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Library Guides

Copyright for Researchers: Permissions and reuse

This guide provides guidance on copyright matters for researchers

Copyright Permission

Sometimes researchers need to obtain permission or a licence to re-use ‘third party’ content (i.e. that belongs to someone else) which they have been able to use under a copyright exception as part of their non-commercial research. For example, if you wish to publish or share content, such as images from an archive on a website or in a printed publication, you typically need to obtain permission from the copyright owner

Obtaining Permission

To obtain permission from a rightsholders you will need to be specific about what content you wish to use and where you plan to use it. If you are making it available on a website, include details of the web address and if in a published work provide publication details including how you will credit the item. It is advisable to obtain any permissions in writing and to keep a copy of these for your own records. If you are publishing the work your publisher is likely to ask to see them. Some rightsholders may wish to charge you permission to use an item. 


Unable to Obtain Permission?

Some items in archives may have no or minimal information about the copyright owner. In this case they are referred to as ‘orphan works’ which mean the copyright owner cannot be traced. If you cannot trace the owner of a work you may wish to consider using the IPO Orphan Works Licensing Scheme  to cover your use. However, you may decide to find an alternative source, or if you are sure the work is out of copyright you may decide to include it on a risk-managed basis, which means you consider it highly unlikely that a rightsholder would come forward. Contact the university repository team before taking this decision and keep any records of searches you have undertaken to identify the rightsholder. Note: you cannot apply for an Orphan Works Licences without also submitting evidence of a ‘due diligent’ search to identify the rightsholder.   


Using works that are subject to copyright under exceptions

Researchers will often need to copy works protected by copyright and this may be permitted under the law through what are known as ‘copyright exceptions’. These are circumstances when using a copyright work does not require permission of the rightsholder. The most relevant exceptions for researchers are Sections 29, 29A and 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.  

Section 29 permits the use of works for “private study and non-commercial research”, provided the use is considered ‘fair’. What these typically means in practice is that researchers can copy (photocopy or scan) limited quantities of a copyright work for research purposes. This might include making a copy of a journal article or a chapter from a book to inform a literature review. There is no specified limit on how much is considered fair, but typically you might look to copy no more than 10% of a work of one chapter from a book, or one journal article from an issue. 

In addition to this, a new exception was introduced in 2014, Section 29A to which allows text and data mining for non-commercial research purposes. Text and data mining (TDM) is the use of computational analysis usually carried out on large datasets, which can help uncover patterns which would take thousands of hours for a human to search by hand. In order to undertake TDM, it is typically required that you will need to copy the entire work, to run it through some form of computational analysis software. You still need to have lawful access to a source to text mine it, which usually means having a valid subscription. If you would like further advice about how to access and prepare datasets for TDM purposes then please contact for further advice.  

Meanwhile Section 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act covers the use of works for the purposes of quotation. This exception was broadened in 2014 from simply covering quotation for the purposes of criticism and review to quotation for any purpose. This is also subject to the ‘fair dealing’ test and there must be a suitable acknowledgement of the source, wherever practical. It means you can quote from a work without needing to obtain permission and typically is restricted to short quotations of text. There is some debate over whether it is possible to quote an entire work, such as reproducing a photograph or image in its entirety under Section 30. Commercial publishers typically expect researchers to obtain permission to include third party images within their publications, however this is just common practice and not a legal requirement. It may therefore be argued that reproducing an image for the purposes of research is permitted under Section 30.


With thanks to Dr Jane Secker for authoring this guide © Jane Secker and licenced for re-use under Creative Commons  creative commons non commerical

Disclaimer: The guide in no way substitutes for formal legal advice. If you are in any doubt or require further information we recommend you consult the sources of further advice at the end of this guide.