Using library materials

Researchers may use library materials in the same way as students, see Copyright for students.

As research is a collaborative activity you may wish to share papers downloaded from Imperial’s e-journals with colleagues. The safest way to do this is to provide your colleague with a link to a paper so they can access it using their own account. If a project member is not a member of Imperial, sharing open access articles from a repository can help with access issues.

If you choose to share full-text copies, it is your responsibility to ensure that they are stored in a secure area of the College network that is only accessible to Imperial staff working on your project. To share copies with researchers outside the College would be in breach of Imperial’s licences.

Study and research

Data and database rights


Data is not protected by copyright. It is an output of numbers, images and other measurements and is not regarded as a creative process.


Tables are protected by copyright as literary works. Arranging data in a table is viewed as a creative process.


A database may be protected by copyright or by database rights.

  • To be protected by copyright the database must show originality in the selection or the arrangement of its content.
  • To be protected by database rights, the database owner must demonstrate that there has been a substantial investment in obtaining and verifying the content of the database. Experimental data is most likely to fall into this category.

Database rights are like copyright - there is no registration and it is automatic.

Database rights prevent others from unfairly extracting and reusing a substantial amount of your data. Reusing an insubstantial amount of a publicly available database is, however, permitted.

Database rights last for 15 years from creation and 15 years from the point of publication.

Reusing other people's databases

Copyright and licensing information should be displayed alongside a database. If there is no information, assume that the data is protected either by copyright or database rights and that to reuse a substantial amount of the data you will need to seek the rights holder's permission.

Licensing your own data

Imperial's Research Data Management policy does not specify a preferred licence for data and databases so are free to choose one of the six Creative Commons licences or a data specific licence. You must, however, select a licence that enables you to meet the data sharing requirements of your funder. If you have opted to use an external data hosting service, such as Zenodo or Figshare, it is a good idea to check what licensing options they offer before you upload your data.

Data access statements

Imperial authors must always include a data access statement in their research papers. The statement explains how the data linked to the paper can be accessed. It is condition of receiving funding from the UK Research Councils and some other funders, see Research Data Management.

Text and data mining

There is a UK specific, copyright exception that permits you to copy and analyse copyrighted materials on condition that:

  • you have lawful access
  • your research is non-commercial
  • the copy is sufficiently acknowledged, unless this would be impractical
  • the copies made under this exception are not used for any other purpose

Lawful access is defined as the right to read a work and includes access paid for by Library Services. You can read more in the IPO guide Exceptions to copyright: Research

So long as you are confident that your activity is covered by this exception, go ahead. Should a publisher get in touch with the Library about unusual levels of downloading, we will check that your activity conforms with the exception and pass this information back to the publisher.

Publishers and other content providers apply technical measures to protect the security and stability of their services. Please inform Library Services if a publisher is unreasonably restricting your ability to mine their resource.

Where it is impractical to list each paper you have copied from a database, you should acknowledge the database.

Publishing agreements

Once your paper has been accepted for publication, the publisher will ask you to sign a publishing agreement. This is a contract between you and the publisher and once signed is legally binding. You may sign the publishing agreement as the copyright holder because Imperial, through its IP policy, waives its right as an employer to claim copyright in research publications.

A publishing agreement lists the rights the publisher is asking you to grant them, so that they can legally publish the paper and exploit it commercially, and the rights the publisher allows authors to retain. Read the agreement carefully and make sure you are happy before you sign it. 

Publishing agreements vary. Some ask authors to transfer copyright to the publisher making them the copyright owner. The majority request an exclusive licence to publish the work and to exploit it in all formats going forward. A few offer a non-exclusive licence to publish allowing authors to reuse the paper’s contents in future publications without permission and payment to the original publisher. If you know you want to reuse all or part of a paper in future papers, conference talks or teaching materials then look for a journal where you retain copyright and/or the right to reuse your content in these situations. Alternatively, publish open access with a Creative Commons Licence because all  Creative Commons licences permit sharing and reuse of licensed content (see Open Access).

 Papers sometimes contain works for which you are not the copyright owner, for example figures from a published paper or photos taken by someone who is not one of the authors. In the publishing agreement, the publisher will ask you to guarantee that you have sufficient permission to publish them as part of your paper.

Creative Commons licences

Creative Commons licences are a set of six standard licences that a copyright owner can apply to their work. Each licence allows a person viewing the licensed work to copy and share the work with others. To find out more visit Creative Commons.

You will come across Creative Commons licences in a number of research situations. For example, they can be applied to datasets, found in open access publishing agreements and included in funder’s policies.

Many research funders now require the research they fund to be published under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY).

Self-publication of papers and reports

When you make a report, briefing or working paper available on the web without the help of a commercial publisher you become the publisher and this means thinking about some of the things a publisher would normally look after. It becomes your job to tell others how you would like your work cited and who to contact for permission to reuse all or part of the publication. It is you who must decide whether to retain copyright or license your publication with a Creative Commons licence to increase its visibility and to allow others to build upon your work.

Sometimes you will include text and figures from previously published papers, and these are normally licensed exclusively to the publisher. If you want to include previously published materials, make sure your reuse is permitted because your use is Quotation, Criticism or Review, the paper is licensed with a suitable Creative Commons License or that you have obtained written permission from the publisher. Most publisher will direct you to RightsLink, an automated permission request system.

For more detailed information see Protecting your assets: copyright and licensing advice for online reports, briefing papers and working papers

Social media and academic networking

Twitter, blogs and Facebook

When promoting copyrighted materials on social media such as Twitter, blogs and facebook, provide readers with a link to the original source of the content and not a copy of the work.

Make sure any photos you include in your tweet are your own, licensed with a Creative Commons licence, or display terms of use that permit redistribution on the web.

Academic networks

Academic networks such as ResearchGate, and Mendeley encourage researchers to share papers. When adding your own papers it is up to you to decide if you have permission to upload the full text. If you are unsure, it is safest to provide a link.

When using other researchers' papers, be aware that they may have been uploaded without the publisher’s permission and may not be a lawful copy of the work.

Sharing slides

Before sharing your slides on the internet,  consider whether you have permission to share all the content in your slides, publicly and with many others. Can you defend your use of published figures or quotes as criticism, review, and quotation?  If not check for licensing information and request permission where necessary.


Using copyrighted materials in a presentation

You may use copyrighted materials in a presentation where:

  • you are the author and, on publishing, you retained the right to perform the work at a conference (check your publishing agreement)
  • Library Services subscribes to a journal under the JISC Model Licence. This licence includes permission to perform parts of the licensed materials in a conference presentation. To check, ASK the Library.
  • the work is licensed using a Creative Commons Licence or another licence that allows you to copy, share and perform the work in public.
  • you are only using an insubstantial part of the work or can defend your re-use as fair dealing under one of the exceptions in UK copyright law e.g. criticism, review, quotation and news reporting.

It is particularly important to check that you have permission to reuse images as they are considered a substantial part of a journal article or book.

All copyrighted materials must be cited and referenced.

Use of your presentation by others

If your presentation will be made available online by the conference organiser, it is important to check that your permission to use any copyrighted materials covers this activity.

See sharing slides.

PhD theses

It is College policy that all PhD theses are made publicly available on Spiral.

Before uploading the final corrected version of your thesis, you must check that you have permission to include all copyrighted works in your thesis and to offer them to readers under your chosen Creative Commons licence. If you are unable to get permission to reuse a work please remove it.

For further guidance see Preparing your thesis for submission.