Research, publishing and licensing

Information and guidance about copyright, publishing and research data.



As a researcher, you will frequently make use of third-party copyright material. You will also produce intellectual creations of your own. This section deals with these issues.

There are many exceptions available in UK law that can be used by researchers. We will also go through the importance of licensing your work, as many funding bodies mandate the use of certain licence types.

Research data is a growing area that necessitates an understanding of licensing and reuse. Finally, we will go through the importance of retaining the rights in your work that you will need in future.

Copyright and research publications

In most cases, The University of Sheffield automatically waives its claim to the copyright of articles and books produced by employees, meaning that as an author you own the copyright of your work initially. 

There may be circumstances where this is not the case, especially regarding patents and commercial work. For more information, get in touch.

Gold Open access

Many fully open access (Gold) journals allow authors to retain copyright over their own work instead of transferring it to a publisher. 

Articles in these journals are usually made available under a Creative Commons licence, meaning that anyone is freely able to access, copy, share and reuse the publication providing the correct attribution is given.

There are several different types of Creative Commons licences to choose from.  All of the Creative Commons licences apply globally and ensure that authors retain copyright and receive credit for their work, but the different licences are designed to encourage different types of reuse.

There is a move towards authors retaining the copyright in their work, in fact, this is the first principle of the Plan S initiative supported by UKRI and Wellcome.

The latter has stated that grant holders must automatically assign a CC BY public copyright licence to all their future author-accepted manuscripts. This means authors need to take extra care when signing publisher contracts.

The specific guidance from Wellcome includes a new condition that all grant holders will automatically grant a CC BY public copyright licence to all their future Author accepted manuscripts.

This will apply to manuscripts that are:

  • reporting original research,
  • supported in whole, or in part, by Wellcome grant funding.

In addition, it will require an update to the existing condition whereby grant holders must also include the following statement on all submissions of original research to peer-reviewed journals:    

'This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust (grant number). For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any author-accepted manuscript version arising from this submission.'

Some open access publishers ask for a transfer of copyright to allow them to use your work in their publicity or in other products or services they offer.  In these cases, they still make the article available under a Creative Commons licence.

Most funders who pay for article processing charges (APCs) on behalf of authors, such as UKRI or COAF, stipulate that the work must be made available with a CC BY licence.  

More details on gold open access can be found here. For questions about funder requirements, contact Open access.

Green Open access

If you have signed a copyright transfer agreement, you must abide by the terms laid out by your publisher. 

Many publishers allow you to make your articles or book chapters open access via the Green route by depositing a version of your manuscript into a repository like WRRO. 

However, they may stipulate that the publication should not be made publicly available until a certain amount of time has elapsed (known as an 'embargo'), and set conditions for reuse. 

You can check publisher self-archiving policies for most journals using the Sherpa Romeo database.  However, once you have deposited your article or book chapter into WRRO, the repository team will double-check the policy and ensure that you are not infringing copyright.

Third-party material

Third-party copyrighted material refers to content used in your work where the copyright belongs to anyone other than yourself. 

Some use of third-party material is permitted under copyright exceptions, but otherwise, you must obtain permission to reproduce this type of material. 

If you are unsure about whether your use falls under a copyright exception, contact us for guidance. It is especially important to consider your use of third-party material when publishing open access.  

Some third-party works, such as images of artwork, carry high reproduction fees when the material is being made freely available online so it may be necessary to pay for worldwide digital rights to reproduce this type of material in your work.

If you are unable to gain the permission necessary to use third-party copyright material to publish under gold open access, it is still possible to make your work open via the green route and deposit in WRRO provided you redact the third-party content in question. 

It is always worth trying to find third-party material such as images that are openly licensed and do not require permission to use. 

Use of copyright material

In the UK, the use of material owned by a third party - another author, photographer, publisher, etc. - is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. 

Making your thesis available online constitutes publication and therefore you should ensure that you have permission to include third-party material.

Permission can come in several forms: 

  • if the work is old (generally copyright exists for 70 years following the death of the author), 
  • if re-use of the work is covered by an open licence such as Creative Commons,
  • if there is an exception in law which applies to your use. This will usually be for a small amount of a published work.

If the extract does not fall under any of the terms above you will need to seek permission directly from the copyright holder. 

If the material is from a published book it is best to contact the publisher of the work in the first instance. 

Many large publishers have rights and permissions departments used to dealing with copyright clearance; email addresses can often be found on publishers' websites. 

It is important to realise that no response does not mean permission is granted. 

Where permission to use the third-party copyright material is obtained, you should make sure that clear acknowledgements are provided within the thesis, and that a written record of all correspondence is kept.

If clearance is not obtained to use copyright material that you consider essential, there are two options:

  • embargo the electronic thesis (you will still need to submit an electronic copy to the University as well as a printed copy),
  • edit the electronic thesis - but not the printed copy - so that it complies with third-party copyright requirements, clearly indicating the excisions made.

Further information about copyright can be found here.

All newly-registered research students are strongly encouraged to undertake training on using copyright materials. 

Details of training events will be posted via the link above, or contact your librarian for further information.  


It is important to acknowledge your sources correctly when using a short extract from third-party material.  It is also important to reference correctly to avoid any accusations of plagiarism.

Third-party copyright in unpublished material

Unpublished material may attract copyright in manuscripts, accounts, minutes etc.  If the author, artist or creator has been dead for more than 50 years and the work is over 100 years old, it is probably out of copyright. 

However, most unpublished works will still be in copyright until 2039 and this includes photographs.

Research data management

Data may be protected by copyright if the content is original, although facts are not copyrightable. A database itself may be protected by virtue of the work that went into designing or creating it. 

