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Copyright and your thesis

Researching, writing and publishing your thesis

As a University Higher Degree by Research student, you will be using and creating copyright material.

You need to understand the basics of copyright so you:

  • can treat the copyright material of others with respect and abide by the restrictions on using their copyright material under the Copyright Act
  • understand how the copyright material you create is protected

For a copyright overview, visit the What is copyright? section.

Who owns copyright in my thesis?
  • Generally, your thesis will be protected by copyright as a literary work. The copyright in a thesis created by a student while enrolled at the University will usually be owned by the student.

Researching your thesis topic
  • When researching your thesis topic, you may be copying or otherwise using a wide range of materials protected by copyright such as published books, journal articles, material on the internet, artworks, diagrams, illustrations, maps, photos, recorded music, TV programs and movies.

    Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to use the copyright material of others to research your thesis topic under the fair dealing exception for research or study (but such use is subject to a number of restrictions and conditions). For further information on this fair dealing exception, visit Fair dealing.

Writing your thesis and deciding on access levels
  • While you write your thesis it is worth thinking ahead and deciding if you are interested in making it available open access, or if you want it published.

    If you decide to make the thesis available open access, it will be included in the University’s online repository of research theses and will be accessible by anyone worldwide with internet access. Alternatively, if you do not want your thesis openly accessible in this way, it will be made available as a local access thesis. A local access thesis is accessible by:

    • current staff and students of the University
    • members of the public who attend library premises
    • members of the public given access to the thesis under one of the library copying and communication exceptions in the Copyright Act (eg access via the Library’s Document Delivery service)

    Contact the Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre for further information on selecting the appropriate level of access for your thesis.

    It is important to consider these options at this stage because as you write your thesis you may want to include copyright material of others such as:

    • quotes from published books and journal articles
    • material on the internet, artworks, diagrams, illustrations, maps and photos
    • extracts from recorded music
    • clips from TV programs and movies

    If you want open access for your thesis or to have it published

    If you want your thesis to be made available open access, or if you want it published by a publisher, you will need to obtain permission from the copyright owners of any third party copyright material included in the thesis. You will not be able to rely on the fair dealing exceptions. For further information on seeking permission to use copyright material, visit Seeking permission.

    Seeking permission and obtaining clearances to use copyright material can be time consuming, so start early in the research and writing process, and factor in plenty of time. Other things to consider as your write your thesis include:

    • keep accurate citations – this will save time when you are ready to contact publishers
    • you do not need permission to use material that is out of copyright – if you have a choice, use out of copyright material
    • you do not need permission to reproduce short quotes from others’ material, as long as the quotes are correctly cited and are insubstantial parts of the material
    • you will almost always need permission to include substantial parts from others’ material, eg long quotes or excerpts of text, or entire works such as a journal article, a graph or figure, or a photograph or illustration
    • look for copyright material where the copyright owner has given a licence that allows your use (eg material made available under a Creative Commons licence that permits the relevant use)
    • check the terms of use for websites – the owners may give you a licence to re-use their copyright material in your thesis

    If you only want local access for your thesis

    If you only want local access for your thesis, then depending on the circumstances, you may be able to use the copyright material of others in your thesis under one of the fair dealing exceptions, but this will be subject to a number of restrictions and conditions. For further information on the fair dealing exceptions for research or study, criticism or review, and parody or satire, visit Fair dealing.

    Thesis "by publication"

    If your thesis will include papers or articles you have written that have been published, you will need to check the copyright status of that material with your publisher.

    You may, for example, have assigned or exclusively licensed all your copyright to the publisher, in which case, you will not be able to use that material in your thesis and make it available open access without their permission. Many journal publishers, however, allow an author to include the author’s articles published by the publisher in the author’s thesis, so you should check this with your publisher.

    For further information on seeking permission to use copyright material, visit Seeking permission.

    Remember to comply with moral rights obligations

    You will also need to comply with the moral rights obligations (see Moral rights: works and films and Moral rights of performers). Failure to do so could also leave you open to allegations of plagiarism. For more information on the University’s plagiarism policy, visit the Plagiarism website.

Publishing your thesis
  • Following the completion of your thesis and award of your degree, you may decide that you want your thesis published. Discuss publication options with your supervisor as they will be aware of publication trends in your discipline.

    You may have a range of publishing options including:

    • publishing a version of your thesis as a book with a commercial publisher
    • turning individual chapters into journal articles for publication in commercial journals

    You should check whether you need to obtain separate or additional permissions to use substantial parts of third party material in published versions of all or part of your thesis. For further information on seeking permission to use copyright material, visit Seeking permission.

    Following the publication of your copyright material, you should always be aware of the terms on which the material is published. For example, if you assigned all your copyright to a publisher, this may prevent you from using your copyright material in particular ways (eg you may not be able to use your material to create derivative works or upload your research output to an open access institutional repository).

Further resources

This information is provided as general information only. It provides a basic introduction to copyright and is not intended to be comprehensive.

Reviewed December 2017

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