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Student Copyright Guide

How do I identify the copyright holder for material and how should I go about seeking permission from them if I want to use their material?

Most reputable sources of information will have some form of publication and/or copyright information statement. Look for the © symbol: on websites it is usually at the bottom of the webpage; in journals and books it is usually on the inside title page. If there is no author or creator listed, try looking for publishers' details.


A useful resource to try is WATCH (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders), a database of names and addresses of copyright holders or contact information for authors/artists with material housed in archives in America and the UK.


If you cannot find any copyright statement or reference to an author or copyright holder and do not want to spend time and effort tracking down the copyright holder, it may be wise to look for an alternative source of information.


If you require advice or assistance in identifying a copyright holder, please speak to the Copyright & Licensing Advisor.

What if I cannot identify the author or copyright holder?

A work where the copyright holder is either unknown or untraceable is known as an 'orphan work'. This often happens when a copyright holder is unaware that they own the copyright to a work, or when a holder has died and it is not clear to whom who his/her work has passed. Sometimes it may be that a company or organisation has ceased to exist and it is not clear to whom ownership of the work has passed. Very often it is simply that the work in question bears no stamp or record of ownership.


Unfortunately it is not permitted to use an orphan work simply because a copyright holder is unknown or unreachable. The work is still subject to copyright law, and the risk that a copyright holder may surface and object to the use is too great.

Template permission letter

When requesting permission to use copyrighted material in your PhD thesis, you may want to use the following example permission letter as a template.

It is important that you stress the open-access, online nature of the electronic copy of your thesis on UDORA - uploading a document online constitutes publishing it, and doing so without permission is taken seriously by many copyright holders.

Keeping track of any copyright permissions or licences you have obtained is useful and necessary for the lifetime of the item you wish to reproduce. This checklist will give you an idea of the type of information you need to keep.