SOAS University of London

E-Theses and Third-Party Copyright

From October 2011, the default position for all theses produced by successful PhD candidates at SOAS is that a copy will be published in the School’s online repository. There will be implications of this if your thesis contains third-party copyright material.

What is third-party copyright material?

Under copyright law in the UK, any significant work (ie more than a line of text) will automatically attract copyright protection. This is designed to protect the rights of authors including yourself. Authors (or their publishers) can take legal action against those who infringe their rights.

In the course of writing your thesis, it is likely that you will include work created by others – ie third-parties. When you deposit your thesis, you will need to indicate to SOAS that publication in the online repository (where it will be available to anyone who is interested) will not breach the rights of other authors.

How do I know if publishing the e-thesis will breach copyright?

If you just quote brief passages from other works, and you are doing this to support your arguments, as long as you have referenced the works, there is no problem, both for the purpose of examination and for the subsequent publication of the thesis in the online repository. There is a defence in copyright law for ‘criticism and review’ and this kind of use would generally fall within that defence.

If you have quoted large chunks of a work, or a significant part of a work (for instance, you reproduce the whole of a poem rather than just a specific stanza), this is fine for the purposes of the examination, but would be likely to fall foul of copyright law if the thesis was published online without permission.

If you’ve included photographs, images, diagrams, etc taken from a book or other source, again, for the purposes of examination, there is unlikely to be a problem. But it will be a problem if it is made public through the e-repository without permission.

If you’ve taken photographs of objects in a museum or art gallery, even though you’ve taken the photographs, the museum, art gallery, or owners of the objects may hold the copyright in images of the object, or may be subject themselves to restrictions on how it may be depicted. This will also apply to documents in archives or Record Offices. This is unlikely to be a problem for the examination itself, but would restrict further publication through the e-repository.

How can I ensure that publication of my thesis will not breach copyright?

The best way to manage third-party copyright issues with your thesis is to consider them as you conduct your research and write your thesis. If you are likely to want to include third-party material in your thesis, you can ask authors or publishers for permission at the time, explaining that your thesis will eventually be published online. Below are a series of template letters/ emails that you can submit to authors/publishers in this circumstance.

If you are photographing, drawing or otherwise reproducing documents, objects, artworks, etc, you should ask at the time whether there are any restrictions on your use of the copy / drawing / photograph. Many institutions have forms that can be used to apply for permission.

What if permission is refused or I am unable to obtain permission to reproduce the material for some other reason?

If for any reason you are not able to obtain permission to reproduce the material, you have two options when you submit your thesis:

  • Submit two versions of your thesis – one with the third-party material removed and one complete version. Only the one with the third-party material removed will be published in the repository (the easiest way to achieve this is if you place all third-party material in an appendix at the back of the thesis, making reference to it in the text - you can then merely omit the appendix from one of the copies that you submit). This is the School’s preferred option.
  • If your thesis simply would not make sense with third-party material removed because the volume of third-party material in your thesis is so great, then you should indicate this on the form. Your thesis will not be published within the online repository.

Why should I be bothered about third-party material in my thesis?

There are good reasons to ensure that you respect the rights of third-parties when submitting a thesis:

  • If you haven’t considered third-party rights, it won’t be possible to include the thesis in the repository – it will be hidden far from most peoples’ view on shelves in the School Library.
  • If you haven’t obtained proper permission for use of third-party material in the online version of your thesis, you may be opening up the School or yourself for legal action at some point in the future; at the very least, it may affect your reputation, and that of the School’s, if you are seen to have breached copyright in your thesis.
  • If you want to seek publication through a publishing house, they will expect you to have sought permission for use of third-party material or otherwise to have checked that you comply with copyright law. If you get it right now, it will save you time later.

Template letters/emails to seek permission to include material within the electronic version of your thesis

Template for seeking permission to include material written by the student where copyright has been assigned to a publisher

I am the author of the following work published by (insert publisher's name): [Provide a full citation for your work]

I wish to include this work within the electronic version of my thesis, which my college, SOAS, would like to make available in its online repository (which can be found at The repository is non-commercial and openly available to all.

I would be grateful if you could advise if this will be acceptable.

Template for seeking permission to include third-party copyright material

I am contacting you to seek permission to include the following material within the electronic version of my PhD thesis: [Provide full details of the material you intend to include]

If you are not the rights holder for this material I would be grateful if you would advise me who to contact.

The thesis will be accessible through the School of Oriental and African Studies’ online repository (which can be found at The repository is non-commercial and openly available to all.