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Copyright for postgraduate researchers

The key things you need to know about copyright and your thesis.

Third party copyright and your thesis

You will generally need to obtain permissions to use substantial parts of a third-party work in your thesis, unless it is out of copyright or made available under a licence such as a Creative Commons licence. 

This is especially important because your thesis will be made available for public access via the White Rose eTheses Online repository. You therefore need to be more cautious than, for example, an undergraduate would when producing a piece of assessed work that will not be accessible to people from outside of the University.  

Items that are likely to require permission include:  

  • long extracts of text from works by other people  
  • poems or music  
  • illustrations or images  
  • figures or tables  
  • television or film stills  
  • maps and charts  
  • material of your own that has been previously published. 

There are certain exceptions to copyright that do allow limited copying without seeking prior permission.  

Obtaining permissions to reproduce work

You need to find out who the rightsholder is and seek their permission. The rightsholder is normally the publisher of the materials.  

You may find the Thesis third party request form at the bottom of this section helpful. 

Many publishers will provide guidance on how to seek permission. See for example these guidance pages from Elsevier and from Emerald Publishing.  

If you obtain permission from a publisher to reproduce an item, always keep a record of the correspondence in case it is needed in the future. If you do not obtain a response, do not assume that this represents consent. 

Publishers will also often specify a statement of attribution which you must use with your thesis. If they have not provided a statement of attribution, you should use a standardised formula such as “Used with permission of the [author/publisher/creator as appropriate]”. This attribution statement should be placed immediately after the third party material, for example immediately underneath a third party image. 


Alternatives to using third party works

You may want to consider the following alternatives: 

Your thesis

You own the copyright in your own thesis.  

The University of Leeds recommends that PhD students make their thesis available under a Creative Commons licence. 

For information on uploading your thesis on White Rose eTheses Online, see Submit your eThesis.  

To see examples of existing Leeds Trinity theses: 

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