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University of York Library
Subject Guides

Copyright: a Practical Guide

For Researchers

Common scenarios

For advice about your rights and obligations when writing for publication, see Gaining Permission, and Protect Your Copyright.


For copyright considerations when presenting your research at a conference or public lecture, read the guidance For Teachers.


When you need to copy scholarly material for your own private use, refer to the guidance For Students.

Your thesis

University of York students hold the copyright to their original work in a PhD thesis (Policy on Research Degrees #13.7 unless you have a prior agreement to transfer it to an external funder or sponsor.


Reproducing a modest amount of someone else's copyright material (for instance, a few paragraphs of text, an illustration or a video clip) for discussion in the thesis you submit for examination is permissible under UK law, providing you attribute your source.  However, once your degree is awarded, your thesis is no longer exempt in this way.


Every successful University of York PhD student is required to deposit their digital thesis in White Rose E-Theses Online, the University's open access repository.  If your thesis incorporates other people's material, reproduced without their permission, you may be infringing their copyright, unless you can defend your use as "Quotation":

  • your source is fully attributed

  • you are quoting selectively from material which has already been made public

  • you can justify your selection for its relevance to your argument (in support or oppositional!)

Try to plan for this scenario before you submit.  If you need to do more than "quote" someone else's work, you should ask the rights-holder for permission to reproduce their material.


Be especially careful when reproducing an image: a photo, artwork, graphic or screenshot may have a significant market value which is protected by copyright. 


If the rights-holder cannot be traced, or is unwilling to grant permission, it's often possible to temporarily embargo your thesis, or redact the material which is protected by copyright.  University of York PhD students should refer to the instructions for thesis deposit, and contact Research Student Administration with any queries.


If you intend to submit your own published work for the award of PhD by Publication, or as an appendix to the main body of your thesis, bear in mind that you may have transferred the copyright to your publisher.  Check the terms of your Agreement to Publish, and if necessary, contact your publisher for permission.


Publishing your thesis


If your thesis has potential for adaptation into a book or journal article(s), it's possible that a publisher could object to the availability of your thesis in an open access repository, which could reduce their opportunities to market your work.  However, an increasing number of scholarly publishers accept that open access theses are becoming the norm across the sector.  Check your target publisher's guidelines for aspiring authors, such as these:

  • Nature will consider submissions containing material that has previously formed part of a PhD or other academic thesis which has been published according to the requirements of the institution awarding the qualification.

  • Palgrave Macmillan accepts proposals based on dissertations, even when those dissertations have been made available in online repositories.


If your accepted manuscript incorporates direct quotes or figures/data from your thesis, your publisher may ask you to obtain your institution's permission to reproduce these.  For University of York students this is not necessary,  as you have retained the copyright in your original work, subject to the caveats above.

Further help

The UK Intellectual Property Office has released guidelines (2014) to help researchers, support staff and publishers understand the law when using copyright material.

Research data



If you intend to use someone else's survey to collect your own data, be mindful that reproduction of the survey materials may be restricted by the copyright owners, even though the questions may have already been published in a scholarly context or can be found free-to-view online.  See this example reported by Science magazine's Retraction Watch in 2017. 

Check any Terms of Use or licence statement, and consider whether you should contact the survey creators or publisher for permission before undertaking your research.  Be prepared for a request for payment!


Text and Data Mining


An amendment to English law in 2014 created a new exception to copyright which allows researchers to "mine" large corpora of text and/or data to analyse hidden relationships.  The University of Cambridge has published a guide for TDM practitioners, librarians and interested researchers, which includes links to national and international projects, tools and case studies


Social media platforms often allow contributors to retain any copyright in their original material, whilst claiming the right to re-use this content indefinitely (see for example Terms of Service for Twitter;  Facebook).  To reproduce social media content in a scholarly publication, you probably don't need permission from the platform owners, but you may need the content creator's permission.  

Research subjects are unlikely to be able to claim copyright over their own spoken words or data.  However, you should be mindful of good practice in research ethics and data protection before deciding whether to reproduce these in your own work.  Anyone involved in making a recording or creating a database may have a legitimate claim to the copyright in their contribution.

Scholarly networks

Services such as ResearchGate or enable researchers to create a profile and upload copies of their own research output for academic collaborators and the general public.  Their terms of service (ResearchGate; Academia) state that the profile owner is responsible for ensuring that they have any rights-holder's permission to share this material:  check your Agreement to Publish.

In 2018, some of the largest scholarly publishers have threatened these services with legal action for not doing enough to prevent copyright infringement.

Academic and professional publishers represented by the global trade association STM have endorsed a code of Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks,  agreeing to tolerate sharing within "research collaboration groups" when not all members are subscribers.  STM has developed How Can I Share It?, to help researchers decode publisher terms and identify appropriate sharing platforms.  Find the rules that apply to your own papers (or other people's) using the Can I Share It look-up tool. 


Sharing other people's output


When you download or print an extract from a paywalled publication, you are likely to be asked to accept liability for any infringement of copyright.  Activities which potentially infringe copyright include:

  • Forwarding your copy by email
  • Depositing it in a shared filestore
  • Uploading it to the VLE for students
  • Opening your reference management library to collaborators.

Sharing a link does not infringe copyright, providing you have not circumvented any technological protection implemented by the rights-holder or distributor.

​Unpaywall and the Open Access Button enable researchers to obtain versions of scholarly publications which are legally free-to-read and copy, by simultaneously searching institutional and subject-based repositories around the world.

By law, an inter-library loan is supplied for private study.  If several members of a research team need to read the same publication, it may be more cost-effective to ask your library to purchase a copy rather than borrow it from another institution.


Publishers and web hosts can remotely monitor patterns of downloading, and may ask the University to block an account or IP address if copyright infringement is suspected.  University of York staff and students should be aware that sharing your account details with people who are not members of this university puts you in breach of Regulation 11, and will lead to disciplinary action if discovered.