Theses & Copyright

What does the copyright protect?*

The copyright law protects intellectual creative works. The law protects the form not the idea. This form must be original and innovative.

Becoming an author *

Persons become authors by creating a work, without further formalities. It is the author who has full ownership rights, and more in detail:

- moral rights (paternity, integrity, withdrawal of the work from the market), which the author always retains and are not transferable;
- economic use rights and economic rights (distribution, communication, reproduction, translation, etc.), which may be transferred in part or exclusively.

Use of protected materials in theses*

In general, material and parts of material in the public domain, or material for which written authorisation for their use has been obtained from the entitled parties, can be included in theses. Including in the thesis material or blocks of material of others, for which the proper authorisation had not been obtained, constitutes a serious breach. […]

- Photos/images: under Sec. 70, Sub-sec. 1-bis of Copyright Law No. 633/1941 “the unrestricted publication, free of charge, of low resolution or degraded images and music for educational or scientific use, via the internet, is permitted and only in the case where such use is not for profit […]”. Therefore, it is also possible to use protected images in a thesis that will go online provided the quality of the images is degraded or has a low resolution.

- Articles: Great care is to be taken with the insertion of parts of articles. Since, in addition to the rights of possible authors (other than the candidate), publication rights may also exist, it is always advisable to request the publisher’s authorisation. In the case of parts of articles published by the same author the contract entered into with the publisher should be assessed in order to establish whether there has been a transfer of rights or not. However, the use of such material is subject to the written authorisation of the party that holds the rights (in the majority of cases the publisher). However, inserting complete articles in theses is to be avoided. Resorting to a mention of such articles, both in the text and in the bibliography, is to be preferred.

- Brief quotations: Brief quotations from other protected works may be inserted by mentioning the source, subject to the limits envisaged under Sec. 70 of the Copyright Law (“If the abstract, quotation or reproduction […] is carried out for teaching or scientific research purposes, then such use, moreover, is to be made for purposes of illustration and for non-commercial purposes.”).

- Sensitive data: Theses must not contain sensitive or personal data (data which enable the identity of the persons to be traced in some way).



N.B.: In any event, Sec. 70, Sub-sec. 3 of the Copyright Law envisages that the abstract, quotation or reproduction are always to be accompanied by a mention of the title of the work, by the names of the author, the publisher and the translator, if applicable, if they can be inferred from the reproduced work.

How to request permission to use third party material*

The request is to be sent to whoever holds the rights (in the majority of cases the publisher to which the economic exploitation rights have been transferred). It is appropriate for the request to indicate the following:

- Contact address: including the postal address, telephone and e-mail;
- Details regarding the material for which authorisation is requested;
- Details regarding the use of the material: the full article, parts of the article, graphs or tables;
- Details on the way the material will be used, including information that the thesis will be included in an open access archive.

Is the material on the Internet protected?*

Any work published on the Internet is subject to the same protection as any other work published in analogue format. One could think, in good faith, that everything to be found on the Internet is in the public domain; on the contrary, not all the material that is publicly available is in the public domain.

[…] The material that is downloaded cannot be used indiscriminately and inserted in publications (digital or printed), in websites, or used to create derivative works without any authorisation.

Some of the material available on the Internet is subject to Creative Commons licenses (learn more about the use of CC Licences here), which authorise well-defined uses.

Photographs and photographic works

As a general rule the photographer owns the copyright: this means that normally the use of a photograph is not permitted without the photographer’s express and explicit authorisation.

“The images of persons or aspects, features or facts of natural and social life, obtained using the photographic process or an analogue process, including the reproductions of works of figurative art and the frames of films are considered to be photographs”, under Sec. 87 of the Copyright Law. An exclusive copyright exists regarding these types of photograph that lasts twenty years from the date the photograph was taken.

A distinction is made between simple photographs and photographic works, in terms of “creative” works, which benefit from the same protection envisaged under Sec. 2 of the Copyright Law, namely, 70 years from the death of the author.

Using images not covered by copyright

This category includes images which are in the public domain: due to statutory time limits, due to the expiry of the time limits for the economic exploitation of the work or when the author waives exercising his/her rights.

Images out of copyright may be used without requesting any authorisation, but always subject to the obligation of mentioning the author (if identifiable) because, unlike economic rights, moral rights – namely, acknowledging the authorship of the work - do not have an expiry date.

Google images provides a tool to filter images based on their usage licences:

Using portraits of people

“The portrait of a person cannot be exhibited, reproduced or placed on the market without the consent of the person concerned, except in the cases when reproduction of the image is justified by the notoriety or by the public office held, by judicial or police requirements, by scientific, educational or cultural needs, when the reproduction is connected to facts, events, ceremonies of public interest or performed in public.” (Secs. 96-97 of the Copyright Law).

Therefore, if a photograph that depicts the face of a person is used, then the authorisation is required from both the person portrayed, and from the author of the portrait, if different from its user.


*Extract from the document: “PhD thesis and copyright” edited by the Open Access group of the CRUI (Conference of Rectors of Italian Universities). Work released under the Creative Commons License: Attribution - Non-Commercial - Share alike (BY-NC-SA, 2.5 Italy). The full document can be downloaded here.