Skip to Main Content

Copyright guidance

Assistance with matters relating to copyright for Edinburgh Napier University staff and students

Using third party materials

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.

Getting permissions

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.

  • Copyright holders may be more inclined to grant permissions for a thesis, which is likely to have limited readership, rather than a book chapter or journal article, which may require UK or overseas rights to be purchased.  If you are approaching copyright owners directly for permission, you should set out all the details of your likely usage of the material in your letter.  
  • If you are requesting permission to include the item in a published book, for example, you may  have to specify things like territory for which rights are requested (UK/world), expected number of pages, expected publication date, expected print run, and expected retail price.


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:

  • Northern Lights publishers' catalogue (often with links to the publisher website)
  • Copyright Clearance Center   (US organisation)
  • WATCH (Writers, Artists and Their Copyright Holders) - a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent figures in other creative fields.
  • and FOB - a database with information about vanished publishing concerns, literary agencies, and similar firms.

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.