media in teaching, course papers, and graduate theses/dissertations is generally covered by fair use.  Researchers are expected to document each image (including their own) and its provenance/source to the best of their abilities.  When possible, and particularly for publication purposes, it is advisable to contact the owner or creator.  Libraries, archives, and other organizations that own visual materials will often allow use of images in an educational setting without charging a fee. They may charge a fee for use of visual materials in publication.

 

 

The Visual Resources Association (VRA) in its statement on fair use of images for teaching, research and study notes that use of images in scholarship is fundamental to the advancement of collective knowledge. Thesis research adds original argument and places images in a different context from the original, typically aesthetic, aim of the copyright owner of the image.  Inclusion of an image in a thesis frequently benefits the creator of that image and the creator of any work depicted in the image.  The VRA suggests that researchers are best positioned to assert fair use if:

  • Significant commentary, or other original content, accompanies images included in the thesis;
  • Conversely, images included in a thesis are subject of commentary or illustrate a scholarly argument, and are not included for purely aesthetic purposes;
  • Images are incorporated at a size/resolution necessary to make the best scholarly argument;
  • Attributions are provided to the copyright owner of the image, where known;
  • The circulation and distribution of the thesis through online websites or repositories is consistent with academic practices or requirements set forth by the degree-granting institution.

Additional Selected Resources on Copyright and Fair Use:

Subject Guide

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Ruth Wallach
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