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Copyright: For Researchers

“Facts are not copyrightable, yet creative compilations of facts can fall under copyright”.

Kristin Briney (2015), Data Management for Researchers

Non-Commercial Research and Private Study

n the UK, 'fair dealing' with copyright material for "non-commercial research or private study" does not require the rights-holder's permission, providing the material is fully attributed. The UK Intellectual Property Office has published a guide to Exceptions to Copyright for Research (2014).

Sharing a documentFair dealing" is not defined in law, but it's generally understood as use of the work in a way that doesn't impact on the rights-holder's commercial opportunities. Making a copy to share privately with other researchers or participants who have no commercial interest in the outcome is likely to be fair. Sharing that copy with industry partners, an audience who have paid to be present, or a publisher who intends to market the work, may be harder to defend as fair dealing.

Research materials you have accessed overseas will be subject to the copyright law of that jurisdiction, which may be more restrictive.  Seek advice locally.

See also: Archives Referencing and Copyright, from the University of Hull Archives Team.

Writing for publication

writingUK copyright law allows anyone to quote from published material, "for criticism and review or otherwise", providing your use is "fair dealing" and you attribute the quote to the original author.  You do not need the rights-holder's permission for an attributed quote. 

You may "quote" excerpts from audio, video and images as well as text.  If you are reproducing an image, ensure you credit the rights-holder (which may be the creator, a publisher or a picture agency). When quoting text, it's not necessary to identify the rights-holder in your citation. 

If the source of your quote is unpublished, e.g. a private letter or interview, you should not use it in work for publication without the creator's permission.  The UK Oral History Society's Legal and Ethical advice is a good starting point for researchers intending to reproduce quotes from recorded interviews.

There's no limit to the length of your quote, although you should be able to justify why you needed to reproduce the amount that you chose in order to make your point.  It's arguably not "fair dealing" to rely on the Quotation defence when re-using material which could have a market value in its own right, such as a poem, artwork or high-res photo (see the Using Images tab).Your publisher may set an arbitrary word limit for any quotes, beyond which they will expect you to obtain permission from the rights-holder.  This is not a legal requirement, but an indication that your publisher is risk-averse.

photographerReproducing other people's figures, illustrations or photographs in work for publication requires care, as the copyright status may not be clearcut.  

An image found on a free-to-view website is not necessarily free to re-use,  and a figure taken from a book or journal article may have a different rights-holder from the surrounding text.  A gallery or museum can claim copyright over its own digital reproductions of works by long-dead artists. Check your source for any terms of use, or a licence statement such as Creative Commons.

Ensure that you credit the rights-holder in your image caption (the Creative Commons wiki has a useful guide to captioning CC images). 

When the image you have chosen to use does not have a CC licence, or you cannot meet the licence terms, you may be able to defend your use as Quotation, if it can be justified as 'fair dealing'.  Your use must be fully attributed and "no more than is required by the specific purpose for which it is used".

If your intended use has commercial potential, or could impact on the rights-holder's commercial opportunities,  it is unlikely to be fair dealing.  Contact the rights-holder for permission to reproduce their material  - look for a request form or email address on the host platform.

Not a quoteIf your use of other people's material can't be defended as 'Quotation', you should try to get permission from the copyright owner.  Be prepared to negotiate a fee, and/or accept their terms and conditions.



Oxford University Press Instructions for Authors include detailed guidance for obtaining permission to reproduce copyright material (applicable to other publishers).

Advice from University of Leeds about how to find and contact a copyright owner.

If the copyright holder can't be traced, the material is defined as an 'orphan work'.  The UK's Intellectual Property Office has developed a process for applying for a licence to copy an orphan work.

When you sign your agreement to publish,  your publisher may ask you to transfer copyright to them, to enable them to market your work and protect it from unlicensed reproduction.

Some research funders provide authors with a 'rights retention' statement to append to an agreement to publish, enabling the author to prevent the publisher from limiting access to the work (by paywalling it or claiming an exclusive licence to distribute it).  Check the terms of your funding agreement - this will take precedence over any contract with the publisher.

