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Graduate Thesis Submission Guide

The Libraries' requirements and advice for graduate theses.

What is Fair Use?

"Fair use" refers to the specific uses of copyrighted material that are allowed under copyright protection without requiring permission from the copyright owner (17 U.S.C. §107). These uses include criticism, parody, commentary, journalism, education and research.

The ability to claim use of something under "fair use" relies on the following factors:

  • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • The nature of the copyrighted work;
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

(U.S. Copyright Office: Fair Use)

Repurposing Images

Sometimes, an image or other copyrighted material is simply not available in open access form. How can you include these materials in your thesis? The following answer is excerpted from Crews' Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis article:

"Especially for photographs, drawings, paintings, and other images, consider using small size “thumbnail” images and low-resolution reproductions. Use black-and-white versions of color images if they will suffice for your scholarly purposes . . .That option is hardly ideal, but it is more likely to be within fair use."

Citing Images

Even when you're confident that your use of an image is "fair," it is essential that you properly cite and attribute it. 

Citations can be formatted according to the citation style you are using (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style).

Include as much of the following in your citation as can be easily determined from the source:

  • Creator’s name (e.g. the photographer)
  • Title of the work
  • Location of the work (museum, library or owning institution if known)
  • Date work was created
  • Copyright owner, if known (please note, this may not be the original creator)
  • Source (where you found the image)

(From the web page "Scholarly Publishing — MIT Libraries." See more at:

Unique Images

No citation is needed for personal photographs when using APA style. The Chicago style citation for personal photographs is adapted from the citation for published photographs.


APA: Title of meme/image or your own description of the image [Digital image]. (Year Published). Retrieved from URL.

MLA: Title of meme (or your own description if title isn't available). Title of the Website where it was published, Publisher, Date of publication (if known). URL.

Chicago: Title or description. Digital image. Website Title. Date published. Date accessed (only include if there is no publication date). URL.

Personal photograph:

MLA: Your last name, first name. Short description as title of work. Date the photo was taken. Author's personal collection.

Chicago: Your last name, first name, photographer. "Title/short description." Photograph. Date the photo was taken. Author's personal collection.

See meme examplesSee MLA personal photograph examples

Fair Use Resources

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