It is important for students to be aware of copyright as you will be creators and users of copyright works. You need to know how to use works appropriately to avoid plagiarism and infringing copyright.

As students you are creators of copyright works in the presentation of assignments for assessment, whether you are starting at university or completing a doctoral thesis. Generally presentation will be as literary, dramatic, musical, or image works.  

As well as creators of copyright works you will make use of copyright works as sources when completing assessments, whether this is your first assignment or writing a thesis.

There are a number of issues you need to be aware of when completing assessments, particularly theses.

Research & writing assignments

The following three exceptions in the Copyright Act (1994) enable students to study and complete assessments, including theses without infringing or needing to request permission: research or private study; copying for educational purposes and; criticism, review, and news reporting. 

Research or private study

Section 43 of the Copyright Act allows for ‘fair dealing’ for study purposes. This section means you can use portions of text as quotes and paraphrased ideas and opinions from sources in assignments and theses as long as they are appropriately cited and referenced regardless of where they are accessed from – book, journal article or internet. Quotes must not be ‘substantial’. See also Fair dealing.

Section 43 does not cover copying/using artistic works such as graphs, diagrams, tables, images, drawings, photographs etc, because each of these items on their own are whole works. Fair dealing does not apply to whole works, only potions of works.

Copying music and movies/videos or portions of these works are also not covered under this section. See Copying for educational purposes.

 Copying for educational purposes

 Copying for educational purposes is covered in Section 44 of the Copyright Act. This section permits the use of diagrams, graphs, tables etc., in a PowerPoint presentation as part of a class seminar. It does not permit the making of copies of these works in handouts.

See details at Print Material and Broadcast resources from TV and Radio.

  • Print Material covers the copying of print published material
  • Screenrights licence allows you to make a clip from a television or radio broadcast, such as from movies/videos, news to include in seminar presentations or assessments presented via a digital format.

 Criticism, review, and news reporting

 Section 42(1) allows for “Fair dealing with a work for the purposes of criticism or review, of that work or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe copyright in the work if such fair dealing is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.”

Photographs are not covered under this section of the Act.

Using images

Copyright exists for all images (photographs, paintings and other artworks, cartoons, diagrams, tables, charts, graphs) including those made available on the Web.

  • All images are whole works
  •  Copyright laws (both New Zealand and overseas equivalents) grant certain limited rights to use (“fair dealing” and “fair use” rights) that relate to the nature of use, the material, the amount used and commercial impact
  • The duration of copyright is also complex, varying with the country and type of work; in NZ it is the 50 years after the death of the creator, elsewhere it can stretch to the life of the creator plus 70 years.


In general, you may download and/or make one copy of an image for research or private study (such as a course assignment or presentation), but there are grey areas with regard to other educational use.

You must seek permission to use images in a thesis, whether they are graphs, photos, diagrams, tables, charts, cartoons or paintings and other artworks. 

Safe Options

Use images which are copyright-free, or those that offer limited-use conditions, such as non-commercial use with attribution - as with many forms of Creative Commons licenses. Always look for a statement on conditions of use in the image description or its website before downloading it.

Look on How to Find Images to find links to image sources.


Don't copy an image you intend to submit in a document or presentation without knowing its context or the details necessary to attribute it by citation or captioning. This applies whether it is scanned from hard copy (e.g. a book) or downloaded from the Web or an online repository.

At minimum you should state the:

  • 'creator' (the artist, photographer, etc.)
  • institution or collection in which the image is held
  • title of the image (if given)
  • date.

Find out more about citing images and captioning at OWLL's Referencing Visual Material page.

If inserting a number of images in an assignment, label them sequentially (Figure 1, 2, etc.), and refer to them in your text by the figure number.

Seeking permission

 For students writing theses permission must be sought for all whole works wanting to be used. To seek permission write an email to the right’s owner stating who you are, that you are studying at Massey University for which degree, the thesis topic and the name of the work you wish to use and how you wish to use it. Include full reference details. Keep careful records of all permissions. When attributing works granted permission to use include “Reproduced by permission of author/creator/right's holder” with the citation, or any particular statement as required by the permission granting authority.

 For most books publishers hold copyright. Their websites usually have contact details for permissions. In books and reports published by non commercial and government agencies the copyright is usually held by the author/s, while resources on internet sites may be owned by the website or author/s and creators. Most websites have contact details. Contact publishers for the use of works in journals.

Internet resources

 All items on the internet are copyright works and are owned by rights' holders, whether it is text, images, graphs or logos. You can print a copy for your personal use but are not free to distribute whole items unless the copyright owner/site has given permission.  The Terms and Conditions or Copyright sections of a web site will usually indicate how you can use resources and who to contact. Creative Commons licensed works can be copied as long as the same licence is included with the acknowledgement.

Additional resources

  • Millett, T. (2008). Copyright Guidelines for Research Students.  Prepared for LCoNZ: Library Consortium of New Zealand.  This guide provides a more in depth look at copyright for research students. The request template and suggested format for keeping a record of permission is helpful. This short document can be accessed from
  • The Library’s Guide to Presentation of Theses outlines all thesis requirements.
  • Referencing styles can be found on OWLL.


Acknowledgement: The work of Tony Millett in Copyright Guidelines for Research Students (2008) referred to in the Additional resources, has informed this page.