Using third party materials
Whether you are writing a textbook, a research paper, or your PhD thesis, it’s probably a good idea to keep copyright for publication at the back of your mind right from the start.
When you are carrying out research for your own purposes you benefit from the copyright exceptions for educational purpose which are detailed in our Libguide page: Copyright guidance: Copying for Personal Study. However, things change when you decide you want to include some of these materials in something that is to be published.
Even your thesis will be “published”, since the university normally requires you to deposit it in the institutional online repository. The rights that you have to use material for your private research (see would not extend to publication, so if you are not able to get permissions, you may need to consider making an e-version of your thesis with the items removed.
If you wish to use any photographs, or to quote extensively from any works which may still be in copyright, you may well have to trace the copyright owners and request permission. It’s not a foregone conclusion that this will be given, or that the costs involved will be manageable. A lack of response cannot be taken as meaning that you have permission to use the material. If you can’t contact the copyright holders, you may have to assess the risks involved in using it anyway, or find alternative materials which are open access, or out of copyright. See our Copyright Guidance LibGuide Facts page for information about duration of copyright.
Criticism and Review
There is one copyright exception for “fair dealing” which could benefit you, but you would need to be sure you can justify it. You are permitted to include extracts of third-party material as long as they are “not substantial”, provided it is for the purposes of criticism or review. You must acknowledge the source and use the minimum amount necessary to make your point. The biggest problem with this is that there is no precise definition of “substantial” – some people take the view that it is OK to reproduce a photograph if you are comparing it with others, but it would probably not be appropriate to reproduce a whole movement of a piece of music if you are only looking at a small section.
If the creator of the work is not known, but it is likely to be still within copyright, it is considered to be an “orphan work”. There has been recent legislation intended to try to unlock the usage of such items in public collections, which often have rich collections of images, for example. This has introduced a new process that needs to be followed to ensure that an adequate search has taken place.
The latest information is available from the Intellectual Property Office at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/copyright-orphan-works
If you wish to use such an item, you need to be able to prove that you have carried out a “diligent search” for the copyright owner – detailed guidance is available here: Orphan works diligent search guidance for applicants. Above all, you should document all the steps you take to carry out your search.
If this fails to reveal the copyright owner, you can then search the Orphan Works Register to see if your work has already been added, or apply for a licence if not. You would have to pay a charge for the user of the material, which would be used to pay rights holders if they make a claim, but the charges are not all that high since the purpose of the legislation is to release content for re-use that is currently blocked for fear of copyright infringement. Under this scheme material is licensing for UK use only. If you have found the material you want to use in a museum or archive, it is possible that they would be able to give you advice on clearance issues.
Getting permission to copy
Depending on what you are hoping to use, this could be quite simple, or could be a lengthy process, with no satisfactory conclusion guaranteed. Copyright can be bought, sold, inherited or transferred and therefore someone other than the original creator may hold the copyright in a work.
Multimedia works will have separate copyrights in all the different elements, e.g. screenplay, cinematography, music etc. For films the first copyright owners are the producer and the principal director. For sound recordings the first copyright owner is the record producer, for a broadcast it is the broadcaster, and they may hold the key to tracing any other rights holders.
Where to start?
Many publishers will act as clearing-houses for their authors, so they might be the best place to start. If you need to need to reproduce images from a book or article, they may have separate copyrights, but the publisher may be able to assist in dealing with them. Information about copyright in images is often included along with the image, or listed elsewhere in the book.
Journals may well print information about copyright in the small print of the journal issue or on their webpages. Some creative sectors have large collecting agencies who negotiate on behalf of all their members
Websites may include a statement relating to re-use of their material, but you should not assume that if there is no such statement it is OK to copy – the opposite is more likely to be the case.
You can find more information and examples of templates for letters on the JISC IPR Toolkit site. This site was archived in 2009 so some of the information may be out of date, but there is much useful advice, including checklists for Rights Clearance.
You can try some basic Google searching to locate publishers, but if that fails here are a few more places to try:
If you can’t trace the publisher, you may be able to trace the author. Perhaps you can find a more recent publication by them which may yield clues.
Try some web searches on author and institution
If you know their university affiliation try contacting their admin staff or alumni office
The Society of Authors website has a searchable list of authors.