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Study Skills

Copyright for Researchers: 3rd party copyright

Question markWhat is 3rd party copyright?

Third party copyright is when the rights to materials you may want to use belong to someone else, for example images of artworks or extracts of text. If you are using this material in your work you will need to ask permission from the person or organisation which holds the copyright. This will involve explaining exactly what you want to do with the material and may involve paying a fee. 

Although there are some exceptions to this when using material for educational reasons these do not apply when publishing your work or when making a copy of your thesis available via Open Access. A hardbound copy of your thesis submitted for educational purposes is classed as an unpublished work and educational exceptions can be used to justify the use of materials. However, making a digital copy available is viewed as publishing and so normal copyright restrictions apply.

Fair dealing exceptions

Fair Dealing Fact Sheet cover

In some circumstances you are allowed to use third party materials for your own private study. You are able to make single copies of some material for your own use only and cannot share these copies with others. There are also exceptions to copyright for purposes such as Text and Data Mining and making accessible copies for students with disabilities. Remember that this does not apply to sharing your thesis online, which counts as a form of publication.

Using this third party material without seeking permission must fall under what is known as 'fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review'. This means that the use must not be excessive or hinder the ability of the copyright holder to make money from their work. For example, you could include a short extract of a play to critique it but not a whole act. It is also important that this material is discussed in your work in some way rather than merely being used as an illustration.

In the UK fair dealing argues that you can make copies of copyright protected material in specific circumstances:

  • Non-commercial research and private study
  • Quotation, criticism and review
  • Reporting of news
  • Government administration
  • Illustration for instruction
  • Caricature, parody or pastiche

You can read more about fair dealing in our Fair Dealing Fact Sheet.

Obtaining permission

Although some uses of copyright material fall under exceptions for education, most of the time you will need to seek permission. The first step in doing this is to establish the identity of the copyright holder which in many cases will be either the author or the publisher.

You should check the work you want to use for any copyright statements which give this information e.g. © The author. Publishers often have a Rights and Permissions section on their website which can also be useful. If you want to use material from a website try contacting the webmaster.

You need to obtain informed open consent to use materials. This means that you need to make clear exactly how the work will be used and how you plan to make your work available. For example it is not enough to say that you wish to use material in your theses, you need to make clear that this thesis will be available online.

When approaching rights holders you should include:

  • a full description or reference for the material you need
  • a clear outline of what you want to use the materials for

A template permission letter can be found here [PDF]. If the copyright holder is a publisher or academic journal you may want to use the Copyright Clearance Centre tool to request permission. If permission is granted you should acknowledge this in your work e.g. "Permission to reproduce this [details of content] has been granted by [rights holder information] ". You should always keep a copy of any correspondence about permissions in case you need to refer back to it.

Text and Data Mining

Text and Data Mining (TDM) is the process of extracting high-quality information from text. This often involves working with and manipulating works which are under copyright although a 2014 amendment to the UK Copyright Act has made provisions for this. More detailed information about TDM can be found on the Cambridge TDM LibGuide.

Orphan works

Orphan works are items currently protected by copyright but where the copyright holder is untraceable or unknown. This is not something which you can just assume - there are clear steps to follow and attempts must be made to find the copyright holder. If none can be found then you can apply for permission to declare the item an orphan work.