Use and reuse of materials

The permission of the owner of the copyright is always required for the use and reuse of copyright protected works. Although this is the fundamental principle of copyright law, there are several exceptions provided for from which you can benefit as a researcher. These exceptions are provided for in the public interest – you can use them when publishing your academic work!

What can you use without permission?

The most important exception for researchers is the right to quote (also known as fair use and fair dealing). You can use quotations, for example in an academic article, book or review, without having to first obtain the permission of the copyright holder. The condition is that you must reference the source and the name of the author. Only quote from works that have already been published, otherwise you must first obtain the author’s permission. It is therefore not permitted to reproduce a photograph that has not been made public or was made public unlawfully. The right to quote is set down in Article 15a of the Dutch Copyright Act.

The following requirements apply to quoting or paraphrasing someone else’s work.

  • You can only do so for a clearly identifiable purpose.
  • You may not quote more than is strictly necessary.
  • You must reference the source.

What purpose should your quotations serve?

A quotation should serve to clarify an argument or description. It must therefore be relevant to the argument, and it should only constitute a small part of your work as a whole. You are also permitted to reproduce photos and images in their entirety as scientific illustrations. However, given that using a photo or image for illustration purposes is not considered ‘quoting’, the permission of the copyright owner is required in most cases.


Example of correctly referencing an image for which the permission of the copyright holder is not required. In this case, the original drawing (an architect’s floor plan) has been modified by the author. The image is explicitly used as an example:
The separation of the living space into two oppositely oriented rooms also gives the opportunity to swap the room functions from summer to winter, which creates flexible space use. An example of a flexible floor plan is the Rietveld Schröderhuis (Figure 3.2).
Alders, N., Adaptive Opportunities for thermal comfort systems in dwellings, TU Delft Open, Delft, 2016, pp. 87-88.

Example of correctly referencing an image for which the permission of the copyright holder is not required. The image is explicitly used as an example:
The advantage of this multiple space use above the former mentioned flexible space use is that no conversions of furniture or moving around with doors and panels is required; however, the disadvantage of is that it takes a lot of space, which can be a problem in an urban environment. Figure 3.3 shows an example of a floor plan of a vernacular house which allows the occupants to use multiple outdoor spaces for the same activities during the course of the day (Merghani, 2004).
Alders, N., Adaptive Opportunities for thermal comfort systems in dwellings, TU Delft Open, Delft, 2016, p. 88.

When quoting, it is therefore important that the quotation is relevant to your argument and that it only constitutes a minor part of your article, presentation or other work.



Example of incorrectly referencing an image for which the permission of the copyright owner is required. The image is not explicitly used as an example and cannot be considered to be a quotation. The text only contains generic information on ‘ocean plastic products’. In this case, the permission of the copyright owner was required and if this was granted, the names of the designers/makers of the furniture should have been mentioned.

Some professionals, like photographers, cartoonists, draughtsmen, filmmakers, graphic designers, and illustrators are very sensitive about the reuse of their work. After all, it is how they make their living. The rule of thumb is to limit your use of the works of these professionals as much as possible.

How do you reproduce an image?

You may reproduce a photo or illustration in its entirety if you reference the source correctly (and have obtained the permission of the copyright owner, if required). The number of quotations in an article or book is strongly linked to the argument being made. Quoting a series of specific examples, e.g. in the field of industrial design, can still be considered purely functional and permissible. You may quote something that you really need for the purposes of your argument. How often can I quote? is the wrong question. You should be asking, what do I need to quote for my publication/review/discussion/response?

Using open images

The right to quote is a great good, but you must treat it with care. In certain cases, it is better to use a similar image to which special arrangements apply to the rights thus allowing reproduction without permission being required.

  • Use images with Creative Commons licences.
  • Use your own images, draw your own graphs, charts and diagrams.
  • Use images whose copyrights have expired. As a general rule, copyrights expire 70 years after the death of the creator and no permission is then needed.


Example of reproducing an image with an open licence. Firmenzentrale Kaffee Partner. The fluid outlines conceal the orthogonal grid of the concrete skeleton construction buildings and lend the architecture an impression of dynamics, 2012. By Emanuel Raab licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.