Copyright and Research

As a researcher you will want to photocopy or download material e.g. book chapters, journal articles, information or images from the web etc. to support your research. The material you wish to use may be subject to UK Copyright law, which limits the amount of material that you can legally copy. See What is Copyright for more information.

The information below aims to explain how copyright can affect your activities and answer some key questions.

What can I legally photocopy for research purposes?

TickYou can copy a ‘fair’ amount for your own private study, research or critical review. Photocopying is restricted to whichever is the greater of:

  • Up to 5% or one chapter of a book
  • Up to 5% or one article from a single issue of a journal
  • Up to 5% or one paper of one set of conference proceedings
  • Up to 5% of an anthology or one short story or one poem of not more than 10 pages
  • up to 5% or one case of one report of judicial proceedings

Can I incorporate other people’s work into my research or thesis for publication?

TickAs long as you cite the material used so you cannot be accused of plagiarism it is acceptable to incorporate a limited amount of text into published research. For more information on plagiarism and citing see your departmental guidelines.


Use of images, figures, diagrams etc. in the electronic version of your thesis require permission from the rightsholder. But if they are out of copyright or are ‘copyright-free’ they can be used. (I know it’s confusing but permission is not required for the printed version as this covered by a legal examination exception.)

So what do I need to consider when embedding Diagrams in my e-thesis?

If you have recreated the original diagrams, in the eyes of the law these are still considered to be copies of the original, even though they are not direct reproductions.

However, you have several options available to you:

  • The easiest option is to remove the diagrams from the repository version of the thesis and replace them with a reference to allow the reader to find the original documentation containing the diagram/s etc.  In the past, students who have chosen this option prefer to replace the material with an empty text box of the same size to retain the format and pagination.
  • The second option is more time consuming but can guarantee that you are not infringing copyright. This is to obtain written consent from the copyright owner.  See the standard permissions letter template. However, please bear in mind that permission can still be denied. If the copyright owner fails to respond to your correspondence this cannot be seen as implied consent.
  • The third option is a matter of judgement.  The law allows a certain amount of copying without direct permission from the copyright owner, so it may be possible to include the diagrams in the repository version. For most examples in theses, ‘fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review’ is the appropriate such permission.   Unfortunately, the law does not give a step-by-step guide as to what is considered ‘fair’, thus it is not possible to give specific advice as to what can and cannot be done in each particular case. The more something is discussed, the more ‘fair’ it would be (i.e. half a page of discussion is better than half a sentence).

In order to qualify for fair dealing, the source of the material must be acknowledged by identifying the work and the author. The material should also have been made available to the public. Using material for purely aesthetic purposes or simply describing the diagram etc would not qualify for this exception.

  • Or a moratorium, restricting others from full text access could be placed on your thesis.   This is less desirable as it restricts others accessing and potentially citing your work.

How can I find the Copyright Owner?

First check if there is a copyright statement which establishes the copyright ownership.  E.g., on a book, this statement is likely to be located on the back of the title page. If this can’t be found it is advised that you initially contact the publisher or journal editor as they should be able to provide advice about the copyright ownership. For other types of material you may need to carry out research to locate the owner.

It might be useful to use this sample letter to make your request.

If permission has been granted then keep a printed copy in a safe place.

If the copyright owner cannot be located keep any correspondence showing that you have attempted to contact the copyright owner. If the owner / author cannot be traced then a risk assessment will have to be undertaken.

Blanking out 3rd party material in your thesis

If permission has not been given or there is not enough time to get permission.

  • You can cover the image with a white text box and instead include the reference to the image/diagram/ table to allow your readers to find the original source material.
  • Place a moratorium (restriction) on access to your thesis.   This is less desirable as it restricts others accessing and potentially citing your work.

Modifying Diagrams (artistic works)

This depends on your purpose and what will happen to the finished document. If you have recreated the original diagram and made changes to it, then in the eyes of the law these are still considered to be copies of the original, even though they are not direct reproductions. However, there is a legal exception that allows you to use material protected by copyright if it is for the purpose of examination (being marked, tested or examined for a qualification).  This exception will cover your document as long as it is being marked and will contribute towards your final degree mark in some way.  This exception will also cover a thesis for an undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD qualification. The only type of material not covered by this exception is sheet music.  Any subsequent uses of the document, such as uploading the thesis onto the repository or using the diagram in a journal article, would not be covered by this exception and would infringe copyright.

I’m presenting at a conference. Do I need to worry about copyright?

TickYes. The advice above concerning the incorporation of other people’s work into your research applies. In particular make sure you have permission to use images if they are copyrighted.

Can I circulate a paper for a journal club?


No, but you can direct the journal club members to an electronic version of the article.

What about photographs and other images?

There are some sources you can use which make images available for use under certain conditions without you needing to seek individual permission.

Is the research I create covered by copyright?


Yes. Where the material has been created by an employee in the course of their employment. Loughborough University does not assert copyright ownership of Ph.D. thesis but there may be an agreement in your contract which states that a sponsor or other organisation claims full or joint copyright ownership.

Using the copyright symbol and asserting that the work is protected by copyright can act as a useful reminder to others and will protect your work if it leaves the UK.  It can also be useful to help others identify the copyright owner if they need to contact you in the future.  Example wording which could be used is shown below:

  • Copyright © Elizabeth Smith and British Youth Sports, 2014.

Publishing your research as a journal article or book chapter

When you publish your research, your publishers may require you to assign (or ‘transfer’) the copyright in your research to them by signing a ‘Copyright Transfer Agreement’ (CTA).  When you sign a CTA, make sure that you are happy with its terms and have permission to use any 3rd party copyright material. If you are an established author you may be able to negotiate the terms of this agreement to receive better rights.

Usually publishers will give you the rights to:

  • archive the final author version of your book chapter (or article etc) in a repository. Loughborough University requires that staff submit a copy of all academic journal articles, conference papers and book chapters to the Research Repository.
  • To disseminate individual copies to colleagues.
  • Use the work in teaching duties or course packs

You can assert your moral right to be identified as the author of the work.  For example, ‘Megan Smith has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work’.

Online Copyright Training Course

Click here to access the Online course focussing on the areas of copyright awareness with respect to PhD students.

For more information please contact the University Copyright Advisors:


Ring: 01509 222399 (Monday-Wednesday) or 01509 222351 (Wednesday-Friday)

Updated by C. Greasley, 5th September 2019

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