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Copyright for Graduate Students

How Can I Avoid Infringement?

Although copyright law has many exceptions for educational purposes, there's a big difference between what you can do in the classroom and what you can do outside of the classroom. When you are in the classroom, you are free to perform or display any copyrighted works that you have legally obtained. Playing videos and music, displaying images in your presentations, reading texts aloud—all of these are examples of things you can do in the classroom You can also include copyrighted content in homework assignments or papers you turn in to your professor, but be sure to attribute your sources properly. However, outside of the classroom, you are more limited in what you can do. This is especially important to keep in mind if you plan to share other people's copyrighted works on the open web (for example, if you want to post a class project online and it includes copyrighted content from other creators).

Not everything you find on the Internet can be copied and reused without restriction. Even if you do not see a copyright notice, it is likely that the work is copyrighted. However, there are many resources you can use to narrow your searching to content in the public domain or content that is available under a Creative Commons license. 

If a work appears online with a statement that it is licensed under Creative Commons or in the public domain, you should still consider whether or not these claims are trustworthy. Doing a small amount of research on the work's origins or avoiding using works that are clearly copyrighted (for example, works from recognizable publishers or corporations) in nonpermissable ways will help you avoid infringing copyright.

Getting Permission

When you are using others' works, there is a series of questions you will need to ask:

  • Is the work copyrighted? If the work is in the public domain, you are free to use it without permission or payment in most cases. However, if you are accessing the work online, you should pay attention to any terms and conditions from the website or database that might restrict your use.
  • Is the work available under an open license? If so, see if your use falls under the license terms.
  • Is your use fair? If the work is not in the public domain or available under an open license, consider if your use falls under fair use.

If your use is not fair, you will need to get permission from the copyright holder. If you cannot get permission or the permission comes at too high a cost, you will need to consider using a different work. To better understand the permissions process, see the following resources: 


Using Your Previously Published Works

If you plan to publish or have already published a portion of your thesis or dissertation (as a journal article, for example), you need to ensure that you have the right to reuse the published work.

It is possible to license away your right to reuse your own work, so take care when signing publishing agreements. When you’re getting ready to publish, check that the publishing agreement will allow you to use the article in your thesis or dissertation. If it does not, negotiate with the publisher to ensure you retain the rights you need. 

If you have already published the work, you will need to determine what rights you have:

  • If you have it, check your original publishing agreement.
  • Look for the specific publisher's policies on their website or see if it is listed on the SHERPA/RoMEO website.
  • If the publisher's policy information is not available online, contact them directly. 
  • If you did not retain the rights you need to republish, you will have to request permission from the publisher. Suggested templates for permission requests are available at the SHERPA/RoMEO site.