For more information about authors' rights and obligations to publish their work with an open licence,  see the Library's guide to Open Access.


Conferences and networking

microphoneWhen you speak or perform in front of an audience, be mindful that English law dictates that the first owner of copyright in an audio or video recording is the producer, not the speaker.  The speaker retains ownership of the copyright in their presentation materials and their performance.

Before you consent to being recorded, ensure you understand how the recording will be preserved and distributed, and keep a copy of any written agreement for reference.

Any material used in your presentation which is not your own (such as images. video footage or music) may be defensible as 'fair dealing' for non-commercial research, or quotation.  However, if the event has a commercial sponsor, or recordings are being shared via a commercial platform such as YouTube or Slideshare, 'fair dealing' may not apply.  You should choose material which has been made available with a licence which covers your intended use (such as CC-BY), or request the rights-holder's permission.

Networking platforms such as ORCIDResearchGate or LinkedIn enable researchers to create a profile and promote their research outputs to potential collaborators and readers.  Their terms of service typically state that the profile owner is responsible for ensuring that they have retained the right to make their published work openly available on their profile:  check your Agreement to Publish, or your publisher's guidelines for authors.

The Library's guide to Open Access provides advice about taking advantage of 'green' OA routes to share your submitted or accepted manuscript in line with your publisher's terms.


Sharing other people's work


When you download or print an extract from a paywalled publication, you are likely to be asked to accept liability for any infringement of copyright.  Activities which potentially infringe copyright include:

In the UK, sharing a file on a secure network with a limited group of co-researchers may be defensible as 'fair dealing' for the purposes of non-commercial research (CDPA s 29).

thumbs upSharing a link to a published work is unlikely to infringe copyright, providing you have not circumvented any digital protection implemented by the rights-holder or distributor.  A number of search engines enable you to identify any open access version of a published work, to ensure that you can share it legally.

Publishers and web hosts can remotely monitor patterns of downloading, and may ask the University to block an account or IP address if copyright infringement is suspected.

Your thesis

Copyright in a University of Hull PhD thesis belongs to the author, unless a prior arrangement has been made with a funder or sponsor.  (University of Hull Student Contract 2018-19, #7.2). You should identify yourself as the rights-holder on the front page of your thesis:

© [year] [your name].

Before graduation, the successful PhD candidate is required to deposit their final thesis (including approved corrections) with the Doctoral College, for preservation in Repository@Hull, the University's platform for open research.  The British Library harvests theses from the repository for EThOS,  a searchable collection of over half a million theses from UK participating institutions.

Refer to the Thesis Hub on the Doctoral College Sharepoint site for further information and instructions about depositing your thesis, including guidance on selecting a Creative Commons licence for your work, or withholding access to your thesis (an 'embargo').


If your thesis incorporates material written by you which has been published already (for instance, a journal article), be mindful that your publisher may own the copyright.  Check the terms of your Agreement to Publish, and contact your publisher for permission to republish the material if required.  If permission is not granted, you can choose to restrict public access to the material concerned, by depositing it as a separate file.

Copying from theses and dissertations

Other people's theses and dissertations may be available from their university library in print or digital form.  Digital copies of many UK PhD theses can be obtained through the British Library's EThOS service.

If you have obtained a thesis or dissertation from a library or publisher's collection, then photocopying, printing or scanning a "reasonable amount" for "private study", "non-commercial research", "education" or "quotation" is permitted under UK copyright law.  Your copy must be fully attributed. 

If you have made a private arrangement with an author to read their thesis, or an academic department or faculty has made former students' work available to current students, then you should consider the work "unpublished".  Copying extracts from this work for anything other than "private study" infringes the author's copyright.

Intellectual property

Copyright is one form of Intellectual Property.  Hull researchers interested in opportunities to commercialise their IP or share it with external partners should contact the University's IP and Commercialisation team.