Something you should know before you start your thesis …

Do you know how copyright might affect – and help to protect – your research? Thinking about copyright early on in your candidature will help you prepare for your submission.

This week’s post was contributed by Wil Villareal (Copyright Office representative, Liaison Librarian) and covers key questions to consider about copyright and your thesis to save you time when you need it most.

It is important to be aware of how copyright impacts the ways you can use materials in your thesis that you did not create yourself. These are called third-party copyright materials and can include any images, graphs, charts, maps, as well as audio-visual material that you include in your thesis. While you should always acknowledge your sources by citing them appropriately, sometimes you will need to do more, especially if your research is publicly funded and requires open access publication, or if you choose to publish open access for other reasons. You may need to take extra steps in finding legitimate sources of third-party material and potentially seek permission from the copyright owner. 

Copyright ensures that people’s work are protected by law – they have the right to determine how and where their work is used and distributed. As the creator of your thesis, you have the right to choose how others will access your work. You also have the responsibility to ensure that you are not infringing on other creators’ copyright within your thesis! 

As the creator of your thesis, you will own the copyright when it is complete. Knowing about your rights as a copyright owner will help you decide how and where you publish your research, whether you decide to retain your copyright or license your work to someone else. Visit the University of Melbourne Copyright Office website for more information on how you can use copyright to your advantage, and how it may impact on your research. The Visualise Your Thesis resource page has helpful videos on how copyright material can be used in your research. 

Using third-party copyright in your thesis?

Are you using third-party copyright in your thesis? These include (but not limited to): 

  • Pictures of artwork 
  • Photographs 
  • Blueprints 
  • Graphs 
  • Charts 
  • Maps 
  • Music 
  • Films and videos 
  • Any other material you are using that you have not created yourself 

If your thesis includes these materials, and you have not created them yourself, you may have copyright obligations to consider. Contacting the copyright owner to seek permission to use the material in your thesis may be necessary to comply with any publicly funded grant obligations to submit your thesis to the University’s institutional repository to be made Open Access. If the material is from a stock media provider like Shutterstock or Getty Images, consider the necessity of purchasing it for your research. If you are not able to secure permission from the copyright owner or are not able to purchase the image, you might want to try creating your own image to use in your thesis. If the image is a photograph of people, you may need to get consent from those people. Consider contacting the ethics team at the Research Office through this link. 

Finishing your thesis? Something to think about …

Hopefully, you would have considered your copyright obligations well in advance of submitting your thesis. You can rely on provisions in the Copyright Act to use third-party materials in your thesis for the purposes of having it examined. However, you’ll need to meet some additional requirements for the copy that is to be made open access in the University’s institutional repository. 

Does your thesis include any third-party copyright material? Third-party copyright material can include includes artworks, charts, graphs, photographs, music or films. Have you considered whether these materials are protected by copyright? If they are, you will need to assess whether any of the fair dealing provisions in the Copyright Act apply if you’d like your thesis to be available open access. If fair dealing does not apply, you may need to seek consent from the copyright owner to use these images in your thesis. If you have not received consent and still require the use of the images, then you will need to submit a redacted copy of your thesis to the institutional repository to be made Open Access (more information). 

As the creator of your thesis, you are the copyright owner of your research. This grants you certain rights over how your research can be used and distributed. You should consider how you would like to use your thesis beyond your candidature, as the basis of a book chapter or journal article, for example. If you do decide to sign an author agreement, you may be transferring some or all of your rights to your publisher which means that you may no longer have complete control over how your research is distributed. Make sure you are familiar with your rights as a copyright owner. You may wish to seek independent legal advice before signing any publishing agreements. You can speak to the University of Melbourne Copyright Office if you have any questions or concerns. 

Not sure where to start?

Call the Research Hotline for help with general research questions, or contact the University of Melbourne Copyright Office for assistance with your copyright and publication queries:  


Image Credit: Shutterstock

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