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Your thesis and copyright

As soon as a work is created it is protected by copyright whether in print or electronic format. This is designed to protect the rights of authors, including yourself. Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1981, copyright of a work is held by the creator. Authors submitting theses for examination are required by the Research Degrees Programmes and Examinations Board to sign a statement acknowledging both ownership and the right to be identified as the author.

In the process of researching and writing a thesis, it is essential that authors take the issues of copyright into consideration. Generally no permission is necessary for the following use of:

  • Copyright expired materials - Author copyright lasts for 70 years after the author’s death. If no renewal of copyright is made, the work is deemed to have fallen out of copyright and may be used freely, although still attributed. See the Copyright Information webpages for further details regarding copyright for research and study purposes
  • A short extract of a work in order to critique or review it
  • A short quotation from a published work. The use must be proportionate and fair, i.e. the extent should be justified by the context
  • Material which is licensed for your intended use e.g. under a Creative Commons licence.

Traditionally it has been accepted that third party copyright material can be included in the print version of a thesis without seeking permission, although it is considered good academic practice to do so. However, this is not the case where the thesis is available online and copyrighted material is reproduced without permission.


Your thesis may contain copyrighted material. This may include:

  • Material to which the copyright is held by another body or author i.e. academic papers
  • Self-authored material where copyright may have been assigned or transferred to the publisher.

This is known as third party copyright.


May include, but is not limited to, lengthy quotations and extracts from books, publications, illustrations such as maps, images, photographs, tables, music scores, entire copies of published articles, internet images etc. The inclusion of third party material requires the author to seek permission from the copyright holder. 


Where third party copyright material consists of a short quote or extract from published work and is properly referenced and acknowledged, permission is not deemed necessary. However what is termed a short extract or 'fair dealing' has no exact definition in law:

Below is an extract from the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 section 32:

  • Fair dealing with a work for the sole purpose of illustration for instruction does not infringe copyright in the work provided that the dealing is—
  • For a non-commercial purpose,
  • By a person giving or receiving instruction (or preparing for giving or receiving instruction), and
  • Accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement (unless this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise).
  • For the purposes of subsection (1), “giving or receiving instruction” includes setting examination questions, communicating the questions to pupils and answering the questions.

Where an extract or the materials in use may not fall within the boundaries of fair dealing, permission should be sought and the rights holder identified. This may be the publisher, author, photographer etc. For example:

  • Check the source to identify any existing licence which specifies conditions of use.
  • For books, journals and other publications, consult the publisher.
  • For reproduction of photographed artistic works, contact the relevant museum or gallery.
  • For film stills, contact the issuing studio or distributor.

Many publishers give details on their sites on how to seek permission and/or who to contact. If the publisher does not hold the right to the work, your enquiry should be forwarded to the individual who does.


When contacting rights owners to include third party material within your thesis it is important that you are clear about what you are asking for. The following is a suggested statement which may be used in letters and/or emails when seeking permission. Please note that where material has more than one author, permission must be sought from both.

‘I am a postgraduate research student at Queen Mary University of London working towards my thesis on (insert title). I am contacting you to seek permission to include the following material within the electronic version of my PhD/MSc/MPhil thesis:

[Provide a full citation for the work or item e.g. an image or music score you wish to include]

If you are not the rights holder for this material I would be grateful if you could advise me on who to contact.

The thesis will be made available within QMUL’s online theses repository (https://qmro.qmul.ac.uk/). The repository is non-commercial and openly available to all.

I would be grateful if you could advise if this will be acceptable.’


You are required to indicate this at the appropriate point in your thesis e.g. ‘Permission to reproduce the (description of work) has been granted by (name of rights holder). A copy of any documentation or correspondence authorising use must be submitted when you deposit your thesis.


You will not be able to submit the full version of the thesis for inclusion into the online repository, and will be required to select the embargo option on the thesis declaration form restricting access on copyright grounds. You are still required to deposit an electronic version which will be held securely.

You may also deposit a copy in which the third party copyright material has been removed, redacted or replaced with alternatives i.e. a link to an image or article or a reference/citation pointing to tables or datasets. Third party material may also be placed in Appendices at the rear of a thesis, allowing reference to the material within the body of the work, but removal of the Appendices on submission.

If the volume of third party material is so great that it would damage the integrity of the work, this should also be indicated. In this case your thesis will not be published in the online repository, and will be placed under permanent embargo.

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