Skip to main content

Copyright and Higher Degree Theses: Copying while researching your thesis

The management of intellectual property issues is an essential part of research and publication for higher degree by research students

Copying while researching your thesis

 Research or study

 Research students are generally able to rely on the 'fair dealing' provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 to copy extracts of materials for which they don't own the copyright. This is provided that the copying is of a 'reasonable portion' and for the purpose of 'research or study' only.  To include such material in a printed or online thesis see 'Using third party material in your thesis' in this guide.

A reasonable portion is generally:

  • 10% or one chapter if the work is a published edition of 10 pages or more
  • 10% of the words if the work is electronic
  • one article in a single edition of a periodical publication (a journal or newspaper)
  • more than one article in a single edition of a periodical publication if the same subject matter

Criticism or review

There is no limit on the amount of work that you can reproduce  for the purpose of criticism or review however it would be unusual in most theses works.  It is most likely that the use of copyright works for a thesis will be under 'fair dealing' for research of study.  If you are critiquing or reviewing you must meet the following criteria:

  • Make a genuine attempt to critique or review the work by analysing its merit. For example, reviewing a work and comparing it with other works by the author;
  • the dealing must be 'fair'; and
  • you must acknowledge the creator and the title of the work.

The word 'fair' is not defined in the Copyright Act. In practice the 'criticism or review' exception is likely to give you more protection if you only include short extracts as you review or critique them rather than quoting the complete work.

Insubstantial portions

You can reproduce short quotes from a literary or dramatic work for your research or study purposes and incorporate them into your thesis without the need for permission from the copyright owner, however the Copyright Act does not define "insubstantial" in these circumstances. If you are uncertain whether your use complies, contact the University Library Copyright Librarian for advice. 

 All uses of copyright works must attribute the author(s).

Special circumstances

The 'fair dealing' provisions of the Copyright Act may not apply if you have the copyright owner's permission or if the material is subject to a contractual agreement.  In these cases you will need to comply with the conditions under which permission was granted or the terms and conditions of the agreement.