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Copyright & Your Thesis: What about ‘third party’ content in your thesis

A Guide for Research Students

Using 'third party' content

You may want to include third party content in your thesis.  This is copyright-protected material created by others, and might include:

  • Quotations or data from other sources
  • Images, maps, charts or graphs

You may need permission to use substantial amounts of this content in your thesis and in any subsequent publications, unless there is a clear statement on the work saying it can be re-used.  You will need to apply an element of judgement over this, and decide whether your use of third party content without permission falls under an exception to UK copyright law and whether it qualifies as ‘fair dealing.’  If the content falls under an exception you may decide it is ‘fair’ to use.

For example, you might want to use a reproduction of a single screenshot from a large website, or use a low-resolution version of an image for the purpose of quotation or criticism and review.

You will need to make your decision to use third party content on a case-by-case basis.  If you decide it is not appropriate or necessary to get permission, and wish to rely on a copyright exception, then you may want to seek further advice: get in touch with one of the contacts at the end of this guide.

You can find more information on our webpages.

How do you get permission for copyright material?

To get permission to use copyright material, you need to identify who owns the work.  This often means identifying the author, photographer or publisher.

 Many websites now have a section about copyright (or terms and conditions of use) for web-based material.

  • To get permission for published books and journal content, you may find contact details from PLS Clear (  You need to think about how you will use the material and should be aware that you may be asked to pay to use it.
  • You need to be exact about the material you wish to use.  Include page numbers where possible.  Let the rights owner know that the thesis will be available on an open access basis in STAX and will appear prominently in search engine results and authoritative online sources.
  • If the works you wish to use have been made available on an open access basis or, if they carry a Creative Commons licence, then you may not need to apply for special permission.

It takes time to get copyright permission from individual copyright holders.  Some may be slow to respond, or never respond to your request.  Do not assume that, if a rights owner does not respond you can use their work. 

Allow enough time to get permission: it is always better to ask for permission early on.  Permissions may carry a cost, particularly if you want to publish the thesis at a later stage.

If you have permission to reproduce material in your thesis, you should indicate this as necessary, for example by writing at an appropriate point 'Permission to reproduce this ... has been granted by...'.

You should keep a record of correspondence with rights owners so that, if asked, you can prove you have permission to reuse the copyright work in your thesis or publication.

For more help and advice in establishing who owns the copyright of a work and securing copyright permissions, contact

If You Cannot Get Permission

You must always take reasonable steps to obtain permission.  If you cannot gain permission to include material protected by copyright in your thesis, and the use is not covered by ‘fair dealing’ exceptions you will need to submit two electronic versions:

  • A full final version of your thesis which will not be publicly available
  • An amended version from which you have removed, or ‘redacted’ third party copyright material.  This amended version will be made publicly available.

You should ensure that the file name makes clear which version is the amended version which can be made publicly available.


How to Redact material from a thesis

Redaction means removing information from your thesis that you do not wish to make publicly available.  You can block out individual sentences or paragraphs or remove images or sections from one copy of your thesis before you upload it to the Research Degree Examination SharePoint site.


Do not delete the reference to the content you have removed.

Removing a large figure may disrupt the pagination so it may be worthwhile inserting a placeholder thereby retaining the pagination of the un-redacted thesis.

To redact smaller sections place black rectangles over words or sentences by drawing long squares over the removed text areas and colouring them solid black.  Delete the text underneath the black squares.  For example:

Sentence without words redacted:

'the black cat sat on the mat'

Sentence with words redacted:

'the         cat       on the mat'

For examples of redacted theses, search SUPrimo for T13579 by Steckley (the contents page lists the items not included and the reason why, the redacted pages give full details of what has been removed so readers could access it elsewhere); see also T13932 McGuire p88 for an example of a redacted image.


Using Open Access Sources

An increasing number of educational resources are available on an ‘open access’ basis.  This means that you can use them in your work without permission but you must check the terms, or licence, under which the materials are made available.  If you use the work, you must always properly attribute it to the creator of the work and copyright owner.

You must always use a full reference, even if the work is in the public domain and free from any copyright protection because copyright has expired or because the owner has given up any rights.

Using Works Licensed under Creative Commons

If you wish to use work licensed under Creative Commons in your thesis, you must credit the original author and check you are complying with the terms of the licence.  You can find out more about the licences at: where there is an explanation of the meanings of the various Creative Commons terms.

You can search for material licensed under different types of Creative Commons licences at: