Copyright and the e-thesis
This week the UWE Graduate School put on a workshop on the topic of using third party copyrighted material in a thesis. I enlisted the help of Bennet Jones, one of the research support librarians at UWE who has the responsibility for the UWE Research Repository to explore the issue.
Disclaimer: Neither myself or Bennet are experts in legal matters relating to intellectual property or copyright so the advice given here is our interpretation of how to comply with restrictions
The reason this workshop has come about is because UWE introduced a requirement for all postgraduate researchers to place a digital copy of their thesis on the UWE Research Repository and there have been lots of queries relating to the inclusion of third party copyrighted material. This isn’t an issue isolated to UWE, many other higher education institutions are publishing research outputs on repositories – University College London published results of a survey on this issue in 2010.
All submitted UK theses are in the public domain (except for those that have all or part of the thesis embargoed) and available to anyone who requests a copy via the British Library Ethos service. The proliferation of institutional repositories has made it easier than ever to access these materials. Data from UWE’s own repository illustrates this with doctoral theses being the most frequently accessed items.
This is a good thing for the exposure of the researcher and their work, especially in an era of open access research. The downside is that it is also easier for copyright owners to identify where breaches have occurred.
The slides that Bennet used are included here.
The key points are these:
- If you plan to use material that was not created by yourself in your thesis you should check the copyright status of the work
- Establish whether the work is available in the public domain, whether it is copyrighted, and is there a license for reuse
- It is better to ascertain these things as you go along rather than trying to retrospectively get permissions
- Where copyright is owned by a third party, consider whether using alternative materials would be suitable e.g. under a creative commons license
- If it is integral to your thesis then seek permission to use (usually a fairly straight forward process)
- Keep records of permissions granted
- Ensure that the material is appropriately attributed
- Seek help if unsure
I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.