Copyright and your thesis

Your thesis preparation requires an understanding of copyright considerations.

Thesis publishing includes a process of rights management often new to students. The Fair Dealing for research or study exception relied upon for the preparation of student assignments, essays and theses does not apply when making a thesis available to the public. For the first time in your academic journey you may need to correspond with rights holders about permissions to reproduce content in your thesis.

Be prepared and organised with your material, seek permission early where needed, and save the stress from the end of your thesis submission.

Understand what you can use without seeking permission

Insubstantial part

You won't infringe another person's copyright if you only include an insubstantial part of their material in your research. Assessing what is a substantial part can be difficult as substantiality is determined on a qualitative, rather than a quantitative basis, so each situation will need to be assessed on its own merits. Therefore, very small portions of material may represent an important, distinctive or essential component of the original. For more detail see the Insubstantial portion page.

Fair dealing

'Fair Dealing' exceptions allow limited uses of copyright material without having to obtain permission is special circumstances.

As a researcher you are most likely to use 'Fair Dealing' for the purpose of 'research or study' and/or 'criticism or review'. Fair Dealing for 'research or study' can only be relied on for preparation and submission of your thesis, and does not apply when the thesis is shared or made available on the Federation ResearchOnline repository. Fair Dealing for the purposes of Criticism or review may apply in some circumstances.

For more detailed information on Fair Dealing for research or study see the Fair Dealing page.

Consider your intended research outcome

Consider whether the material will be an essential component of your final publication. If the answer is 'yes' you will need to obtain permission to use it. It can be difficult to determine whether you have permission to use someone else's work.

Log what you use

Create a log to record the details of any copyright material you use in your research. This will help you identify and assess copyright material you have included in your research. A sample log is available for download as part of the Copyright for Researchers Toolkit (see links below).

Copyright in collections of data

Copyright can protect compilations of material or data where there has been skill, judgment, labour or expense required to compile it.

Download the Copyright for Researchers Toolkit A4 (pdf, 201kb).

Send a written request to the copyright owner - usually the publisher - asking for their permission to use the material. Your request should also contain clear details of:

  • the copyright material you wish to use
  • all current and future uses you would like to make of the material
  • your intended use, including whether it will be for non-commercial, educational use
  • the number of copies and/or the format you intend to make the material available in
  • the intended audience for the material.

Ask the person you are writing to to confirm that they are the copyright owner or exclusive licensee of the material in question. In some cases copyright owners might request payment for any permission they provide.

For more detail see Requesting permissions.

Am I ready to publish my research?

Ideally you will have all permissions required by the time you have finished your research. If not, then you need to either chase these up before you can publish your work, or consider removing the material in question from your research.

What if I've already published some of my research?

You might have assigned copyright to someone else (i.e. a publisher of a journal) if you have previously published parts of your work i.e. as a journal article or in other publications. Assigning copyright in parts of your work to a publisher can limit your ability to make this work publicly available. Therefore you will need to determine who owns copyright.

Publishers quite often have policies available on their websites which state ownership and licence condition information. Copyright ownership and licence information should also be part of the agreement you make with a publisher for the publication of your research.

Candidates for PhD by publication need to be aware of the publication policies of commercial academic publishers they intend to submit articles to for publication and how these may affect the completion and submission of their thesis.

The University requires a thesis to be submitted in both hard copy and digital form. The digital version will be made openly available on the National Library of Australia's Trove website. Therefore while copies of published journal articles can be included in the hard copy version of the thesis, it may not be possible to include these articles in the same format in the online version.

Most academic publishers require authors to transfer copyright to the publisher which will restrict the ability of the author or the University to make a copy of the article available online, including as part of a PhD by publication thesis. In some cases publishers will allow the author to place what is called a post-print or 'accepted manuscript' version (that is a final version of the paper in Word format – after it has been peer-reviewed but before it has been typeset for inclusion in the journal) onto an online institutional repository. Therefore it is very important that candidates retain full, complete copies of the final versions of all articles, as in some cases these can be included in the online version of their thesis.

If a publisher does not allow any version of the article to be made available online, it may only be possible for the university to include URL links to the articles that form part of the thesis in the digital version of the thesis. Access to these articles may then only be available via a subscription to the journal, so the full thesis will not necessarily be openly available to all users. Candidates therefore need to be aware that the online version of the thesis may be different to the hard copy held by the University.

With this in mind, candidates for PhD by publication should scrutinise publishers' policies and be sure that they will allow for appropriate access to material that will be included in their thesis before entering an agreement with an academic publisher. They should also consider asking publishers for permission to include their article in an online version of the thesis and retain copies of all agreements.