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Copyright and Higher Degree Theses: Copying while researching your thesis

Copyright compliance is an essential part of research and publication for higher degree by research students

Insubstantial portions

You can reproduce "insubstantial extracts" from a literary or dramatic work for your research or study purposes and incorporate them into your thesis without the need for permission from the copyright owner; however, the Copyright Act does not define "insubstantial" in these circumstances. A substantive portion of a work may be the most recognisable part of the work, or it may be an important, distinctive or essential part of the work. The Australian Copyright Council Fact Sheet, Quotes and Extracts, is an up to date guide for further information.

All uses of copyright works must attribute the author(s) through a correctly formatted reference

Research or study

Research students are generally able to rely on the 'fair dealing' provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 to copy extracts of materials for which they don't own the copyright. This is provided that only a 'reasonable portion' is copied for the purpose of personal 'research or study'.

Note that this does not cover inclusion of the material in your final thesis. To include material in a printed or online thesis see the Using third party material in your thesis tab in this guide.

A 'reasonable portion' is generally considered to be:

  • 10% or one chapter if the work is a published edition of 10 pages or more
  • 10% of the words if the work is electronic
  • one article in a single edition of a periodical publication (a journal or newspaper)
  • more than one article in a single edition of a periodical publication if the same subject matter

Criticism or review

There is no limit on the amount of work that you can reproduce for the purpose of criticism or review; however, it would be unusual to rely on this exception in most theses works. If you are critiquing or reviewing you must meet the following criteria:

  • Make a genuine attempt to critique or review the work by analysing its merit. For example, reviewing a work and comparing it with other works by the author;
  • the dealing must be 'fair'; and
  • you must acknowledge the creator and the title of the work.

The word 'fair' is not defined in the Copyright Act. In practice the 'criticism or review' exception is likely to give you more protection if you only include short extracts as you review or critique them rather than quoting the complete work.

Note that the Graduate Research School's Certification of final version of thesis for Higher Degrees by Research form requires that copyright permissions be obtained for all third-party material used in a thesis. For this reason, it is recommended that you obtain permission for all uses of third-party material, regardless of whether you could otherwise rely on the Criticism or Review fair dealing exception. 

Special circumstances

The 'fair dealing' provisions of the Copyright Act may not apply if you have the copyright owner's permission or if the material is subject to a contractual agreement. In these cases you will need to comply with the conditions under which permission was granted or the terms and conditions of the agreement.

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