Copyright and theses
This page outlines your responsibilities when using third party material in your thesis.
- Unpublished theses and copyright
- What is sufficient acknowledgement of third party material?
- What constitutes a published thesis?
- Your responsibility to arrange copyright clearance
- Exception for the purposed of criticism and review
An original thesis is considered to be an unpublished work prepared for the purposes of examination (see Section 32 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (PDF), as amended). As such, it is covered by a statutory copyright exemption which states that there is no copyright infringement for anything done for the purposes of an examination, provided the reproduction of any third party material is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement.
If you reproduce copyright material within a thesis, there should be identification of the work in question by its title or other description, and the author, unless the work is published anonymously or the identity of the author cannot be established by reasonable means (section 178 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (PDF)).
When the whole or part of a thesis is made available to the public, whether it be print, or electronically on a website or in a repository (an institutional repository such as CentAUR, EThOS or any other national, institutional or subject repository), it is considered to have been published and the copyright situation changes.
Most importantly, there is then normally a requirement to obtain permission to include in that thesis any third party material which is still in copyright.
We strongly advise, therefore, that you request permission to use third party material at the time of writing the thesis if there is any likelihood that it will be made available to the public in some form in the future (for example, on the web). Higher degree students registered on or after 1st October 2012 are required on submission to deposit an electronic copy of their thesis with the Graduate School for upload to CentAUR and EThOS. See the Graduate School website for further detail. Help and Guidance is provided through a Blackboard course.
If the copyright permissions are not forthcoming from rights owners, third party material might have to be removed from the thesis. The effect of such removal might be that the thesis is rendered meaningless and that it could not be made available to the public. The alternative is to sign a declaration that the thesis contains copyright material and should not be published in print, or electronically on a website, or in a digital repository. The Thesis Deposit Form (PDF) which will accompany the submitted thesis includes embargo options.
Unless employed by the University to undertake the research contained within the original thesis, the author holds the copyright to the work and has the right to refuse permission for the University to publish it. Contact the Graduate School at the time you submit your thesis if you wish to exercise this right.
Section 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (PDF) provides a possible exemption in the case of literary or dramatic extracts.
This states "fair dealing with a work for the purposes of criticism or review, or that of an earlier work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement and provided that the work has been made available to the public".
With regard to quotations, guidance from the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, indicates that it would be acceptable for "fair dealing" purposes to copy from a third party work one extract of up to 400 words, or several extracts, each of less than 300 words, totalling not more than 800 words overall.