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Copyright is rarely considered until the very end or during a research project, but there are a few important issues that you must consider from the start:

  • Is this work possibly going to lead to a Patent application i.e. is it a new invention? You must keep your project secret until the Patent application has been registered. RKTO will be able to advise you how to do this.
  • You will need  to document every stage of your research to prove ownership in the event of a dispute. All copies of notes, documents, diagrams recordings etc. should be recorded and retained i.e. never deleted or disposed of.
  • What do you intend to do with your work once it's completed, e.g. upload onto the University repository/figshare or  publish, present at a conference, exploit commercially? If you wish to publish or make the work available to the public and it includes substantial amounts of copied third party content, you may need to obtain permission from the copyright owner.
  • What type of third party copyright work might you need to include and will it require permissions? If so you will need to set aside a budget for possible copyright permission fees and the administration. Permissions can take a long time to secure, may incur a cost, could be declined or no response received at all, so forward planning is important.

Research often involves an element of copying from and/or building upon pre-existing work or information such as text, data, images, diagrams, music, performances, designs, inventions. Although UK copyright Law has certain copyright 'fair dealing' exceptions in place to remove obstacles and allow research and innovation to develop freely, these exceptions have certain limitations and requirements.

Legal Exceptions

The 'Fair Dealing' Exceptions most relevant to research are contained in the General Exceptions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and amendments:

S.29 Research and private study
S.29A Copies for text and data analysis for non-commercial research
S.30 Criticism, review, quotation and news reporting
S.30A Caricature, parody or pastiche
S.31 Incidental inclusion of copyright material

For Theses and dissertations, the education fair dealing exception can also apply but ceases if the work is further exploited:

S.32  Illustration for instruction, which includes copying for assessment and examination purposes.

What is 'Fair Dealing'?

Fair Dealing is not defined in law but left open to the discretion of the courts in a possible copyright infringement claim. The courts decide on a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case i.e. what you are doing, how much are you copying and what impact your copying has on the work and its market value.

The key question asked is: how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

Before copying under the 'fair dealing' exceptions, you should always consider:

a)  Would your use substitute for possible sales and cause the rights owner loss of revenue?

b)  Is the amount you are using reasonable, appropriate and absolutely necessary for your purpose?

c)  Does the copying meet the provisos of the exception/s you are relying on?

The legal exceptions will not apply to re-using copyright infringing/pirated content. Therefore, always ensure you are copying from a legitimately provided version of the copyright protected content.


In instances where licences or the exceptions don't apply, or the limits and requirements have not been met, you will be required to obtain copyright permission from the copyright owner unless you can find genuinely copyright free or licensed content that you can include freely i.e. it has been made available or licensed by or with the authority of the copyright owner e.g. Creative Commons Licensing.

If the content includes personal data, you will also require permission from the individual or need to anonymise the information.

It is advisable to maintain a 'Rights Management Database' to track your permissions requests and document your research documents, permissions, consent forms, also permissions you may have granted others to use your work. This can be a simple spreadsheet.

For further information, please see Research policies, procedures and regulations or the comprehensive JISC/SCA IPR Toolkit .

Or contact:

Kate Vasili, University Copyright Officer, at: k.vasili@mdx.ac.uk

Research Repository at:  Middlesex University Research Repository

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