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Research Guides

Inclusion of Images

There is no absolute requirement from the UW Libraries or the UW Graduate School that all images discussed in a thesis or dissertation be included in the document that is submitted to UW ResearchWorks and to ProQuest.  However, individual departments, or individual advisors, may feel that inclusion is necessary, so all authors should check with their committee and department if they feel they cannot include the images due to concerns about permissions or other issues. In addition, it is strongly preferred for the long-term integrity of the work that images are included in the ETD. 

If authors are not the copyright holder, to legally use the images authors need to either:

  • make use of the "fair use" provision of copyright law that provides for a legal exception to the rights of the copyright owner, or
  • get permission from the copyright owner.

Asserting Fair Use

Both the Visual Resources Association and the College Art Association have recently issued statements referenced at the end of this document that support reasonable scholarly fair use of images for teaching, research and study. The University of Washington Libraries concurs with those statements and believes that reasonable use of images in theses and dissertations is generally covered by the "fair use" educational exception to the copyright law. However, authors should make their own determinations on a case-by-case basis.

To make the best fair use case your use should:

  1. Be transformative.  The work is used for a different purpose than the original.  Most works of original art will have a different original purpose than use in scholarly works such as in a thesis or dissertation.
  2. Provide significant commentary of original content accompanying the image/s and include the image because it is the subject of the commentary. (In other words, if the image does not pertain directly to the argument or explanation, do not include it.) 
  3. Incorporate images at a size, resolution, fidelity and entirety necessary to make the best scholarly argument—and no more.  The UW Libraries suggests that, to make the best case for fair use, the student consider using images that are relatively small, have a low resolution and/or are black and white when the original is in color. 
  4. Provide attributions.   The UW Libraries endorses the recommendation in the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries that “full attribution, in a form satisfactory to scholars in the field, should be provided for all incorporated third-party materials included in works included in the repository, to the extent it is reasonably possible to do so."  To the best of his/her ability, the UW researcher should document each image and its provenance/source, as well as other significant details typically included by scholars in the relevant discipline.


If your planned use of an image does not fall within the "fair use" exception, you must get permission to reproduce the image in your thesis or dissertation. Proquest has provided a draft letter to use in such situations.

Usage or Access Agreements

You may also need to get permission if you have agreed to access or usage guidelines that restrict your ability to use the image.  For example, a museum, as a condition of access, may require that you agree to not copy or distribute the image.  This agreement controls your use of the image.