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Copyright for research

I am a UCL research student. Who owns the IP Rights in my research papers etc?

You do, at least in most circumstances. The general principle of the UCL IP Policy is that students own the copyright and other forms of IPR in their own work, including the results of their research. There are some significant exceptions, which may apply if for example your research is part of a larger collaborative project or if it is funded by an external organisation. See the Policy for further details. If one of the exceptions applies then research students may be required to assign their intellectual property rights, including copyright to UCL.

If you are one of a number of co-authors then the copyright will probably belong to you jointly with your fellow authors and you will need their consent when reusing the work. When publishing your paper in a journal you might be asked to assign the copyright to the publisher.

I am a researcher employed by UCL. Who owns the IP Rights in my research outputs?

You do, at least in most circumstances. This is defined by the UCL IP Policy. The default legal position is that an employer owns any IPR, including copyright created by an employee in the course of employment. UCL waives this right in the case of the copyright in scholarly articles, conference papers, monographs and other research publications created by employees. However, there are some very significant exceptions where UCL does claim ownership and these are listed in the Policy. The exceptions include patents, design rights and computer software.
At the same time, UCL claims a wide-ranging licence to reuse "…academic and teaching materials in all formats (now known or yet to be devised), which are generated by members of staff arising out of employment by UCL."

Who owns the copyright in my PhD thesis?

As the author you own the copyright in your thesis, apart from any work by others you may have included. However, ownership can be transferred from one person to another. You may find that you are asked to assign (transfer) your copyright to a publisher if they offer you a publishing contract. If that happens, you should think carefully about assigning your copyright - you will be handing over the copyright in your work completely. There may be alternatives such as granting the publisher a licence to publish the work while retaining the copyright.

Can I quote from the work of others in my research papers or my PhD thesis?

You may wish to include quotations from other people's work in your PhD. You must exercise caution to avoid the risk of copyright infringement. The starting point is that you need permission to reuse someone else's work. By obtaining permission, you remove any risk. Be sure to retain your email correspondence as evidence that you have permission.

A possible alternative to seeking permission: Modest quotations from the work of others are likely to be covered by the copyright exception for Criticism, Review and Quotation in Section 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).

Your reuse of the material needs to pass the "fair dealing" test required by the exception. There is no legal definition of "fair dealing" but these pointers may be helpful:

  • Keep each quotation as brief as possible.
  • Avoid anything which might damage the interests of the copyright owner.
  • Ensure you acknowledge authors and sources correctly. There is a Library Guide to conventions for citing published works which may be helpful.
  • Take extra care when reproducing images. This is less likely to be covered by an exception and more likely to pose copyright issues.
  • It is always safer to seek permission from the copyright owner rather than rely upon an exception.

Other people's material included in your thesis becomes a more pressing issue at the point when you are required to submit the electronic version (e-thesis) to be uploaded on UCL Discovery, the UCL open access repository. Once on UCL Discovery it is publically accessible. The size of the audience is a significant factor in copyright risk. It is sometimes necessary to redact (remove) third party material at that stage or to embargo publication on UCL Discovery for copyright reasons.

What should I consider if there is an opportunity to publish my work?

Check that you still have the right to publish, that you have not already assigned the copyright to someone else or granted someone an exclusive licence.
You should look closely at the small print of any contract rather than rushing to sign and be prepared to negotiate specific clauses. Examine your options before agreeing to assign your copyright to a publisher. If you do decide to assign your copyright, you can still assert your "moral right" to be acknowledged as the author. You could consider striking out any clause which asks you to waive your "moral rights".

If I publish my research in open access what happens to my copyright?

Publishing your research papers in open access has many advantages in terms of making your work available to a much wider audience. It is advisable always to look at any open access options offered by your publisher. But what happens to your copyright when your work is published open access? Publishing in open access does not in itself affect your ownership of the copyright in your work. You need to check the details of your contract with the publisher in order to understand how the ownership of your copyright is affected by the terms of the agreement.

Some academic publishers offer a "Gold open access" route. In return for a payment the published version of your paper is made available immediately upon publication under the CC BY licence. This means that on the one hand you are offering people a wide-ranging licence to reuse your paper, but on the other hand you will usually retain ownership of the copyright in the paper. Some publishers also offer "Green open access" routes. Following that route you are usually required to assign your copyright in the published version to the publisher, but you retain the right to make the submitted version (usually described as the "author's accepted manuscript" or AAM ) available after a defined period in an institutional repository. You can read more about open access options at UCL here.   

In principle your paper could be published on a publically available website or repository and still be "all rights reserved". That is, people can freely read your work but they still need your permission (as copyright owner) to reuse it in any way.  However that does not completely satisfy the accepted definitions of "open access". In order for it to be truly open access, you also need to licence others to reuse your work as long as they acknowledge you as the author. This is usually achieved by attaching the CC BY licence (Creative Commons attribution licence) to your work. Find out more about Creative Commons licences here. An equivalent to the CC BY licence would have the same effect but the Creative Commons licences have the advantages of being widely recognised, free to use and supported by underlying legal contracts. Once a paper has been made available under a Creative Commons licence then anyone (including the author) can reuse the paper under that licence as long as they adhere to the terms.

