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Higher degree by research (HDR) thesis students

Below is a step by step guide to assist students in meeting copyright obligations associated with a Higher Degree by Research (HDR) Thesis.

Understanding HDR copyright obligations

Student copyright obligations are set out in the following forms submitted as part of the HDR process.

  1. Copyright and Release of Thesis for Examination. Students are required to acknowledge they understand and have met their copyright obligations prior to submitting their thesis for examination.
  2. Submission of Digital Thesis. Students are required to declare they have met their copyright obligations, specifically with regard to publishing their thesis in espace, Curtin’s Institutional Repository.

In summary the student is stating:

  1. Their thesis does not containing any copyright infringing content;
  2. They have obtained permission, where necessary, from the copyright owner to use any third-party copyright material reproduced in their thesis;
  3. They have obtained permission from the copyright owner to use any of their own published work, where the copyright is held by another party (publisher, co-author).

Under Curtin’s Intellectual Property Policy and Procedures students own the copyright in their thesis.

Meeting HDR copyright obligations

Copying material while researching

Under the ‘fair dealing’ provisions of the Australian Copyright Act a student can make a single copy of a reasonable portion of third-party copyright material for their own personal research or study.

For material in the public domain or when permission is expressly provided, such as content licenced under Creative Commons, a student may copy the whole work.

Many websites permit the copying of small amounts of material for personal, non-commercial, educational purposes. Check the website’s Terms of Use to determine what is permitted.

Material covered by a contract or licence agreement are also subject to terms of use. Subscription databases (such as those made available through the Library), software and mobile applications are generally covered by licence agreements.  Check the terms of the licence agreement to determine what type of reuse is permitted.

Reproducing copyright material in a thesis

HDR students are strongly encouraged to consider what third-party copyright material they plan to include in their thesis at the commencement of the research process.  Before reusing copyright material in a thesis, a student must determine if they need to obtain written permission from the copyright owner.

Students are recommended to allow plenty of time to seek and obtain permission from copyright owners.

Students are required to retain and reproduce all copyright permissions as an appendix to their thesis.

Identifying when copyright permission is required

Material that does not require further permission to reuse:

  • Brief quotations from a publication, properly acknowledged and referenced.
  • Short extracts of text or images from works where these are the subject of critical commentary or analysis in the thesis. This use is permitted under the ‘fair dealing’ provision for criticism or review in the Copyright Act.
  • Curtin material where the University owns the copyright and it is not confidential or sensitive information.
  • Public Domain (out of copyright) material.
  • Open licence material e.g. content licensed under Creative Commons. Abide by any terms attached to the licence.

Material that generally requires further permission to reuse:

  • Text, images, photographs, artwork, screen captures of software applications, etc. not expressly contextualised within criticism or review.
The ‘fair dealing’ provision for research and study does cover the reuse of a reasonable portion of copyright material during the thesis examination process.

However, the 'fair dealing' provision for research and study does not cover reuse of copyright material in espace, Curtin's Institutional Repository.

Depositing a thesis into espace changes a student’s purpose of use from research and study to publication. The thesis content will be publically available through the online repository.

This means a student will need to obtain permission to include copyright material in the version of their thesis deposited in espace.
  • Commercial products such as journal articles and surveys/questionnaires that are protected by licence agreements. Publishers may impose a charge for use of content.
  • Company reports, market research or industry analysis.
  • Material not publically available such as letters or unpublished manuscripts.
  • Website content. Check website’s Terms of Use for permitted reuse.
Many websites permit the reproduction of limited amounts of material for non-commercial or educational purposes.

Keep in mind that just because content is free to access on the internet, it does not mean it is free to reuse without permission.
  • Student’s own previously published content. Refer to special considerations for hybrid thesis and thesis by publication below.

Seeking written copyright permission for reuse


Increasingly commercial publishers direct requests for permission to third-party online web forms provided by Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service.

These forms are generally accessed via a permissions link located on the journal article or book chapter webpage.

