Skip to Main Content

Copyright for Researchers: Theses

Online guidance on copyright as it applies to researchers

Open Research

A final copy of theses/dissertations for research degrees must be submitted to ORE (Open Research Exeter). ORE is the University of Exeter's institutional repository and acts as an archive for the research outputs of the University.

This and other open access responsibilities are outlined in the Open Access and Research Data Management Policy for PGR students.

Many other universities have similar policies requiring staff and students to make the papers/theses they produce available on an open access basis.

Comprehensive information and guidance is available online on Open Research issues for University staff and students.

Guidance is also available to support you in submitting your dissertation to ORE.

Making your thesis on open access is a great way to expose your unique research to the research community and enhance your research reputation. It can also help you build research networks by establishing your expertise in your field. The contents of ORE are easily found by users through search engines such as Google, giving you access to a very wide global potential readership.


Copyright & Theses

You own the copyright in all the original work in your thesis. See the Basic Copyright Facts section for more detail on this. You do not need to do anything to register your copyright as an author automatically has copyright in their original work.  

If you include material from others in your thesis, such as images, maps, extracts of previously published works etc. you need to consider the potential copyright issues. The owner has a number of exclusive rights such as the right to copy, adapt and issue the material to the public.  

If you are using third part material you need to establish:

  • if the material is still in copyright. If not, you are free to use it.
  • whether you want to use a substantial part of the copyright material. Use of an insubstantial part does not infringe copyright
  • whether your use falls within the fair dealing copyright exceptions 
  • whether you have permission or a licence to use the copyright material

Guidance on all these issues is available in the previous sections of this guide

You may well find that you publish or agree to publish a portion of your thesis prior to its final examination and deposit in ORE. For example, you may publish a journal article based on a particular chapter.  

You should consider whether you are entitled to reuse your own work within your thesis in this situation. When you sign a publisher agreement, check the terms; you may have assigned copyright or the exclusive right to publish the material to the publisher.

It may be clear in the publisher contract whether you are still able to use this material; for example, there may be an education exemption clause. If this is not clear, you should check this with the publisher. Remember to keep a written record of any permissions you receive.

You should also clearly attribute any portion of your work that has appeared elsewhere prior to your thesis examination. This will avoid issues of self-plagiarism being raised by your examiners. For example you might include a note to say that:

"Some of the work described in this thesis chapter has been previously published in [cite the previously published work]".

Sometimes you may want to include in your thesis a full published version of an article that you have previously published. You should seek permission from the publisher to include this in your thesis. Many publishers may be unwilling to permit their final published versions of the article to be available through an institutional repository where they are freely accessible to all.

In this case, you should submit two version of your thesis: one full version which will not be accessible and one amended version with the article(s) removed (see Permissions section for more information). 

Publishing From Your Thesis

You may well want to publish a part of your thesis as a book, book chapter, or a research article at a later date. You should consider the issue of  'prior publication'.

Most publisher agreements will include some form of clause whereby you warrant that you have not previously published the content in question, along the lines of:

"The article is not currently under submission to, nor is under consideration by, nor has been accepted  by any other journal or publication, nor has been previously published by any other journal or publication, nor has been assigned or licensed by you to any third party".

If you envisage significant revisions and reworkings of the material in your thesis prior to any further publication  then this may not be an issue.

If you have a publisher in mind, you can check the situation with them and many may be happy to provide assurances that the availability of your e-thesis in ORE will not prohibit you from publishing content based on your e-thesis with them.

However, if you are concerned about the implications this could have for you and your publishing opportunities, you can make use of an embargo.

ORE is an open access repository, meaning that content is openly accessible to all. However, you can use an embargo to place restrictions on access to your thesis.  

Full detail about the availability of embargoes is available online.  

Standard embargo

A standard 18 month embargo is available on request at the time of your thesis submission. 

This will enable you take the time to explore publishing opportunities and address any publisher concerns of prior publication issues.

Whilst the thesis is under embargo, basic metadata about your thesis - title/author/abstract - will be publicly available and discoverable through search engines such as Google.  

The abstract will give an overview of the research to those interested in your area of work but the full thesis content will not be available.

Other embargoes

You may wish to embargo your thesis for other reasons or for a longer period as it is not appropriate for the material to be available on an open access basis. For example, you may need an embargo if your thesis material is:

  • politically sensitive: it may not be appropriate to disseminate that you are working on a particular topic or in a particular region. In these cases an abstract might also need to be exempt from open access
  • commercially sensitive: you may need time to protect and exploit your research commercially, e.g. apply for patent protection for a new innovation. The University's Intellectual Property Policy provides guidance on the ownership, management and commercialisation of research results. 
  • ethically sensitive: it may be inappropriate to disclose content relating to individuals or for other data protection issues; although note that issues such as this should primarily be handled through the ethics scrutiny of your research project.

You should discuss these issues with your supervisor.   Requests for extended embargoes and exemptions must be made to the Postgraduate Administration Office via your submission form with a letter of support from your supervisor. Details are available online

If an embargo or extended embargo is approved, you must still deposit the digital copy of your thesis/dissertation in ORE and indicate the terms of the embargo on the online deposit form by noting the date when the embargo will expire and the reason for the embargo.

Contact Us or Give Feedback