Tell me about the uses of Creative Commons licences?

Creative Commons licences (CC licences) offer a convenient way of licensing your work for others to reuse when you choose to make your work available online. The CC licences are free to use and there is a choice of licences, some of which are more restrictive than others. You can read more about CC licences here. Creative Commons licences require that you are acknowledged as the author of the work while licensing others to reuse it within the terms of the specific CC licence.

CC licences can be used to licence many types of content such as text, images, photographs, sound recordings and films. They are commonly used to licence the reuse of research papers when the papers are made available under one of the accepted open access publication routes.

Can I re-use work from my thesis in a journal article, or would that be self-plagiarism?

In order to avoid issues of self-plagiarism you must make sure that you have cited the original source correctly (your thesis for example) and acknowledged yourself as author. Where possible you could also provide a link. This applies not just to reproducing your own material but also to ideas which you have previously published elsewhere. There could be different issues other than self-plagiarism. For example, if you are submitting a paper to a journal you should also check with the editor about the acceptability of including part of your thesis. Conversely, if you plan to include your previously published work in your PhD thesis you should check that this is acceptable for examination purposes with your supervisor. There may also be copyright issues to address if you have assigned copyright in your work to a journal publisher.

Copyright for research students

Candidates for UCL research degrees are required to deposit an electronic copy of their final thesis in UCL's Research Publications Service (RPS), to be made open access in UCL's institutional repository, UCL Discovery.

When your thesis is made open access in UCL Discovery, anyone can access it via the internet. This is similar to publishing. If your thesis contains material for which you don't own the copyright ("third party copyright"), it is your responsibility to ensure that you have the right to make it available. Below are the steps you need to take.

Step 1: Identify third party copyright works

Identify content where you are not the copyright owner, including:

  • Your own published works where you have assigned copyright to a publisher
  • Substantial amounts of text from books, journal articles, conference papers, websites, etc.
  • Images, photographs, figures, tables or graphs
  • Maps
  • Databases
  • Computer programs
  • Web pages

This list may not be exhaustive.

Step 2: Decide if you need to seek permission

Permission is not necessary where:

Your use is covered by a copyright exception.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 30 allows extracts to be used without permission as long as the use is "fair dealing" and you stay within the terms of the exception. Anything more than short quotations may not be fair dealing, in which case you will need permission.

Reproducing photographs, images, diagrams and other "artistic works" is less likely to be fair dealing. You should avoid using unique, iconic or high profile artistic works without permission.

A work is out of copyright

In the UK most work is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. Rather than assuming, make sure that you check that it is really out of copyright. Some older unpublished works remain protected until January 2040. Read this post for more details from the UCL Copyright Blog.

You already have permission

If the third party work is licensed under a Creative Commons licence, or other terms of use (on a website for example) that allow a licensee (you) to make copies available publicly, you do not need permission.

In all other cases, you must seek permission. Otherwise, the copyright holder may ask you to remove your thesis from UCL Discovery or seek financial compensation.

Step 3: Identify the copyright holder

Where you need to seek permission, it is better to start this process at an early stage. This will give you time to contact copyright holders and look for alternative materials if need be. It is better to do this when you are first gathering your research materials which you may wish to include in your thesis. You will have the necessary information to hand.

First identify the copyright holder. You may need to go to the original source. Look for the copyright symbol © followed by the name of the author or publisher. This appears in different places depending on the type of publication:

  • Journal and conference papers - at the bottom of the page or PDF
  • Books - on the reverse of the title page at the front of the book (but there may be separate copyright information next to images)
  • Websites - often at the bottom of the web page or on content-sharing sites such as YouTube or Flickr as part of the information on the specific item.

There is a list of resources to help you with identifying and contacting rights owners in the Copyright resources reading list under the heading: "Seeking Permission and Tracing Ownership".

If you cannot trace the copyright holder, it is important to assess the risk of reproducing the work - they may take legal action for unauthorised use and request financial compensation. You may wish to consider applying for a licence under the Government's Orphan Works scheme as a way of managing your liability.

Step 4: Request permission

If the third party work is in copyright, there is no licence or other form of permission and you are not sure that the "fair dealing" exception applies (see step 2) then you must request permission from the copyright holder. You may use the UCL template for seeking permission.

If the copyright holder is a publisher, send your request to the 'rights and permissions' department. It may save time to telephone them first to check you have the right department or email address. Do not leave this to the end of your writing-up period as publishers can take a long time to reply. If there is no reply, contact them again after 2-4 weeks.

Keep a copy of all request letters and replies.

Step 5: Store and collate permissions information

It is important to store and organise all your documentation relating to permissions requests, such as letters and emails, for future reference.

If a publisher requires a fee for permission and you do not wish to pay it, or if they refuse permission, you must remove that content from the version of your thesis that will be made open access. Replace it with a reference or description and provide a link (URL) to the original work, if possible. You will then need to deposit two versions of your thesis in UCL's Research Publications Service (RPS): a complete version, and the version without the third party material.

Step 6: Acknowledge permission

Where permission has been granted, cite and reference the extract and add a statement next to the content, for example,."Image reproduced with permission of the rights holder, Springer."