Copyright for researchers

Copyright protection exists from the moment your research is produced in a form that can be copied.

If you're using work created by someone else, you'll need to consider your right to use that work, and you may need to seek permission to use it.

Copyright law

Copyright law gives a legal framework for the use and management of a range of works, including text, artistic works, dramatic works, musical works, films, broadcasts and published editions. Copyright gives you, the owner, exclusive rights to:

  • reproduce
  • publish in print or electronic form
  • perform the work in public, and
  • communicate to the public and adapt or modify their work.

As the copyright owner, you can transfer any or all of these rights to users or a third party. Generally copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator or 70 years after the first publication.

Victoria University's Copyright Policy provides a framework for university staff and students for using third-party copyright material for educational and research purposes.

General information about copyright can be found at the Australian Copyright Council website. The ACC provides Factsheets on a range of topics such as Copyright and Research, moral rights, duration and the law regarding use of third party copyright or using material such as logos etc.

Moral rights

These are rights linked to copyright but are not transferable to another person or body. Only individual copyright owners can have moral rights (corporations or organisations cannot have moral rights). In addition moral rights:

  • are personal legal rights belonging to the creators of copyright works and cannot be transferred, assigned or sold.
  • ensure that the creators of works are correctly attributed for their work.
  • ensure the works are not treated in a derogatory way.

General information about moral rights can be found at the Australian Copyright Council’s website.

Fair dealing for research & study

While writing your thesis you can rely on fair dealing exceptions for the use of works for research and study. Fair dealing does not cover copyright material in research papers for publication, presenting at conferences or making them available online, such as for open access. Once the thesis is published this exception no longer applies to the third party work used in the thesis. Permission will be required unless you use an ‘insubstantial portion’ of the copyright work, such as a relevant quotation.

Under fair dealing for text you can reproduce

  • 10% or one chapter (whichever is greater) of literary, dramatic or musical works.
  • Journal articles – one article per journal or two articles from the same journal if the articles are for the same research.

Artistic works, unpublished material, films and sound recordings, including music do not have the same 10% provision. To use these materials and to use more than 10% you will need to consider whether the use is fair and reasonable. The criteria for this determination are as follows:

  1. Can this item be bought at a reasonable price within a reasonable time?
  2. How much do I need to copy?
  3. Why am I copying?
  4. What effect will this have on the ‘normal exploitation’ or value of the work?
  5. How will this use affect the copyright holder’s rights?

Fair dealing also covers uses for criticism and review and parody or satire if you are genuinely producing a critique, review, satire or parody of a work. The use must be ‘fair and reasonable‘. There is no limit to the amount of the work you can copy but it must be considered ‘fair and reasonable’.

Ownership & permission

If a work is created as part of the author’s employment role, for example as a teacher at Victoria University, then copyright will be owned by the employer, namely the University. Generally the creator is the copyright owner and they have the right to control the use of the work unless bound by a contract which assigns copyright to another party such as a publisher. An author can also give exclusive rights or non-exclusive rights to another party.

When completing a thesis or research article, candidates must ensure that they have permission to use any third party material within their work. Before publishing researchers or students should check their rights within a publishing contract – they may wish to seek legal advice in order to negotiate terms and conditions which allow them future access and use, for example to review and edit chapters.

Employers, works for hire & researchers

According to the common law legal tradition, when an employee produces a work in the normal course of his or her employment, the employer is regarded as the initial owner of copyright, and hence considered the author, unless there has been an express agreement to the contrary, such as giving the employee a non-exclusive licence to use their work at another institution or as part of their portfolio of work.

Works made for hire are any works produced in the course of employment, including leave and if created using any equipment belonging to the employer.

If in doubt, please contact the Copyright Officer at  [email protected] .

Using copyright material

When writing your thesis or work to be published you may wish to include material from other sources. When using other work you will need to check the copyright status or look for ‘out of copyright’ and ‘copyright free’ works. There are several categories of ‘free’ works available for your use such as covered by a Creative Commons licence or Open Access material.

