Coursework and dissertations

Using extracts for criticism, review or quotation

You can include limited extracts of a copyright work in your own work 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. See our guidance on fair dealing for further 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 dissertation 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 dissertation or 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, or publish/exhibit it, you cannot rely on this exception. If appropriate, it would be better to rely on the criticism, review, or quotation exceptions instead. 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 re-use 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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Copyright in your work

The original work that you produce in the course of your studies, such as dissertations, assignments, and projects will qualify for copyright.

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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