Answered By: Colleen Bryant
Last Updated: Apr 04, 2016     Views: 18

The fact of the Facebook group's having posted someone else's cartoon doesn't really affect whether or not you can use it. It doesn't make it more or less acceptable either way.

Copyright is automatic, so if someone created it they own it. Posting it online doesn't make it legal for anyone else to use it (though the copyright holder can choose to declare it free for everyone's use).

You can use in your thesis if

-your thesis is not published. That means not posting the full text of the thesis online, which counts as publishing. (You could post it without the cartoon)

-the cartoon is illustrative of a point you're making (and not merely something that goes nicely withe topic for general illustrative purposes)

those two things, in addition to the fact that it's a work of nonfiction created for educational purposes, will generally satisfy the concept of "fair use."

If at some point you want to publish or post the thesis (including making it available online), then you'll need to do a copyright analysis, which may result in the conclusion that copyright permissions (potentially involving fees) would be necessary.

Ideally, whether we're talking about a thesis you'll simply turn in or a thesis that will be published, you want to cite the actual creator/publisher of the cartoon and say you accessed it at Facebook- citing the Facebook group rather than the creator/publisher is preferable only if you have no idea who the creator/publisher is.

If you need help tracing the cartoon you could try a reverse image search. Google has one of course; we also like TinEye.

Citing your sources is, of course, good scholarly practice. Images readily available on the internet which can't always be traced back to their creators are not necessarily "orphan" works. The fact that it's easy to disconnect an image from its creator is a stumbling block, but it doesn't negate the copyright holder's rights or indicate a relinquishment of those rights.

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