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Copyright in the digital era: Protected contents within the thesis

Identifying the conditions of use of copyrighted works in a thesis published online

What does "Rights Reserved" mean?

This mention is exclusive to pictures and points to the fact that the author or their beneficiaries could not be identified. It is theoretically affixed to indicate that all was done to try and find them. In the advent of the author(s) coming forward, they would have the right to claim payment. Beware: It is recommended not to copy pictures under reserved rights lest it might count as forgery.

Pre-existing works within the thesis

If the thesis includes works copyrighted by other beneficiaries, doctoral students need to make sure:

  • Not to divulge confidential information if they have a contract with a company, for instance, and not to circulate a patent without authorization.
  • That they received every authorization required to use or reuse graphics, illustrations, photos, texts … except for quotes and analyses (exceptions to copyright, see Art. L122-5 of the French intellectual property code. The moral right must be respected for short quotes as well. This paternity right translates into mentioning the author’s name, the title of the work and of its source.

Some documents, pictures in particular, are called "royalty-free". But this does not mean they are "free of charge". It is possible to buy a CD of images or to order images on a website (image bank) in order to use these illustrations repeatedly. Once the images have been bought, the user may exploit them according to the terms and conditions presented on the CD or in the image bank.


The author’s moral right must be respected for short quotes as well. Article L122-5 in the French intellectual property code allows incorporating a few words or lines "provided the author’s name and their source are clearly indicated."

Mentioning the author’s name is compulsory even once the work belongs to the public domain, since the author’s moral right is perpetual.

Not mentioning the author’s name may result in having to pay compensation.