Skip to Main Content

Copyright & Your Thesis: Home

A Guide for Research Students


If you are a research student, it’s important to understand why copyright matters.  When you undertake original research you will inevitably use the ideas and work of other people and organisations in your thesis or publications.  You also need to know what rights apply to your own work, and how you want others to share and re-use the content you create.

This guide will help you understand:

  • How copyright protects the work you produce
  • How you can use other people’s work without infringing copyright
  • When you might need copyright permission and how to obtain this
  • How to submit your thesis
  • Who to contact for further advice and assistance


You need to think about copyright issues from the outset of your research and before you start collecting data and carrying out fieldwork.  Copyright issues also overlap with wider ethical issues, such as how you use the data you collect from other people and organisations, and how you get their consent to use their names and ideas.  Strathclyde has a research ethics policy and procedures and guidance available which you should consult in conjunction with this guide.  Information on research ethics is available on the University webpages: Integrity | University of Strathclyde.

To use personal data you collect from people you need to be clear about what you want to do with the information they give you.  For example, if you take photos of people who are clearly identifiable, you need to get their permission if you wish to include the photos in your thesis, even though you own the copyright to the photos.  In many disciplines, there are issues of confidentiality and you must keep the data you collect anonymous. 

If other people supply you with data or information (such as photographs) you need to establish who owns the copyright and get their permission to re-publish it in your thesis.

Copyright is a complex area of law; students are encouraged to refer to this guide and if in doubt contact for further advice.

Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights for Students

Normally you own the copyright in your thesis as a ‘scholarly work’.  This means that you own the rights to publish and distribute it, unless you have agreed to transfer or assign copyright to a third party (for example a sponsor or funding organisation).

Copyright fridge magnet letters

Image by University of Strathclyde

List of Guides

Making Your Thesis Available to Readers

Under University Regulations all final theses must be deposited in an open access institutional repository through which theses are made publicly available to download.  The repository for theses at Strathclyde is called STAX and a thesis will only be accepted into STAX when the degree of which it forms part has been fully awarded by the University of Strathclyde.  All works deposited in STAX are done so under a digital licence agreement whereby you grant the University permission to make your thesis available online on an open access basis.  You will retain ownership of the copyright in your work and you can ask for access to be restricted for a period of time.

What is Open Access

Open Access refers to online material that is free at the point of access so anyone can read it without needing to pay.

Open Access material allows readers to use and share information easily; it has clear re-use rights which tell others what they are allowed to do with it.  Making your research Open Access increases the potential audience for your research while still allowing you to retain rights over your work.

You can find more information about open access at:

Advantages to making your thesis available in STAX

There are clear benefits:

  • It increases the visibility and reach of your research.  Your thesis will appear prominently in search engine results and authoritative online sources.  These include British Library’s EthOS service ( (doctoral theses only).  Studies suggest your research is more likely to be read and cited if it is Open Access.
  • It protects you against plagiarism as a reference copy is publicly available.
  • You satisfy the Open Access requirements of funding bodies such as RCUK.

How putting your thesis in STAX affects your copyright

Anyone who accesses your thesis via STAX has certain rights to re-use material from it for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study.  They would need to provide a full citation for your thesis, and not re-use the materials in a way that might breach copyright or other intellectual property rights.  You may decide to provide users with broad rights to re-use your work in the interests of furthering research in which case you can use an open licence such as Creative Commons.

Using Creative Commons Licences for your own work

Creative Commons is an internationally recognised way of licensing material to encourage sharing and re-use, while protecting the rights of creators of work, by reserving only some of the rights provided by copyright law and making the creators intentions clear.  For example, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND) licence the creator indicates their consent for the work (e.g an image, a video or a piece of text) to be redistributed in any format (online or in print) so long as the reuse is not for commercial purposes, the work is used unchanged as a whole and authorship of the original work is credited.  Creative Commons licences are in contrast to the ‘all rights reserved’ position of copyright, which is the default position if no licence is specified.  ‘All rights reserved’ restricts all potential uses of the work under copyright law.

You may wish to use a Creative Commons licence in relation to your thesis to indicate that you are happy for others to use it.  The licence you choose will remove any doubts about how others can use your work.  For instance, Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) allows any use as long as credit is given.  This means that commercial companies can use your work to help develop their products.  You will not receive a financial reward but you will be credited and the commercial developer will be more able to use your contribution.  This will help raise your academic profile and may lead to other collaborative partnerships.  On the other hand Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (CC-BY-NC) means that the company will have to get in touch with you to use your work.  This may put them off but may also allow you more input to the development process. You can find out more about the licences at :

If you choose to licence your thesis under a Creative Commons licence you can add a statement within the thesis to specify that the thesis is licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons licence and include a link to the relevant licence. You should still include a statement as specified by the University Regulations that copyright in the thesis belongs to you and that due acknowledgment should be given for use of material contained in the thesis. 

What you need to be aware of when making your thesis Open Access

When you make your thesis available in STAX, the full text of your thesis will be available over the Internet.

Depositing your thesis in STAX is not the same as publishing it, and your thesis will not usually be viewed as  ‘prior publication.’  Most publishers allow you to make your thesis available online in this way, so it is unlikely to affect your ability to publish your research in the future, through academic journals or as a monograph.

But some publishers take a stricter view of what constitutes publication.  If you agree to publish your thesis content within another publication, a publisher may ask you to restrict public access to your thesis for a defined period.  You can use a moratorium if a publisher asks you to do this. 

Copyright & Licensing Compliance Manager

Student using laptop

Image by janeb13 on Pixabay

Where to go for more help

If you need more advice on the copyright or licensing implications of your postgraduate research, please contact or telephone 0141 548 3216

We can help with your questions or arrange further support.


This work ‘University of Strathclyde Copyright and your thesis – a guide for research students (2020)’ is a derivative of ‘University of Kent Copyright, Open Access and Your thesis – a guide for research students (2018)’ which is © University of Kent and ‘Copyright and your thesis: a guide for research students’ which is © LSE both of which are used under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial Sharealike 4.0 licence.   University of Strathclyde Copyright and your thesis – a guide for research students (2020) is licensed under Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial, Sharealike 4.0 licence.  © 2020 University of Strathclyde.