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Copyright at UNSW

Copyright and your thesis

UNSW students generally own copyright in their own works, including UNSW postgraduate students’ research theses.  There are exceptions to these rules, and they can be found in the UNSW intellectual property policy

When researching and writing your thesis, you may include third party copyright material such as quotes, tables, photographs, illustrations or diagrams. When using third party copyright material, you must ensure that you comply with copyright law. Under the fair dealing provision for research or study, within the Copyright Act, a reasonable portion of third party copyright material can be used in the version of your thesis submitted for examination. 

If third party copyright materials are reproduced in the public version of your thesis, you generally need permission from the copyright owner.  This permission is in addition to the normal academic practice of citing resources. 

UNSW requires a digital copy of theses to be deposited into the University's open access repository, UNSWorks. As part of the depositing process, you must declare that you obtained permission from any third party copyright materials within your thesis. More information about thesis submission can be found at Graduate Research

For this reason, it is important for students to carefully consider what third party copyright material they include in their thesis and allow time to obtain permission from copyright owners, if required.

For more information about thesis examination processes for all higher degree research programs at UNSW, see Thesis examination procedure.

Generally, substantial third party copyright material may be included without copyright owner's permission if:

  • Copyright has expired
  • A fair dealing exception covers the use 
  • An insubstantial portion is used
  • The material has a licence to allow for re-use

When researching and writing a thesis, it is likely that third party copyright material is used. 

Generally, research students can rely on the fair dealing for research or study when using copyright materials in the version of their thesis they turn in for examination as part of their degree program.  

Deciding whether a use is ‘fair’ is determined largely by how much of the work has been copied. 

A reasonable portion is generally considered to be:

  • 10% or one chapter if the work is a published edition of 10 pages or more
  • 10% of the words if the work is electronic
  • one article in a single edition of a periodical publication (a journal or newspaper)
  • more than one article in a single edition of a periodical publication if the same subject matter

Artistic works, unpublished material, films, and sound recordings do not have the same 10% provision. To be able to use these types of materials, you need to consider whether the use is fair and reasonable.   

It is generally considered ‘reasonable’ under the fair dealing for research or study to reproduce a whole of an ‘artistic works’ (including maps, diagrams, graphs, etc.) that accompany and illustrate/explain a text for research or study purposes.

If including a substantial amount of material that has been sourced from e-books or e-journals provided by the Library, best practice is to check the licence terms of these resources and request permission to include these resources in both your thesis for examination as well as the public version of your thesis. 

Copyright in the public version of your thesis

While the fair dealing for research or study allows for the use of copyright materials in the version submitted for examination, the research or study exception does not cover the use of copyright materials in the public version submitted to UNSWorks (UNSW’s institutional repository). If copyright materials are reproduced and communicated in the public version of their thesis, permission is generally required, unless an exception or licence applies. 


When can copyright material be used without seeking permission?

There are some circumstances where other people’s material can be used without permission. These include:

  • when the copyright has expired or the copyright owner has waived their rights (Public Domain) 
  • when a fair dealing exception covers the use 
  • the amount used is insubstantial (i.e. brief quote / extract from a publication). See,  Quoting materials 
  • the material has a licence or terms that allows for re-use, for example:
    • materials with a Creative Commons licence attached
    • materials copied from a website where the terms and conditions allow re-use for your intended purposes
    • library subscribed resources where the publisher allows for the copyright material to be included in the public version of your thesis 

When using other people’s copyright material, remember to attribute the work and abide by any terms attached to licences.

 

What copyright materials requires permission for reuse?

Permission is generally required if a substantial portion of the third party material has been used.  Whether a portion is considered substantial or not is judged on both a qualitative and quantitative basis.

Examples of the type of materials that require permission for the public version of your thesis are as follows:

Text works
Books and journal articles a substantial portion has been used. 
Short work such as poems best practice is to seek permission as even a small portion may be considered substantial
For more information see Australian copyright council information sheet on quotes and extracts
Artistic works  

Includes paintings, photographs,

diagrams, tables and graphs.

Judgment about insubstantial portions in such works are difficult, it is best practice to seek permission.

When photographs are taken of artistic works, permission should be sought from the original artist and possibly the photographer

Audio visual materials  
Includes CD, DVDs and videos Judgment about insubstantial portions in such works are difficult it is best practice to seek permission.
Copyright materials found on the internet
Check the website's terms and conditions regarding the re-use of the content and seek permission if your intended purpose is not covered in the terms and conditions. 
Materials covered by licence or contractual agreements
Check the licence or agreement regarding the re-use of the content and seek permission from the publisher if your intended purpose is not covered in the terms and conditions.

