Skip to Main Content Page Title
Library logo

Copyright: Copyright for Researchers

Doing research means creating new knowledge that builds on existing knowledge. This page helps you understand how to navigate copyright and related rights when undertaking your research.

Your research outputs, such as papers, datasets and diagrams are all likely to be protected automatically by copyright. Depending on the nature of your research they may also be protected by other types of intellectual property, such as database rights, patents or design rights.

If you write a traditional "scholarly work" (such as a journal article or an academic monograph) then you will own the copyright in that work, or will share the copyright with any other co-authors or their employers.

In some cases the University will own the copyright in the outputs of your research, for example if you create software. In other cases funders, such as commercial organisations, may own the intellectual property arising from your research as stated in your funding agreement.

Open Access publishing

You should to be aware of Open Access publishing and how it relates to your research.

Open Access publishing refers to material that is free to all readers at the point of access, so they can use and share it easily. In addition to being free of charge, true open access means the work must be free of legal restrictions on reuse. So if you're publishing Open Access you'll need to select an appropriate copyright licence.  


You're likely to want to include other people's copyright material in your research outputs, for example:

  • quotations, such as passages of text or music
  • images, such as photographs, maps, charts or graphs

If you are quoting reasonable amounts and your quotation is properly cited, you don't need to get permission from the author or copyright owner. These uses are covered by the fair dealing copyright exception for quotation. 

If your use of other people’s work is significant you may need to contact the copyright holder for permission.

If you've used other people's work in your thesis follow accepted guidance on including copyrighted material prior to depositing your thesis into DRO.

You'll also need to consider the options for making your thesis available via Open Access.

Using pre-existing content or data in your research

Facts can't be protected by copyright or any other type of intellectual property right. However, databases and datasets may be protected by copyright or database rights: check if there's a licence and what the conditions of use are. For example, geospatial data will typically come with a licence which may be open source, or may require you to agree to terms and possibly pay a licence fee.

You may be using existing creative works such as photographs or films as part of your research. If you have permission to use them from the copyright holder then all you need to do is abide by the terms of that agreement. You can also rely upon Fair Dealing copyright exceptions such as "non-commercial research and private study" if your use is fair.

If your work is going to be published in a book, journal or similar output your publisher is likely to ask you to clear copyright in all the content you want to include. Examples of these would be significant textual quotations, photographs, illustrations, diagrams or musical scores.

In some cases getting permission from copyright owners can be difficult or costly and you may want to discuss with your publisher whether your use is covered by fair dealing exceptions. It's also possible that you can't identify or get in touch with the copyright owners of the content you want to reproduce. These are known as "orphan works" (see below).

Working with archival material and orphan works

If your research involves working with archival material created within the last 100 years, it's likely that it will be protected by copyright. Most unpublished archival material from earlier than this is still in copyright in the UK.

Rights clearance in archival material

If you want to digitise and make these works available, you need to factor time for rights clearance into your research project. How much time and effort you need will depend on the material you're working with. For example, if you're working with archival material that has multiple copyright owners who would likely object to the material being made available, you will need to put significant resource into it.

Orphan works

In some cases it may not be possible to identify or get in touch with the copyright owner at all. These works are called orphan works and there are licensing schemes and exceptions in the UK that could allow you to make them available. However, both the licensing scheme and the exception have their disadvantages: you may need to make a risk-based decision to make some content available even where you haven’t cleared the rights.

Ask Us

Ask Us

You can get in touch through our live chat service or by email, and search our FAQs for answers to your questions.

Ask us anything about Library and Collections

Quick Links

Copyright Tutorial

If you are looking for more information on this subject then click on the link below which will take you to an online interactive tutorial on best practise in Copyright & Plagiarism.

Copyright and Plagiarism in the academic context