This is known as Sui generis database right, which is distinct from copyright, and may protect the structure of the database (see The Copyright and Rights and Databases Regulations 1997).

The intellectual property(IP) and copyright in the data that you create as part of your work at the University of Sheffield are owned by the institution. 

This is to protect it so it can be used for the benefit of the institution and to make sure any commercial use of the IP is handled properly.

This should not prevent you from using or sharing data, but you will need to think about who is responsible for it; this should be made clear in your data management plan.  You should apply for a licence which allows appropriate reuse.  

If you are using other researchers' data you will need to consider if the licence allows you to do what you want.  You can always contact another researcher for additional permission.  This may also have implications for sharing derivatives or analyses that you have made.

Care needs to be taken when accessing or distributing data across borders, as laws are not the same, even across Europe.

Text and data mining

Text and data mining (TDM) is the process of extracting information from existing files, usually using computational methods.

The files being mined can range from a single document to a database, to entire social media platforms. There are several steps to most TDM activities, including data cleansing and indexing, but the first step is to gather the sources to be used.

A temporary copy of the files is often made to enable the content to be processed, and this has implications for copyright.

Copyright and text & data mining

An exception to copyright, introduced into UK law in 2014, allows you to make copies of whole works to which you have ‘lawful access’ (such as via a library subscription) for this purpose.

This exception does not permit commercial use, nor does it allow the copies to be transferred to those who do not already have access to the original materials.

Open licences such as Creative Commons can pose a technical barrier to this kind of reuse for mining. The law allows some relaxation of attribution, but you will still need to make reasonable efforts to give credit to the creators of the work you use.

Releasing data under a licence such as CC0 - no attribution required - can facilitate TDM activity.

Support for text & data mining from the University library

Many of the databases the Library subscribes to explicitly permit text & data mining. We have collated a list of publishers and resources which students and staff at The University of Sheffield can mine.

If the resource you would like to use is not on this list, or you would like assistance in mining one of our databases, please contact us.

We are particularly keen to hear from researchers who are at the planning stage of their projects to see how we can support you.

Text and data mining is enabled by default due to the exception for research provided in Section 29A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. 

We do not sign contracts which would undermine these rights and instead include technical measures that allow University researchers to easily use computational techniques on the content.

Blocked from text & data mining

We need researchers to tell us about times when they've been blocked from mining content due to licensing or technical barriers. European copyright law is changing in 2021.

In order to maintain parity, and to secure the strongest possible rights for UK-based researchers, we require examples to help us to advocate on your behalf. Fill out LIBER’s short survey below.

Complete the survey


Please visit our Licences webpages for more information.

Sharing copyrighted materials

Research groups within the University 

Here we would like to offer some advice on the best ways to share material with colleagues in your Research groups.

For print and electronic resources provided by the University, where possible, share a link to the publication. 

This does not infringe copyright and your colleagues will be able to access the material through their own accounts.

Where the material is covered by our copyright licence you are allowed to copy one chapter/article or 10% of a publication (whichever is the greater) to share with University members of your research groups.

If material is not available through University subscriptions, open access repositories or our library catalogue you may be able to obtain copies through InterLibrary requests

However, please remember that these are supplied for private study and should not be shared.

Research groups with members from several different institutions

Cross-institution research groups are becoming increasingly common and sharing papers within these groups can be problematic.

However, it can be done.  Where possible share a link to the publication.  This does not infringe copyright and your colleagues will be able to access provided they have the appropriate subscription at their institution. 

If subscriptions are not available there is always an option for an individual to request a copy through their Interlending service.

For all types of research groups

Use open access versions of works. These will be either the published versions offered via the journal website or the author's accepted manuscript which has been through peer review and had the final edits made prior to publishing. 

Use Unpaywall and the Open access button to gain access, through repositories, to versions of scholarly publications which are legally free to use.

Open access articles are usually made available under Creative Commons licences.  There may be restrictions on commercial and derivative use and sharing, so pay attention to any particular licensing requirements.

Helpful links

ALCS (Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society)

A charity that helps authors receive pay for their work.

View the ALCS website

Exceptions, fair dealing and reuse

Information and guidance on copyright exceptions, fair dealings and reuse of images/other media.

View our exceptions, fair dealing and reuse pages

Copyright User

An independent online resource aimed at making UK Copyright Law accessible to creators, media professionals, entrepreneurs, students, and members of the public. 

View exceptions pages on Copyright User

View text & data mining pages on Copyright User

DACS (The Design and Artists Copyright Society)

A not-for-profit, visual artists’ rights management organisation.

View the DACS website 

Data mining: why the EU’s proposed copyright measures get it wrong

Information about data mining in relation to EU law.

View report

Extract from the Policy on Good Research and Innovation Practices

Information about good research and innovation practices in managing research data.

View report (PDF, 78.4KB)

Fortney, Katie, “Who 'owns' your data?,” Dominican University GSLIS Omeka Site

Information about data ownership, rights and responsibilities. 

View report

Hargreaves report

A report regarding the national and international intellectual property system.

View report

IPO exceptions to copyright - Research

Information about copyright exceptions from the Intellectual Property Office. 

View report (PDF, 288KB)

Regulations relating to staff intellectual property

University guidelines from the Finance and Commercial department.

View report (PDF, 213 KB)

Permission letter template

A template for requesting the use of a person's or organisation's work. 

View template (PDF, 101 KB)

Regulation XXIII: regulations relating to Intellectual Property

University regulations on using the work of others. 

View report (PDF, 64.1KB)

Sherpa Romeo

An online resource that analyses open access policies from around the world and provides summaries of copyright and open access archiving policies.

View Sherpa Romeo website

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