Library > Supporting You > Copyright > Guide for students
Guide for students

Copyright protects authors, film makers, photographers and other creators from having their work used without permission. As a student you will use books, music, films and other works created by others. These can be resources you have purchased, borrowed from the library or found online. You can copy from these sources for your own non-commercial research and private study but you are limited by ‘fair dealing’ as to how much of a work you can copy. Fair dealing is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There are no defined limits of what is fair. Instead you will have to decide whether your copying is fair. Questions that might help you decide whether the use is fair are:

  • Is the amount copied reasonable and appropriate to the context?
  • Have I copied no more than I need to?
  • Does the copying negatively affect sales of the work?

Below are some FAQs that you may find useful. If, however, you have any other questions on Copyright you are advised to contact your Academic Librarian.


Copyright law protects the economic rights of authors and publishers by prohibiting copying of their works except in certain circumstances. Copyright protection begins when a work is created, whether written, photographed, recorded, etc., and lasts, in most cases, for 70 years from the end of the year of death of the author. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 sets out the circumstances where copying is permitted.

When using photocopiers, scanners and computers within the University you must keep within the law. The University holds a Copyright Licencing Agency Higher Education Licence  that allows, subject to its terms and conditions, photocopies to be made by all staff and students. Below are some FAQs that you may find useful.

The CLA Higher Education licence provides blanket permission to photocopy from millions of books and journals and from a range of digital materials including ebooks. There are limits to how much you can copy and these are:

- One chapter from a book.

- One article from 1 issue of a journal.

- One whole report of a single case from a volume of judicial proceedings

- One short story, poem or play(not exceeding 10 pages in length) from an anthology.

- One whole scene from a play.

- One whole paper from a set of conference proceedings. 

- Or 10% of any of the above whichever is the greater.

There is an exception in Copyright law "Illustration for Instruction" that allows allows students  to use copyright material in coursework and theses.  The amount must be 'fair' i.e. fall within the fair dealing provision. Fair dealing is not defined in copyright law but as a general rule you should use no more of the material than you need to and you should always acknowledge the source by referencing it correctly. Reuse of the work should not negatively impact on sales of the original material.

Abertay PhD theses will eventually be deposited electronically in the University Institutional Repository (ARC) and made available to the public through the British Library EThOS service.When the thesis is published online the exception" Illustration for Instruction" no longer applies. However, you may still be able to include insubstantial amounts of third  party copyright material  by using the exception for" Criticism, Review and Quotation". For example, you may quote from literary and other works (eg musical, artistic, film) provided the work has been made available to the public, the use is fair, the extent of the quotation is no more than absolutely necessary and the use is acknowledged.  However, it is good academic practice to request permission for use of third party material in your thesis. You are encouraged to do this as early as possible as it can take time to get permission from the copyright holder.

If you want to include the published version of an article in your thesis, this may be possible:

- If you retained the copyright of the article

- The article was published under a Creative Commons Licence

However, in many cases when publishing their research authors transfer the copyright of their paper to the publisher. If you have not retained the copyright then you will need to write  to the publisher to ask for permission to include the article in your thesis as it is is unlikely that the fair dealing exception would cover this.

If you are unable to add the published version of the article to your thesis, then it may be possible to add the post-print version of the article to your theses as many publishers will let you use this version. The post print is the version which has been peer reviewed but does not have the publisher's formatting added. You can use Sherpa/Romeo to check the publisher's copyright and self-archiving policies and Library staff are happy to advise on this. Email: for advice.

It is your responsibility to ensure that the material in your thesis does not infringe Copyright Law. If you are unable to get permission from the copyright owner or if they wish to charge for its inclusion in your electronic thesis then you can just link to the publisher’s website in the relevant section of your thesis. You should discuss such cases with your supervisor.

More information about copyright can be found online at Copyright User - an online resource aimed at making UK copyright law accessible to creators, media professionals, entrepreneurs, students, and members of the public.

There are now many sources of information including videos and images on the internet that are created under licences such Creative Commons Licences that allow the content to be re- used and in some cases adapted for re-use. For help on finding material licensed in this way have a look at Newspapers & multimedia.

© 2017 Abertay University