If requesting permission via RightLinks ensure the type of use is specified as ‘post in an institutional repository’ for inclusion in espace.

Permisssions request template

The permissions request template provides guidance on the type of information to include when approaching a copyright holder directly for permission.

For example when seeking permission, specify the thesis will be made available online via Curtin’s Institutional Repository, espace. It is also worth noting that reuse is for non-commercial and educational purposes, as this may increase the willingness of the copyright holder to provide permission.

Ensure permission from the copyright owner is in writing (email is acceptable) and retain a copy of the correspondence received. Comply with any conditions imposed by the copyright owner in the permission.

Include permissions in the thesis as an appendix

Students are required to include:

  • a declaration in the body of their thesis stating all copyright material, where necessary, has been reproduced with permission; and
  • a copy of all permissions in an appendix to their thesis.

Special considerations for hybrid thesis or thesis by publication

If a student intends to include a substantial amount of a journal article, conference paper or book chapter they have previously published, presented or co-authored, they will need to make sure they are entitled to reuse this material and communicate it online through espace.

Retaining copyright over material previously published?

HDR students are advised to carefully read the terms and conditions of all publishing agreements to understand what rights are assigned to the publisher and what rights they retain as the author.

Often publishers will require an author to transfer their copyright as a condition of acceptance of the paper. This means the publisher holds copyright over the material and the author will need to seek permission from the publisher to reuse their own content.

Students are advised to be aware of the wide range of terms contained in publisher agreements. For example publisher agreements may determine:

  • The permitted version of the paper that can be deposited into an institutional repository;
  • The requirement to embargo content deposited into an institutional repository for a specified time period.

More information on the correct version of a paper to deposit in espace can be found here.

In circumstances where a student has misplaced their publishing agreement, they can refer to the website SHERPA/RoMEO for a useful summary of publisher policies. Information includes the appropriate manuscript version to place in an institutional repository and any applicable embargo periods.

Generally publishers will not allow students to insert an image of the final published version of a paper in a thesis that is made public. However as of June 2017, Elsevier amended their publishing policy to allow HDR students to deposit published versions of papers embedded in their thesis into institutional repositories. Please refer to Elsevier Article Sharing for further information.

Written a journal article or research paper jointly with someone else e.g. supervisor?

HDR students are required to check if permission is required to reproduce all or part of the content in their thesis, including material they have co-authored.

Where students have obtained permission to reproduce a co-authored paper, it is essential the published version is acknowledged and correctly referenced. This makes it clear to the reader that the section has been reproduced from another source. A student is at risk of self-plagiarism if they neglect to do this.

In circumstances where a student has modified or adapted content from a published work, they may still require permission to reproduce the material.  Likewise the student will need to make clear in the acknowledgment that the thesis section has been derived from an earlier version.

Acknowledging the source of material

Regardless of the type of copyright material a student wishes to reuse in their thesis, full citation details for all third party material must be correctly documented.  Acknowledging the source of material is standard academic practice and also a requirement under the ‘moral rights’ provisions of the Copyright Act.  Refer to the Library’s Referencing LibGuide for more information.

Not able to obtain copyright permission?

In some circumstances it may not be possible to obtain copyright permission for reuse.

Provided only a ‘reasonable portion’ of copyright material is reused, it is permissible for a student to retain the copyright material in the thesis version submitted for examination.  The ‘fair dealing’ provision for research and study does cover reproduction of a reasonable portion of copyright material for examination purposes.

The student will then be required to either:

  •  Remove the copyright material from the thesis version submitted to espace and direct readers to the publisher version by replacing the content with statement such as:

The [insert full name and bibliographic information of publication/image] is unable to be reproduced here due to copyright restrictions. The content can instead be accessed via [insert URL, DOI or name of publication etc.].

  • Request a permanent exemption for the copyright material when submitting the thesis into espace.

For further information refer to the espace Thesis Submission webpage.