Reproducing published extracts, images, figures, etc. in your PhD thesis

When your thesis is deposited in Spiral and made available to the public, legally it will be viewed as published and you must get permission to reproduce any extracts, images, figures, etc. for which you do not own the copyright (you can use works which are out of copyright without permission).

These are called third party copyright works.

Third party copyright

Step 1: identify third party copyright works

Identify works where you do not own the copyright, including:

  • Your own published works where copyright has been assigned to the publisher
  • Substantial amounts of text from books, journal articles, websites, etc.
  • Whole journal articles or conference papers
  • Images, photographs, figures, tables or graphs
  • Maps
  • Databases or data
  • Computer programs
  • Web pages

Step 2: decide if permission must be sought

You don't need to seek permission where:

Your use is covered by the fair dealing exception for criticism, review and quotation in copyright law

You may use an extract of a third party work without permission provided it has already been made available to the public and is sufficiently acknowledged, see Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 30 and The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014.

How much you use is not defined in law, so you will need to decide if an author may object to your actions - obtain permission for anything more than a short quotation.

A work is out of copyright

In the UK most work is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.

You already have permission

You may already have permission through a licence (e.g. Creative Commons), a publishing agreement, or terms and conditions of use (often found on a website) - check this includes making the work publicly available.

In all other cases, you must seek permission - if you do not, you are breaking copyright law and the copyright holder may ask you to remove your thesis from Spiral and/or ask for financial compensation.

Step 3: identify the copyright holder

Where you need to seek permission, identify the copyright holder - you may need to go to the original source. Look for the copyright symbol © followed by the name of the author or publisher (e.g. © 2012 IOP Publishing Ltd).

Journal and conference papers - at the bottom of the page or PDF

Books - on the reverse of the title page at the front of the book (look out for separate copyright information next to images)

Websites - at the bottom of the website or as part of the item description on a content sharing site e.g. YouTube or Flickr

To find author contact details, try the WATCH Project or Society of Authors

If you can't trace the copyright holder it is important to assess the risk of reproducing the work - they may take legal action for unauthorised use and request financial compensation. If you include the work, show evidence that you carried out a ‘good faith’ search for the author’s contact details and record this in your permission summary table (see Step 5).

Step 4: request permission

If you don't have permission to reproduce a work, you must request it from the copyright holder.  If the copyright holder is a publisher, you can usually do this online on the article webpage or via Rightslink.  If you need to email or send a letter, use our Request to reproduce an extract from a third party's published work (Word) template.

Do not leave this to the end of your writing-up period as publishers can take a long time to reply via email or letter. If you do not get a reply, contact them again after 4-6 weeks.

Keep a copy of all request letters and replies.

Step 5: store and collate permissions information

You are required to submit an appendix containing proof of permission, where this has been granted, and letters requesting permission, where no reply was received.

You can use the Permissions summary table for third party copyright works Word template. If used, this template must accompany the original proof of permission(s) in your appendix.

If a publisher offers to charge you a fee to reproduce their content, and you do not wish to pay it, or if they refuse permission, you must not include the work in your thesis.   Instead, replace it with a reference or description and provide a link (URL) to the original work.

Step 6: acknowledge permission

Where permission has been granted, cite and reference the extract and add a statement next to the content, e.g.“Image reproduced with permission of the rights holder, Elsevier.”

Step 7: make clear what others may do with your thesis

The College requires a copyright statement to be included at the beginning of your thesis. It is important as it tells readers what they may and may not do with the content of your thesis.

PhD students, registered for an Imperial College London Degree are allowed to choose a licence for their thesis from the six licences offered by Creative Commons. Visit Selecting a Creative Commons Licence for more information about these licences and to select a copyright statement for your thesis.

Types of third party copyright works


Extracts include text or tables from books, journal articles, manuscripts, etc., and computer programs.

Seek permission to reproduce more than a short quotation from a literary work (as defined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 Section 3). 

You may be able to reproduce an extract under fair dealing exceptions but how much you may copy is not legally defined and you will need to judge for yourself how likely it is that the copyright holder would object to your actions. If in doubt seek permission.

Artistic works

Artistic works include images, figures, photographs or graphs.

You hold the copyright for any unpublished artistic works you create.

Seek permission to reproduce any other artistic work, including those on the internet, see Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 Section 4.

  • Check the text associated with an image as the rights may belong to someone other than the author of the text
  • If an image is on a website there may be a licence associated to it (e.g. Flickr images licenced "all rights reserved" may not be used without permission, but those with a Creative Commons licence may)
  • Some people post artistic works on the web when they do not have the right to do so - reusing these images, even with their permission, is high risk
  • If the photograph is of an item in a museum or gallery, seek the permission of the museum, gallery or artist - there may be information on their website
  • When including your own photographs of other people - make sure you have their permission if they can be easily identified (unless they are incidental as part of the background), consider the ethics of using photographs of people, e.g. photos of children, images of a sensitive nature or photographs of people now deceased which may distress their family.


Treat maps as artistic works.

Ordnance Survey maps

Ordnance Survey maps older than 50 years can be reproduced without permission. Seek permission to reproduce more recent Ordnance Survey maps.

You may reproduce maps from Digimap (but not digital data) under the terms of our Digimap licence:

  • Use the correct copyright statement and acknowledge the source of the data in your references e.g. for a map downloaded in 2011, use the statement '© Crown Copyright/database right 2011. An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service.'
  • The map must be presented as an image and in a format that prevents it from being extracted and reused
  • Digital data and mapping in GeoPDF format may not be used
  • The map must not be accompanied by drawing or measuring tools
  • The image must be no bigger than 1048576 pixels, the size of a 1024x1024 image

Google maps

Google allow their maps to be used non-commercially in books, research papers and other related publications so long as your use is fair, you abide by the terms of use and attribute them as the creator. See Using Google Maps, Google Earth and Street View for more details.

Data and databases

Databases are either protected by copyright law as literary works or by database right.

Seek permission to reproduce substantial extracts of data unless they are offered for reuse under a Creative Commons licence, Open Government Licence or Open Data Commons licence.

Websites / web pages

Websites and web pages are protected by copyright in the same way as print materials, however in many cases there will be a licence which extends the usual permissions.

E-journal and e-book licences - seek permission to include a whole paper, whole figure, more than a short paragraph of text, etc. - our licences do not permit content to be made public

Creative Commons - you may reproduce works offered under a Creative Commons licence - make sure you acknowledge the creator of the work and include a link to the licence.

Websites - check website terms and conditions - usually displayed at the bottom of the page. Seek permission if your intended usage is not covered (the phrase ‘private non-commercial use’ does not cover reproduction in your thesis).