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Copyright is an intellectual property that protects original creative works. It is important because it protects the interests of those who create and those who invest in creativity. If there were no copyright, it would be impossible for people to make a living from their creativity. No one would invest in a film, produce a record or publish a book, because there would be no way of earning a return on that investment.

The creator or owner has exclusive rights that cover reproduction, publication, dissemination or performance of the work. Copyright is applicable to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works as well as film, sound and broadcasts, and covers both printed and electronic material.  Unlike a patent or trademark, copyright does not have to be registered.  Works are automatically protected for specified period of time, whether or not they have a copyright statement or © symbol.

In the UK, copyright is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (amended in 2014).  The Act sets out the exceptional circumstances in which copyright material can be reused without the rights-holder's permission, including some educational scenarios. 

Check the Teaching, Studying and Research sections on this guide for more information.  Contact if you cannot find what you are looking for.

'Fair Dealing' in Higher Education

Certain exceptions apply if the use of the work is a ‘fair dealing’. For example, the exceptions relating to research and private study, criticism or review, or news reporting.

‘Fair dealing’ is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing - it will always be a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case. The question to be asked is: how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

Factors that have been identified by the courts as relevant in determining whether a particular dealing with a work is fair include:

  • Does using the work affect the market for the original work? If a use of a work acts as a substitute for it, causing the owner to lose revenue, then it is not likely to be fair
  • Is the amount of the work taken reasonable and appropriate? Was it necessary to use the amount that was taken? Usually only part of a work may be used

The relative importance of any one factor will vary according to the case in hand and the type of dealing in question.

Personal Responsibility

As a member of the University you have a responsibility to observe the law relating to copyright and you are encouraged to use the lawful exceptions applicable to the education sector.  Think about how you intend to use copyright works in your assignments, your research, your publications, your everyday life. You should respect copyright works whilst balancing your creative use of content to build upon shared knowledge. Infringing activity taking place at the University risks legal implications and there are reputation and financial risks associated with this!

Staying legal

The rights of copyright holders are protected in the UK by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CPDA), which came into force in August 1989. There have been many amendments over the years. It is worth bearing in mind that even when items are published abroad we still have to abide by UK law.  Full text of the legislation can be found here

The legislation prohibits any copying of works created by another person, unless under an exception to the law (see below), with explicit permission of the rights holder, or under a licence e.g. the CLA licence.

Exceptions under the CPDA allow us to copy materials for ‘Illustration for Instruction’, ‘Research and private study’, ‘Parody, caricature and pastiche’, ‘Text and data mining’ and ‘Criticism and Review’.  Refer to the Copyright for Teaching for more information on this, but here are some tips to stay on the right side of copyright law! :-

  • Always fully reference the material you use
  • Always check terms of use on websites before extracting any material, including images or sound clips
  • Always check the licence terms of e-books, journals etc. for restrictions on use and copying
  • Link to materials on webpages, rather than extracting and embedding them
  • Consider free resources for use of images
  • Keep a paper trail of any copyright permission you seek as you may be asked to prove it at a later stage