Many or most uses of images, quotations, and other materials in a thesis or dissertation would be fair use (please see the tab on Fair Use Basics for more information), but you cannot assume that an academic purpose automatically guarantees fair use. The key questions are basically: How are you using it? and Are you using an appropriate amount?
At one end of the spectrum, imagine a short quotation, or an image reproduced at a viewing-friendly (but not reproduction-friendly) resolution, and a dissertation that discusses and critiques that image or quotation. The writer is using the material to make a particular point important to their scholarship, and adding to academic discourse on the subject. No one is going to use the dissertation as a substitute for the original work. Few or no copyright owners would object to this type of use as a fair use, requiring no permission, and it is hard to imagine a successful challenge if they did. The analysis generally changes little for dissertations on the internet; you may want to consider whether you have included, for example, so many things from the same creator or at such a high quality that people would download a copy of your dissertation rather than buying a copy of the work.
On the other end of the spectrum, imagine a writer who wants to discuss one paragraph of another writer's work, but quotes ten pages that are not discussed. Imagine a writer who includes several images from a particular artist, in a format that shows more detail than a user needs to understand the writer's text, or is suitable for poster printing. Even though the writer is creating scholarship and has a noncommercial purpose, the amount used is more than is appropriate.
Many uses will fall somewhere between these two extremes, but in our experience most students writing a dissertation will fall closer to the first case. The nature of a thesis is that most external content is included because the author is making a point about it. Various guidelines exist to help evaluate different kinds of uses in the context of theses and dissertations, such as these from Proquest/UMI.
Open Access Theses and Dissertations
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Open Access Theses and Dissertations (OATD) currently indexes over 1.6 million freely accessible electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) published around the world. Metadata (information about the theses) comes from over 600 colleges, universities, and research institutions.
The OATD project is led by Thomas Dowling, director of technologies at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. For more information about OATD and how it compares with other resources for finding electronic theses and dissertations, see the article “Open Access Theses & Dissertations: Launch of a New OA Discovery Tool,” from Information Today.
In addition to this new open access resource, Stony Brook University Libraries subscribes to Dissertations and Theses Full-Text from ProQuest, which contains 1.2 million full-text dissertations, including most dissertations added since 1997 and strong retrospective full text coverage for older graduate works. It also includes 2.7 million citations to dissertation and theses from around the world from 1861 to the present day.
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