Students' gateway to Campus

Copyright for research students


There are various parts of the Copyright Act (notably the 'Fair dealing' provisions) which enable researchers to reproduce other people’s copyright works in the process of conducting their research. This covers "unpublished" reports generated during the course of the research and printed theses.

However, once the activity shifts from research to actual publication (in a journal, book or online), or dissemination of results (e.g. in conference papers and posters), then those parts of the Copyright Act no longer apply. If you have used a substantial part of someone else’s work that is protected by copyright you will need to obtain their permission. A 'substantial part' is not defined in the Copyright Act, but you must consider both the quality and the quantity of the material that you use. For works in hardcopy form, as a rule of thumb, you may regard the following as an insubstantial part of a normal length book:

  • a single, continuous extract of no more than 400 words, or
  • up to 600 words in a series of quotations, if no continuous piece is more than 300 words

Note that abstracts, summaries, some tables, any parts of a poem or words of a song, and other very short extracts of this type may constitute a qualitatively significant part of a work. It is difficult to specify any general rule-of-thumb for musical or artistic works, or for films, sound recordings or broadcasts. No parts of these can safely be regarded as insubstantial.

In order to avoid copyright infringement, it is a good idea to:

  • Maintain full records of third-party material that you have used
  • Allocate time and money for obtaining copyright permission

When seeking permission from copyright owners, you will need to provide the following information:

  • Item you wish to use
  • Source details
  • Context of usage, eg research paper/thesis going into institutional repository as well as published in [specified] journal
  • Conditions of usage

Sample email

(subject line: permission request from student/researcher at Deakin University)

Dear [XX]

I am seeking permission to use your material in my [thesis/journal article] entitled [title].

The thesis is to be placed online in an open access repository at Deakin University, Victoria, Australia.

The article is to be published in [title of journal] which is available via [online subscription/hardcopy]

The material is as follows:
[Item title] [date]
[Author/photographer/creator] in
[Source title]
[Publisher/production company] or
[insert any additional useful identifying details]

[I have attached a PDF for your information]

I will, of course, provide full acknowledgment. If you are not the copyright owner, can you please provide rightsholder details.


Publishing your research

These days there are alternatives to publishing your research via a traditional publishing contract. You need to consider the likely impact of your choice on future funding, prestige and promotion.

Assignment vs licensing

You need to consider what rights you should retain when entering into a publishing contract for best advantage in the future.
As a copyright owner you can elect to assign your copyright to someone else, e.g. a publisher. Assignment means that ownership of the copyright is transferred. Once you have assigned rights to a publisher you are no longer entitled to use the material in the designated ways. The designated ways could include:

- copying, e.g. photocopying for distribution to students

- performing, e.g. presenting at a conference

- electronic transmission, e.g. emailing to colleagues

- uploading to a website.

This may result in a situation where you have to seek copyright permission from the publisher to use your work in future, and in some cases pay a fee for that use. An assignment must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner.

Alternatively, as a copyright owner you can elect to licence your copyright to someone else on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis. Licensing means that ownership of the copyright is retained. The licence terms and conditions set out what rights can be exercised by the licensee and may be restricted by time period, territory, and dependent upon payment of royalties etc. An exclusive licence means nobody except the licensee can do any of the things covered by the licence. A non-exclusive licence means that as copyright owner you may still use the work and give the same licence to others.

Negotiating with your publisher

Publishers may support material going into an open access repository (subject or institutional), but may place a time embargo to allow them to take financial benefit first. They may also specify the version of the material that can be published in this way, eg pre-print (before peer review), post-print (after peer review), or published.

You may need to provide your publisher with details of any third-party copyright permissions you have obtained.

Creative Commons

Rather than negotiating with a publisher you may choose to make your work available under a Creative Commons licence. Creative Commons offers a set of licences which enable you to publish your material, and keep your copyright but retain some rights rather than all rights, thereby inviting others to make certain uses of your work. For example, you can permit non-commercial use of your material, or you can specify no derivative works. If you specify non-commercial use of your material, the user can copy, distribute, display, and perform the work – and derivative works based upon it – but for non-commercial purposes only. For further information visit Creative Commons Australia.

Deakin Research Online

Materials in Deakin Research Online (the University’s institutional repository of research output) are made available to the public under specified terms of use, subject to copyright, licence and other contractual or legal obligations.

Keep a copy of your publishing contracts because they may be required by DRO staff when you deposit your material.

Students own copyright in their work (including most theses unless agreed otherwise in writing).

By depositing your research material in DRO you are not assigning copyright. You are granting the University a non-exclusive licence to make the material available on open access to the public.

Further advice

For further advice, please contact the University Copyright Officer.

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

17th November 2010