Copyright guide: eTheses

For more information, please see our Copyright for eTheses Information Skills resource.

Use of copyright material

When you are making your thesis available online you will need to seek permission if you are using substantial extracts or material owned by another person (third party). Traditionally it has been considered acceptable to include third party material in a printed thesis but as online theses are being made available in a form of publication it may be necessary to obtain permission. Please note it has always been good academic practice to acquire permission for use of third party material in anticipation of future publication of all or part of a thesis.

What constitutes third party copyright material?

Third party material is copyright material such as lengthy quotations and extracts from publications such as books or journals; illustrations such as images, maps, graphs, photographs, tables or models; music scores; sound recordings; entire photocopies of published articles and film.


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Third party copyright in unpublished material

Unpublished material may attract copyright in manuscripts, accounts, minutes etc.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 However, most unpublished works will still be in copyright until 2039 and this includes photographs.

Including third party material in an online thesis under Fair Dealing

Short quotations from third party material in a published work may be included under the Fair Dealing exception: Criticism, Review, Quotation & News Reporting (CDPA s.30) if the extent of the quotation is what is required for the purpose. Such extracts need to be accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement and the work must have been made available to the public. There is limited case law on what constitutes criticism and review but in order for the exception to apply the copying of the work must be truly connected with review and criticism and not purely for illustrative or enhancement purposes. The use of a work must be fair, so must not duly impinge upon the copyright owner's rights of exploitation. Extracts should be no longer than necessary for conveying the author´s ideas and provide the basis for the quoting author´s comments on those ideas. If in doubt you should ask yourself whether you would consider your rights had been infringed if someone else used a similar quotation from your own work.

Seeking permission

If you judge that the extract you are including falls outside the defence of Fair Dealing you should seek permission for the inclusion of that material in your thesis and acknowledge this accordingly. If you decide upon this course of action you will need to identify the rights-holder. This can be difficult if they have died and you cannot contact their estate or relatives. The first port of call would usually be the publisher of a published work. Either they will be able to give permission or advise you that the author is the rights-holder and pass on any relevant contact details. Publishers often have Rights and Permissions sections with contact details that can easily be found from their websites. You will need to get written permission, although email can be acceptable provided you keep evidence of all your correspondence. You will need to be precise about the details of the material, such as the page numbers or figure numbers. You will also need to be specific about how and where the requested material is to be used, indicating that it will be included in a repository and published on the Internet. Please be aware that illustrations in books often have a rights-holder of their own, who will probably need to be contacted separately.

Proforma for seeking permissions

This is a suggested wording you can use when contacting publishers:

I am a postgraduate research student at the University of Sheffield working towards my thesis on (insert title of thesis). I wish to include the following extract in my thesis and am contacting you as the author or rights-holder:

[Provide a full citation for the work or specific item e.g. an image that you wish to include e.g.

  1. Norman, Sandy (2004) Ch.2 Exceptions and limitations:statutory permissions to copy in Practical copyright for information professionals: the CILIP handbook. Facet Publishing, p.16-36
  2. Fig.5 The golden torques of Rhenen, Achterberg (photograph Centraal Museum) in Besteman. J. C. et al. (eds.) (1990) Medieval archaeology in the Netherlands: studies presented to H.H. van Regeren Altena. Van Gorcum, p.15]

I wish to include this work within the electronic version of my thesis, which I am required to deposit in White Rose eTheses Online repository ( The repository is non-commercial and openly available to all.
I would be grateful if you could advise if this will be acceptable.

What to do if permission is not granted

If you cannot trace the rights-holder or they do not reply then you cannot make your thesis available electronically without further action. The options are to remove the extract fully and replace with a reference or reduce its size to what would be considered within `fair dealing´. If you wish to retain the original material in full then you may submit your thesis in print and either embargo your eThesis fully or edit it to remove the third party material and provide suitable annotations. It is further possible that the rights-holder will give permission but make a charge and, if you are unwilling to pay, the options above can be considered.