Copyright for researchers

Copyright for researchers

Using copyright material is likely to be a key part of your research process and final research outputs. You will also need to consider the licensing arrangements for any material, like an article or thesis, that you publish.


You might need to access or make copies of copyright works for your own private study or research. There are ways you can do this legally, within certain limits.

Licensed library resources

The Library pays licence fees for access to online resources such as ebooks and online journal articles. Current university members can access these resources and download and print sections for their own personal use. The amount you can copy is usually restricted by download limits which are automatically applied to the resource. You should respect these limits and not try to bypass them.

Copies of these resources should not be shared with people outside the University, unless the resource has a licence, such as a Creative Commons licence, which permits this kind of sharing.

Research and private study

There is an ‘exception’ in copyright law which allows people to make a copy for non-commercial research or their own personal study without requiring permission from the copyright owner.

If you make a copy, it must be fair to the copyright holder. Although there’s no strict legal definition of what is fair, copying no more than about one chapter from a book or a single article from a journal issue is a good general guideline. The copy must be for your own individual use. You should keep a record of the original author and source as this will help you to reference the material correctly later on.

Accessible copies

UK copyright law allows a disabled person, or another person acting on their behalf, to make an accessible copy from a work. The disabled person should have lawful access to the original work. This includes material they can access through the Library or have bought themselves. The copy must only be used by the disabled person and should not be passed on to anyone else.

If you need copies of material in alternative formats, contact the Library Disability Team:

Text and data mining

There is an exception in copyright law for ‘text and data analysis’. This permits you to copy material for text and data mining (TDM) for non-commercial research so long as you have lawful access to the original work.

If your use of material falls outside this exception, you will need to contact the copyright holder for permission before you use their material.

Using third-party material in your publication

You may wish to reproduce in-copyright third-party material in your research outputs. If you are publishing your work via a commercial publisher, they may have specific requirements for using this kind of material. Otherwise, the following guidance will help you to make use of third-party material without infringing copyright.

Public domain material

The material you want to use may be out of copyright, and hence free to reuse without restriction. This may be the case with older literary or historical material. Use our guidance on copyright duration to help determine whether copyright still applies.

Openly licensed material

If the material you want to use has been published under an open licence, such as a Creative Commons licence, you can reuse the material without requesting permission from the rightsholder.

Be sure to follow the conditions of the licence exactly. This may include requirements such as proper attribution or not producing derivative or commercial works.

Publication under a copyright exception

You may be able to publish third-party material under the provisions of a copyright exception. Of most relevance here is the exception for ‘criticism, review, quotation, and news reporting’ in Section 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988. For your use to be covered, it should:

  • Be for the criticism or review of the work, of another work (comparing two works for example), of a performance of a work, or another purpose where a quotation is necessary.
  • Be from a work which has already been made available to the public, for example by publication in print or online, or via a public broadcast, performance, or exhibition.
  • Reproduce no more than the minimum required to make your point.
  • Be accompanied by a suitable acknowledgement of the original wherever possible.
  • Be ‘fair’ to the copyright holder – see our guidance on fair dealing for further information.

This exception not only covers quotations of text from written works but can include excerpts from other media such as images, film, or music.

In some circumstances it may be arguable that the reproduction of an entire work is ‘fair’ if it is necessary for the purpose for which it is being used, such as critiquing the overall visual composition of a painting. If you do need to reproduce an entire visual work, consider whether you can do this at a lower resolution. This is less likely to conflict with the market for the original and is hence more likely to be considered fair.

If your use does not satisfy the above conditions (if the material is unpublished, for example) you cannot rely on the exception, and you will need to seek permission from the copyright holder.

Getting rightsholder permission

If the material is not in the public domain or does not have an open licence, and if your use is not covered by a copyright exception, you will need to request permission from the rightsholder.

Locating the copyright owner

Details of the copyright owner of a written work are usually given at the start of the work, often on the back of the title page. For other works you may need to check the final credits or acknowledgements, or any accompanying material provided alongside the work.

The copyright owner for images included in published works or webpages is often different to rightsholder for the accompanying text. The copyright details are usually shown beside the image or listed separately elsewhere in the publication.

For books and articles, the copyright owner is often the publisher. Their website will normally advise you how to apply for permission to use their material.

If the publisher is no longer in business:

If you are trying to locate an individual author and cannot find their details via a simple online search, the following suggestions might help.

  • A bibliographic database, such as Scopus, Web of Science or Google Scholar, may reveal more recent publications by the author with up-to-date contact details.
  • The author may have a social media presence on a platform such as LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • If the author did research or other work with a specific department or organisation, they may know the author’s current address and be able to forward correspondence.
  • A publisher of other work by the same author may be able to assist.
  • Libraries or archives that hold collections of the author’s work or private papers, or scholars who specialise in the author’s work may be able to help.
  • Contact an authors’ or artists’ society such as the Society of Authors [UK] or the Design and Artists Copyright Society.
  • You may be able to trace a copyright holder via the WATCH database.

Asking for permission

When you have identified the copyright holder and found their details, contact them to ask for permission.

  • Remember to give them details of the work you want to use and how you are planning to use it.
  • Keep your correspondence clear and polite.
  • Be aware it may take some time for them to respond to you. There may be some back and forth to clarify things or negotiate acceptable terms. Remember to leave enough time for this in your pre-publication schedule.
  • Keep a record of all correspondence (including e-mail correspondence) relating to permissions. You may speak directly to the copyright holder, but make sure that you always have everything you have agreed confirmed afterwards in writing.
  • Once permission to use the material has been granted, you should include an acknowledgement in your work to indicate that the copyright owner has given you their permission to reproduce the material.

The Strategic Content Alliance IPR Toolkit, particularly Section 3.1 Getting Permissions, gives further useful information.

No response or permission given

You may find that the copyright owner does not reply to you or that they refuse permission. It is good to have a back-up plan in case this happens. Here are some things to consider:

  • Can you reduce the amount you reuse or how you use it so that it falls under a copyright exception?
  • Is there alternative material you can use instead?

If the copyright owner does not respond, this does not imply that they implicitly grant you permission. However, you might want to take a risk management approach and consider whether you could still go ahead and use the material.

Works with no identifiable copyright owner

There may be instances where you suspect a work you want to use is protected by copyright, but you either cannot identify the copyright owner or find a way to contact them. Such works are known as ‘orphan works’.

If your use of an orphan work does not fall under a copyright exception, there is an official process for requesting a licence to use the work. There is further information about this on the Intellectual Property Office website. However, this process has its disadvantages, and you may wish to take a risk management approach and consider whether you could still go ahead and use the material without clearing the rights.

Licensing your work

When you publish your work, you will need to consider how you will licence it. This will affect how others are able to share and reuse your work.

The allocation of copyright and other intellectual property rights in your research outputs are outlined in the University’s IP and spin-outs policy.

Man looking at book in LibraryThe University typically waives its rights as an employer to the copyright in research outputs and assigns these to you and any co-authors. However, in return the University claims a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to use, copy, publish and distribute your work for academic, promotional, and administrative purposes. This includes storing and sharing copies in the institutional repository for archival and open access purposes.

Many funders require that research outputs supported by their funding are published under certain licence terms. This usually involves publishing open access under a compliant Creative Commons licence to enable sharing and reuse. The Library’s open access webpages give further information about open access publication and how to comply with funder requirements.

Make sure you consider your intellectual property rights before signing any agreement with a publisher. It may be possible to negotiate changes to a publisher’s standard contract if you want to retain more of your rights.

Further help

If you’d like further help with any copyright-related issues, get in touch with us: