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Theses & copyright

Fair use and your thesis

There are two key questions to consider when determining whether you can reuse a figure, table, image, or other content in your thesis without obtaining permission from the copyright holder:

  • Is the figure copyrighted? For the most part the answer to this will be yes (see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States). Generally, once the content was put in tangible form, and unless it was created prior to 1923 or is a US government publication, it is copyrighted.
  • Would your reuse be considered fair use?

MIT license agreements may allow reuse

You may not need to rely on fair use to use others’ work in your thesis. The MIT Libraries’ has license agreements with Elsevier, Sage, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley that allow authors to reuse figures without asking permission or paying any fee.

Find more information about using figures and other content from published works.

Obtaining permission for use

If you determine that you should seek permission to reuse someone’s work, here are some places to go:

  • In general, MIT owns the copyright in MIT theses. If you want to reuse parts of a student’s (or your own) MIT thesis, contact
  • If you want to reuse a portion of a book or article, an efficient place to begin is the Copyright Clearance Center.
  • If you are seeking permission to reuse content from formats other than a book or article (e.g. music, plays, images, or film) consult the University of Texas Getting Permission page.

Using your own published articles in your thesis, or publishing articles from it

Journal publishers usually control copyright to scholarly articles. This theses and article publishing page shows publisher policies related to reuse of previously published articles in theses, and policies on accepting journal submissions on work that first appeared in a thesis.

Specifications for Thesis Preparation

This guide includes information on submission dates, fees, formatting, and copyright.