Copyright for HDR theses

Are you completing a thesis at Curtin and wonder what your copyright obligations are? Here are the answers to common questions.

In the past, a thesis used to be physically printed, bound and stored on library shelves. These days, theses are stored and made available online through institutional repositories.

Espace is Curtin’s institutional repository, containing thousands of theses and other research outputs. By depositing your thesis in espace, you are not only making it publicly available, but increasing its potential impact and citation count. Espace is also a secure, stable digital environment for your work, supporting long-term storage and access.

Depositing copies of your thesis into espace is a condition of graduation. See the Guidelines for Deposit of Final Thesis for instructions.

You may have incorporated copyrighted material in your thesis. Common examples include:

  • diagrams/models
  • excerpts of text
  • photographs
  • surveys/questionnaires
  • primary source material
  • research methodologies/frameworks
  • software

If you are requesting material that has been published in a journal article (and sometimes in ebooks), you can request publishing permissions directly through the platform (e.g. RightsLink).

  1. On the journal article page, look for an option such as “reprints and permissions” or “rights and content”.

    an option saying get rights and content an option saying reprints and permission

  2. Specify the type of use (for example publication, use in a thesis, or to post in an institutional repository).

    permission selection box

  3. Follow the other prompts. You may be charged a fee depending on the type of use.

Another option for permissions requests is to contact the author(s) directly. We recommend you get the permission for re-use in writing (can be in email form) and retain a copy for your records. It is always a good idea to identify the material you want to re-use and specify the type of use. When you re-use the material make sure you attribute the source of the content and comply with any conditions imposed by the copyright holder in the permission. Here is a permissions template you can re-use.

Some material does not require permission for use. This includes when you use insubstantial amounts of a work, if the work is Creative Commons licensed, or in the public domain. Additionally, you can re-use some material without permission if it is being used for the purposes of criticism and review.

When you published your papers with a journal, you will have signed a publishing agreement which described the terms and conditions of any re-use of your published work. Its important to read and understand publishing agreements prior to accepting the terms, and retain a copy of the agreement so you understand which rights you assign to the publisher and which rights you retain.

If you have transferred your copyright to a publisher you may need permission from them to re-use your own content (e.g. depositing content in espace). If you have published in an open access journal, however, you retain all your rights as an author and will not need to request permission to re-use your content.

Some agreements permit re-use of your paper in an institutional repository (such as espace) as long as you:

  • Use the accepted manuscript version rather than the published version (learn more about article version terms)
  • Abide by an embargo, where the content cannot be made available for a specified time period
  • Include a citation statement and link to the published version. The Publisher Summary table in the Library’s Guide to espace provides guidance on citation wording by publisher.
  • More information on espace and versions is available in the Guide to espace.

Can’t locate your publishing agreement? Review the “including own published articles in your thesis” section of the espace guide for a list of copyright policies from major publishers.

Additionally, Sherpa Romeo is a searchable database of publisher policies and may be able to give you information about the appropriate version and any embargo periods for the journal.

If you are unable to obtain copyright permission, you can retain the third party copyright material in the version you submit for examination, as there is an exception in the Copyright Act to cover use of copyright material for examination purposes.

The public version you deposit into espace will be available to the general public, which is why copyright permission is so important. If you cannot obtain copyright permission for third-party material in your thesis, your options are:

  • Redacting and linking to content. Deposit a public version of your thesis with the third party copyright material removed or redacted, replacing the material with the following statement: “The [insert citation information] is unable to be reproduced here due to copyright restrictions. As an alternative, access the content via [insert URL, DOI, etc as applicable]” Review our guide to redacting signatures and third party copyright content.

  • Include the material with a disclaimer. In some circumstances it may not be possible to obtain copyright permission, for example the copyright holder may be difficult to identify or you may have issues contacting them (or their descendants). You will need to assess the risk of the re-use before deciding whether or not to re-use the content without permission. Your risk analysis might consider:

    • Are you using a substantial copy?
    • Is the use non-commercial?
    • Does the use fit the criteria of “fair dealing” for criticism or review?

For more information, review the ACC fact sheet on Orphan Works.

There are various reasons why material in a thesis cannot be made publicly available, including cultural, commercial, and privacy concerns. In this case, there are options to restrict access to a thesis or appendix. This is called an embargo. HDR students considering placing an embargo on their thesis should talk with with their Supervisor or contact the Graduate Research School.