You can use an insubstantial portion which can be a few lines or sentences from another source, such as a book or a journal, which is acknowledged; a short film clip or a snippet from a sound recording may also be used without permission if acknowledged. A quote from another source can be considered an ‘insubstantial portion’ and will not require permission.

Whether something is ‘insubstantial’ depends on quality and quantity and the Copyright Act does not define exactly what qualifies as an insubstantial portion. Sometimes even a short film clip if it gives away the plot will be considered substantial and will require permission.

Internet & social media

It is important to check the terms and conditions of use or copyright statements when accessing material (including images) on the internet. Not everything on the internet is free for further use.

Linking rather than copying is recommended when using digital material from the internet. When using third party material, such as videos from YouTube, check whether the “embed” option is available as this allows you to embed the work using an ’implied licence’.

Publisher agreements, contracts & licences

As copyright owner you have the right to reproduce your work, publish it in print or electronically, make it available online and communicate it to another person by email or fax, and perform it in public, adapt it and broadcast it.

Moral rights are retained by the author even if the copyright has been assigned to another party. The author must still be acknowledged and credited as the creator of the work. Work should not be falsely attributed as this is a breach of the law. If your work has been produced on behalf of your employer or you have been commissioned or hired to do the work then the copyright resides with the employer but you will still have moral rights to that work.

Publishing Agreements will generally detail the time limit of the agreement or whether it can be terminated. An irrevocable perpetual agreement means that it is permanent and will last indefinitely. Once an agreement expires you can enter into a new agreement.

Publisher agreements are often standard agreements, particularly for journal articles or books but this does not mean that you cannot change the terms and conditions to suit your requirements. (see the addendum link below). Before signing any agreement make sure you have it checked by a legal officer or lawyer and always keep a copy so you can check on your terms and conditions at a later date.

Most academic publishers require authors to transfer copyright to the publisher which will restrict the ability of the author or the University to make a copy of any published works available online, including as part of a PhD with associated papers (by publication) thesis. It is important that any researchers and PhD candidates retain full and complete copies of their final versions before publication of all articles, as in some cases these can be included in the online version of their thesis.

If a publisher does not allow any version of the article to be made available online, it may only be possible for the University to include URL links to the articles that form part of the thesis in the digital version of the thesis. Access to these articles may then only be made via a subscription to the journal, so the full thesis will not necessarily be available to all users.

All candidates or writers should scrutinise their publisher agreements and policies so that they can gain future access to their work. They should also consider asking publishers for permission to include their article in an online version of the thesis and retain copies of all agreements.

Presenting at conferences

Any research paper presented at a conference, symposium, public forum or lecture given as a researcher or student will require you to manage the copyright.

You will need to get permission for the use of any third party material in your presentation and you will need to manage your copyright in your original work.

If the conference presenters wish to publish your paper or presentation they will need to seek your permission and you may be asked to sign an agreement. You should read any agreement carefully as you may be required to place an embargo on your publishing the material presented. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are not breaching any confidentiality agreements, privacy or the terms of your funding agreement.

When presenting in another country you will need to ensure that you are not infringing any copyright laws of the country where the conference is held. It is always wise to check with the conference organisers as to what your copyright obligations may be and how they will treat your work for any further publication.

Research data

Whether research data is subject to copyright will depend on how the data is defined. Ideas are not protected by copyright unless they are expressed in material form. Raw research data may not necessarily be covered by copyright.

If data or statistics were expressed in in a table or graph then the table or graph would be in copyright. Increasingly raw data is being more broadly defined to include any raw information that is used as part of the research process. In this sense research data can be made up of photographs, interviews (both recorded as film or sound or transcript), surveys, questionnaires, field notes, laboratory notebooks, sound recordings or films. This type of material would be protected as all other films, sound recordings or literary works.

Research data may also be protected under other forms of IP such as patents or confidential information.