If the use of copyright material does not fall in one of the categories mentioned above, then student would either need to seek permission or redact the copyright material from the public facing version of their thesis that is deposited into UNSWorks. Find out more about requesting permission here.  

When writing your thesis, it is important to start the process of obtaining permission as soon as possible as it can take some time to gain the necessary permissions. 
There are a number of ways to approach seeking permission:

  • Use Rightslink for permissions for the use  images in books/journals; journal articles and book chapters
    Many commercial publishers direct permission requests to the Copyright Clearance Centre – RightsLink service.  It important that when requesting permission that the intended use is to post the thesis in an open institutional repository.
  • If you are unable to gain permission via RightsLink then you need to locate the copyright owner/s. A guide to locating the copyright owner can be found on the Australia Copyright Council Information Sheet: Permission How to Get It
  • If the copyright owner is a publisher, then they normally would have a ‘request copyright permission’ type link on their website. 

To request permission from a copyright owner you should: 

  • put your request in writing 
    • check to see if the publisher has an online permission form on their website 
    • if the publisher does not have a form, this Copyright permission request template can be used as a guide to request permission
  • include a detailed description of material to be used and the amount of the material you wish to use 
  • state clearly that you are seeking permission to use the work for non-commercial purposes and that a copy of your thesis will be made publicly available online in UNSWorks (UNSW’s institutional repository).
  • be conscious that the copyright owner has the right to say no 
  • be aware that a copyright owner may charge a fee or ask you to sign a licence agreement 

Remember to allow plenty of time, as it may take months for the permission to be granted.  

It also important to retain copies of permissions you have received. Copyright permission granted by publishers and copyright owners can be included in the master copy of your thesis that is submitted to the Library, however they should be removed from the public version. Refer to Depositing Your Thesis for more information. 

Removing third party copyright material from the public version of your thesis

If it is not possible to obtain permission for the reuse of certain copyright material in the public facing version of a thesis, then those material should be removed. In the place of the redacted materials, you may include a short statement such as:

  • “Figure (Text/Chart/Diagram etc) has been removed due to copyright restrictions”. 
  • “Content can be access via [insert name of publication, URL etc]”
     

 

If you plan to incorporate your own research publications into your research, it may be possible if the research and its publication occurred during the candidature of your degree. You will need the necessary permission from the publishers and any co-authors, and if you are using a publication/s in lieu of a chapter/s in your thesis, approval from your primary supervisor and School Postgraduate Research Coordinator is also required. Some faculties may also have discipline-specific guidelines that should be consulted. 

For more information about incorporating publications into your thesis, see Thesis Examination Procedure and the UNSW Thesis Format Guide.

Publisher agreements often assign the publisher all rights to the work, although each publisher's policy differs. If you plan to incorporate articles in your thesis, the terms can be negotiated with the publisher prior to signing the agreement. For more information, see Publishing your research


If you haven’t negotiated rights prior to publication and need to request permission from the publisher:

  • put your request in writing
    • check to see if the publisher has an online permission form on their website
    • if the publisher does not have a form, this UNSW copyright permission template can be used to request permission
  • tell them the amount of the work you wish to use (e.g. the whole work or a part/section)
  • state clearly that you are seeking permission to use the work for non-commercial purposes
  • consider asking permission for future use of the material (e.g. conference presentations)
  • be conscious that the copyright owner has the right to say no
  • be aware that a copyright owner may charge a fee or ask you to sign a licence agreement
  • allow plenty of time, as it may take months for the permission to be granted

UNSWorks is the UNSW Open Access institutional repository which enables UNSW researchers to make their research outputs freely available and accessible. 

In accordance with UNSW’s Open Access Policy, when depositing your thesis into UNSWorks, you grant UNSW a licence to make the thesis freely available online under a Creative Commons licence. 

As of 1 December 2021, all deposited theses will have a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence applied. This licence allows users to copy, share and adapt the material provided appropriate attribution is given to the creator. The licence also allows for commercial use.

Theses submitted prior to 1 Dec 2021, will have a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives Licence (CC BY-NC-ND).

As the creator of the work, you retain copyright in the thesis as well as the right to use the thesis in future works (i.e. future articles, books, conference presentations).

As part of the depositing process, you must declare that you have obtained permission for any third party copyright materials within your thesis. If you have been unable to obtain permission, the third party copyright material must be removed from the public version of your thesis.

Find out more about requesting permissions for third party copyright materials within your thesis. 

Need help?

For general copyright queries submit an Ask a question form, visit a Help Zone or contact us

For other queries, please contact your Outreach Librarian.

Related resources

Depositing your thesis

Australian Copyright Council Information Sheet: Permission: How to Get It