Copyright or sensitive material in your thesis

You will need to check if you've used other people's work, sensitive information or material of commercial value in your thesis.

If you've used other people's work in your thesis

Your thesis may contain material for which you don't hold the copyright, for example:

  • quotations, such as passages of text or music
  • images, such as photographs, maps, charts or graphs

If you have used this type of material, you need to:

  • check if the copyright has expired; or
  • check if there is a clear statement that that the work can be used under a Creative Commons licence; or
  • determine that the use of the material falls within the description of 'fair dealing' under UK law; or
  • get the permission of the rights holders to include their content.

You can use this checklist for use of other people's copyright in PhD theses (docx) to record your investigations and evidence your decisions. When you've submitted your thesis and it is published in KAR, please email your completed checklist to and we will archive it alongisde your thesis in KAR.

If none of these apply and you can't get permission, you need to redact the relevant sections.

Expired copyright

Copyright expires after a set period of time, after which there are no restrictions on the use of the copyright work. There are many different durations of copyright depending on the type of work.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) licences allow you to reuse copyright material without contacting the rights holder for permission. They tell you how you can use, share and distribute the work. Find out more about the meanings of the various Creative Commons terms.

If you are using work licensed under Creative Commons in your thesis, you must credit the original author and check you are complying with all the conditions of the licence.

Fair dealing

'Fair dealing' is an exception to UK copyright law. It allows you to use copyright works without the rights holder's permission, if it is reasonable and fair to do so - for example for the purposes of quotation, criticism, or review.

For example, you might want to use a reproduction of a single screenshot from a large website or a low-resolution version of an image.

You need to make your decision on a case-by-case basis. A good test of 'fair dealing' is: would you feel that it's fair for someone to use your work in the same way?

For more advice email

Getting permission

To get permission to use copyright material, you need to identify who owns the work (for example the author, photographer or publisher):

  • for published books and journals content PLS Clear may help.
  • for web based material, check the terms and conditions of use.

Once you've identified the copyright holder, you need to contact them to get permission.

  • Allow enough time: some copyright holders may take a long time or never respond to your request. If a rights owner doesn't respond, don't assume you can use their work.
  • Be exact about the material you want to use - include page numbers where possible.
  • Let the rights owner know that your thesis will be available in an Open Access repository.
  • Think about how you will use the material: if you are asked to pay, that may not be appropriate for your thesis.

For more help in establishing who owns the copyright of a work and getting permissions, email

Sensitivity and commercial value

If your thesis contains material that is sensitive or confidential or has commercial value you may need to restrict access to it with an embargo or redact parts of it.

Sensitive or confidential information

This may be:

  • information likely to pose a security threat
  • information that could lead to the identification (and possible targeting) of individuals or communities
  • information, data or statistics to which you've been given privileged access
  • libellous content, or material which is likely to bring the University into disrepute, or incur liability.

Commercial value

This could apply if your findings have resulted in:

  • a commercially applicable service or product
  • a patentable idea or product.

 Please contact for advice as early as possible.  

What you should do

Take expert advice from your supervisor to help you decide if you need to:


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