Writing a thesis

Using extracts for criticism, review or quotation

You can include limited extracts of a copyright work in your thesis for the purposes of criticism, review or quotation under an exception to UK Copyright law.

This exception cover two distinct uses:

  • Criticism or review - allows the use of short extracts or quotations for the purpose of critique or review.  Use must be genuinely for this purpose and not for illustrative or enhancement purposes.
  • Quotation - allows the use of quotations for purposes other than criticism and review.  The length of a quote should not be more than is needed for the specific purpose of use. 

You can copy from all types of copyright works as long as they have been made available to the public e.g. published. Fair dealing applies to how much you can copy and you must acknowledge the source.

What is a 'fair' amount will vary with circumstances. Read our guidance on fair dealing for more help. 

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Copying for examination

Another exception to UK Copyright law, Illustration for instruction, allows copying for the purposes of examination. This includes the incorporation of materials in Masters dissertations, or PhD theses, that count towards a final examination mark.

So you can copy material (e.g. photographs, tables, diagrams etc.) to include in your thesis or as appendices to it. Any copying is again subject to fair dealing, so you may only copy short extracts that are 'fair'. Any such copying must always clearly acknowledge the source.

This exception only covers your work up to examination (for example, the process of assessment of a PhD thesis), but not beyond. So if you are going to subsequently make your work public, e.g. deposit it in an open access repository (e.g. University eTheses service), or publish it, you cannot rely on this exception. If appropriate, it would be better to rely on the criticism, review, or quotation exceptions. Failing this, you should try to substitute open licensed materials, or seek permission from the rights holder.

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How else can you lawfully incorporate copyright material?

If the proportion of a work that you want to include is more than what is 'fair dealing', or your intended use is not covered by the exceptions already mentioned, then you could:

  • use open licensed materials which may allow some copying and reuse without seeking permission e.g. Creative Commons licences, Open Government licence.
  • seek permission from the rights holder.

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When you include copyright material in your assessed work, you should always acknowledge the source by fully referencing it. This is also a condition of relying on any of the fair dealing exceptions to UK Copyright law already mentioned.

If you do not do this, you may be accused of academic plagiarism, as well as infringing copyright. Copyright is distinct from, but relates to, considerations of academic plagiarism.

See the guides on Avoiding Plagiarism and Referencing and Citing for help in acknowledging the sources you use.

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Self - plagarism

Self-plagiarism occurs where you present your own previously used or published work as novel and original. Within a learning context, this can also be referred to as ‘recycling’ - multiple submissions of the same work. This is unlikely to be academically appropriate – for more information see the Academic integrity and misconduct webpage or talk to your supervisor.  

It can be appropriate to reuse a reasonable portion of content from a thesis in a journal article or other form of publication (and vice versa). You should discuss the suitability of this with your supervisor.  

Your research can be published in the following ways: 

  • In your thesis, deposited and made openly available with UoN Libraries’ eTheses repository,  

  • In sections or in full via a third party publisher, e.g. a published book, or journal article. 

When publishing, you must consider aspects of copyright. Copyright is distinct from, but relates to, considerations of academic plagiarism. 

If publishing during your PhD, with the intention of then using all or some of the same material within your thesis, you will need to ensure you have sufficient permissions to publish that content. Unless a contract states otherwise, PhD students own the copyright in their work. If you publish this research, in for example, a journal this may involve signing an agreement that will typically shift rights from the author to the publisher.  

If reusing small amounts, your own existing work must be cited fully in the new work - the requirement to cite isn’t limited to referring to the work of others. If reusing larger amounts, you would need to have permission to do so, either by ensuring your contract includes a clause for reuse of content for thesis publication or seeking permission from the publisher separately.  

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Copyright in your work

You will normally own the copyright in your work. An exception might arise where pre-existing agreement allocates copyright to another party (for example, if you or a project you have worked on is sponsored or funded by an external organisation).

The University of Nottingham provides guidance on Intellectual Property Rights for Students and Graduates.

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Archiving your thesis

University of Nottingham regulations for doctoral students stipulate that they must upload the final version of their thesis to the University's eTheses service repository. This will be archived as a record of the work which has been examined, including any academically necessary corrections.

Once the degree has been conferred, the thesis will be published open access unless:

  • The content contains material that is confidential or infringes third party copyright
  • A restriction has been applied for due to time-limited confidentiality issues.
  • An embargo had been requested, for example to facilitate external publication.

Where you have made use of material that infringes copyright, or the thesis contains material that is confidential, you will need to submit a second version that excludes this content.

For further help see our: Copyright and intellectual property guidance for electronic thesis submission

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