Copyright is a legal right given to the owner of an original creative work, including books, journal articles, images, computer programming codes, music, films, etc. It grants the copyright owner (with a limited number of years) a set of exclusive rights, including:
reproduce the work, in whole or in part;
distribute copies of the work;
publicly display the work; and
prepare derivative works based on the original, such as translations or adaptations.
Under Hong Kong's Copyright Ordinance (Cap. 528), it is not necessary to register a copyright in Hong Kong - works are protected by copyright automatically at the time of their creation. Copyright can be assigned or transferred to another party, e.g. the author can transfer the copyright to the publisher.
The University considers the protection of intellectual property (including copyright) a serious matter. Copying of copyrighted materials, without the license of copyright owner, may be regarded as a statutory offense. Inclusion of copyrighted materials in research work, if not considered as fair dealing, will require prior permission from the copyright owner.
Fair dealing is an exemption of copyright, which aims to help teachers and students to make reasonable use of copyrighted works for teaching and learning, research or private study purposes without infringing copyright (Hong Kong's Copyright Ordinance Cap. 528, Sec. 38). To determine whether an act of dealing is fair, the following 4 factors will be considered:
The purpose and nature of the dealing (whether for-profit or not-for-profit)
The nature of the work (whether factual or creative)
The amount and substantiality of the portion dealt with in relation to the work as a whole (whether small or substantial)
The effect on potential market for or value of the work (whether has no effect or can replace a sale)
A student quotes a short quotation from a journal article in his thesis work can be considered as fair dealing;
A student reuses a table or image from a journal article in his thesis work will not be considered as fair dealing and therefore the student needs to obtain the permission from the copyright owner (usually the publisher).
Inclusion of copyrighted materials in research work, if not considered as fair dealing, will require prior permission from the copyright owner.
Obtaining permission is a process of getting consent from a copyright owner to use the owner's creative works. It's often called "licensing" - when you have permission, you have a license to use the work.
► Steps to obtain a permission:
Step 1. Check who owns the copyright of the material
The author of a work is the copyright owner; for works that are created in the course of employment, the owner is usually the employer. The table below lists the copyright owner for different type of works.
Usually the Publisher, unless the work is published in open access (where authors retain the copyright)
Usually the photographer or the image creator
Check with the website owner or publisher and ask about the details about the copyright owner
For PolyU students and staff, the details of copyright issues of a research work (e.g. journal publications, thesis) are stated in PolyU Staff Handbook - Intellectual Property (4.5 Copyright) and PolyU Research Student Handbook (23.2.2 Intellectual Property). Do note that the copyright of the journal publication may be transferred to the Publisher upon publication. You may refer to Copyright Transfer on Published Works for more information. As the Intellectual Property conditions of each research work may be different, it is always good to check with your supervisor on how to deal with copyright transfer of your research work whenever in doubt.
For other type of works, where RightsLink is not offered, you should consider writing to the copyright owner to seek permission. The message should give the details of the material you wish to use and how you intend to use it, and state that you would need their written reply when offering the permission.
Refer to A sample from UBC Library or Sample Permissions Letter as an example.
Step 3. Acknowledge the permission you have obtained in your work
After obtaining permission, clearly acknowledge the permission in your research work by including a note, e.g. "Reprinted / Adapted from (the Citation). Copyright (Year), with permission from (the Copyright Owner)."
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We recommend that you keep a clear record of all the copyright materials included in your research work, including the permission documents, email proof, etc.
►Do I need to pay to obtain a permission?
The copyright owner does not always charge when granting a permission. For example, to reuse a part from a publication in your own research work usually costs zero as reflected on the permission document issued at the end of the application process. However, there are chances that the author of work asks for a charge for a permission. If you do not wish to pay for the permission, you may consider the following solutions:
Exclude it from your work; or
For long quotations: rewrite to express the ideas in your own words and format;
► Would I still infringe on copyright if I properly attributed the source by citing it?
Many are confused between copyright infringement and plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing off someone’s work as your own without giving proper acknowledgment, while copyright infringement is using someone’s creative work without permission. Therefore, citing the source of a copyrighted work (e.g. figure/diagram) does not mean that copyright of that work has been cleared - you are still required to obtain permission to reuse the work unless your situation can be covered under fair dealing. Also remember that there are situations where plagiarism and copyright infringement can occur in the same case, e.g. submitting a photograph (creative work) taken by someone else from the Internet using your name (passing off as your own). In such cases, you may need to cite after obtaining permission to use the work.
Contact us if you need assistance from a librarian.
Stim, R. (2004). Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Nolo.
To ask for permission from publishers used to be a complicated and time-consuming issue. Nowadays, the process has been dramatically simplified with the help of online permission services, such as RightsLink® from Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). Many major publishers have partnered with CCC and integrated their platforms with RightsLink. This means that you could request a permission directly from publisher's site by filling out a simple form.
Step 1. Locate the article from the database or journal, and click on "Get rights and content". In other databases, it can be "Request permissions", or "Reprints & Permissions".
Step 2. The RightsLink page will then be launched. Click on "Make a selection" to choose how you wish to reuse this article.
Step 3. Fill out the form and click on "Quick Check" to check the price. In most cases, to reuse a part of the article (e.g., text, figures, tables) in a new research work (e.g., journal article, book, thesis) is free of charge.
Step 4. Click "Continue" and create an account on CCC if you have not done so. After signing in, you will be asked to provide some details about your research work, e.g., your name and contact information, article title, journal and the publisher you plan to submit your work to.
Step 5. Finally you will arrive at this page - an e-version agreement that consists of your license details and the terms and conditions provided by the publisher and CCC. With this agreement, you are now permitted to reuse part of this article in your research work. Note that you may be required to submit this agreement along with your article submission.
Major publishers all define their guidelines regarding how to request a permission to reuse their copyrighted content. Visit the guideline of individual publishers for details:
Copyright Issues Related to Thesis and Journal Publication
Research students may come across copyright issues when working on their thesis project. On one hand, they may include copyright materials in their thesis, such as a quote from a journal article, an image from a website, or reuse the material from their own journal publication, in which the copyright may have been transferred to the publisher. On the other hand, students may also wish to publish journal articles that are resulted from the research done in their thesis. In either situation, students need to deal with copyright issues. Here are some suggestions:
Reuse Copyrighted Materials in Thesis
To reuse copyright materials in the thesis work, author needs make sure that certain permission has been obtained from the copyright owner. However, there are some exceptions that allow reusing copyrighted materials without permission for research or private study purposes, e.g. to quote a short quotation from a journal article in the thesis work. Some publishers also allow authors to reuse their own journal articles in part or in full in their thesis work. Refer to our guides to learn more about obtaining a permission from the copyright owner and fair dealing.
Note that citing the source of a copyrighted work does not mean that the copyright has been cleared - the author is still required to obtain permission unless the situation can be covered under fair dealing.
Publish Journal Articles Resulted from Thesis
There are chances that the author will be asked by the journal editor to confirm the copyright issue of turning part of his/her thesis work into a journal publication. Generally, publishers would not have issues with publishing papers as a resulting from the student thesis, as long as
1) the article contains materials that have been extensively revised from the thesis, and 2) the student/author has given credit to his/her thesis work in the article.
Note that a copy of the research student's thesis may be uploaded to the institutional repository (PIRA) for public access. Students can apply for a delay of making their thesis openly access by submitting an application to Research Office (RO) before the submission of their thesis. For details, please check with RO or refer to Research Student Handbook, Sec. 10.7.