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A general introduction to copyright.

This section provides an overview of the concept of copyright, including what works are protected, how long it lasts, what copying is permitted and what constitutes infringement. It also gives advice on the use of quotations, and on what is meant by “fair dealing”.

Please see our guide for updated information on this issue

Definition of copyright

"Copyright" is a term used to define the legal property right subsisting in various works which result from the intellect of the creator. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 was introduced to give legal protection to the creators of such works in order to prevent exploitation by others and to ensure creators’ moral rights. Copyright may be sold or given away by the author (hence the copyright owner of a book can often be the publisher).

Moral rights are separate from the rights governing economic exploitation, but are equally important. These belong to the creator of the work and provide them with the right to be identified as such (i.e. the right to be acknowledged through referencing) and with the right of integrity (i.e. not to be misrepresented, for example, through misquotation or adaptation).

No formal procedures are required in the UK for copyright protection to apply. This is automatic, provided that:

  • the work is recorded in writing or some other material form. There is no copyright in ideas;
  • there is some originality in the work;
  • the work has been produced by a qualified person or body, generally a British subject or corporation, or the work was first published in the UK. However, most foreign material is protected by international treaties.

Works protected by copyright

Copyright protects:

  1. original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. This includes computer programs and databases; tables and compilations; photographs and drawings; and the more obvious instances of books and journals. These works do not have to be published in printed form; electronic materials, e.g. Web pages, are also protected.
  2. sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes, including video recordings.
  3. typographical arrangements of published editions.

Copyright does not protect an idea, it only protects the material form in which that idea is expressed. There is no copyright in an idea until it has been recorded, e.g. in written form.

For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works the material must be original. Original means that the material needs to originate from the author, rather than being copied from another piece of work. Some element of independent skill or labour is required, but that element need not be great.

Copyright infringement

The CDPA 1988 gives the copyright owners the exclusive right to their works, which includes the right to:

  • copy the work;
  • issue copies of the work to the public;
  • perform, show or play the work in public;
  • broadcast the work;
  • make an adaptation of the work.

Anyone else performing these acts without specific permission of the copyright owner is infringing copyright and may be sued for damages if a court rules that a "substantial part" is involved which might adversely affect the rights holder by, for example, leading to loss of income. "Substantial" may refer to quality as well as quantity; for example, a short musical phrase may be considered substantial if it is the key theme of the whole work. In cases of deliberate infringement for profit (for example, producing “pirate” copies) those infringing may be criminally liable and subject to punitive damages or imprisonment.

"Copying" means reproducing the work in any material form, including storing works in electronic format so, for example, includes scanning as well as photocopying, or downloading from a website.

Copyright duration

Different time limits apply to copyright in different formats. The most common are listed below.

Copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.

If the work is of unknown authorship, copyright expires at the end of a period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public.

Computer generated works and films are protected for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were first released.

Sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were first released.

Permitted copying

Certain exceptions permit copying a copyright work if all the conditions of that exception are satisfied. Generally, selling or hiring a copy made under these exceptions invalidates the protection. The main exceptions affecting staff and students are outlined below.

  1. Fair dealing: The CDPA 1988 allows individuals to make a single copy of a "reasonable proportion" of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works for their own private study or research for non-commercial purposes.
  2. Copying for instructional purposes: multiple copying for educational purposes is not permitted by the Act. However, a number of licensing arrangements have been developed to enable academic institutions to make copies of certain printed materials and off-air recordings subject to strict conditions. Consult the relevant Licences for details.
  3. Copying for examination purposes: For the purposes of setting examination questions or providing the answers, anything may be copied except sheet music, which may not be copied for performance by the candidate. The source of material should always be acknowledged.

Use of quotations

Where a member of staff or a student is including or making reference to material which is not their own (i.e. which is someone else’s copyright) in teaching materials or assignments, the source of that material should always be acknowledged.

With such acknowledgement, it is legitimate to include quotations for the purposes of criticism and review. As with Fair dealing, there are no legally defined limits, but generally accepted guidance has hitherto been:

  • One extract of no more than 400 words*;
  • Several extracts of no more than 300 words each, and totalling no more than 800 words;
  • Up to 40 lines from a poem (not exceeding more that 25% of the total).

Shorter quotations of a few words or sentences may be used to illustrate a point, but not to replace using your own words. These must also be correctly acknowledged.

*The Publishers’ Association is now stating in its Permissions Guidelines (March 2008) that this rule of thumb may be “misleading”. You should therefore think very carefully about the amount being quoted, and its purpose – a “significant element” of actual criticism and review is required for this exception to apply.

Failure to adhere to the limits outlined above, and to properly acknowledge where you have used the work of others, may result in breaking copyright law. It may also lead to committing plagiarism, which is a disciplinary offence in the University. You may find the following library guides useful:

"Fair dealing" guidelines

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 permits individuals to make a single copy of a "reasonable proportion" of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works for their own private study or research for non-commercial purposes under the terms of "fair dealing".

Fair dealing is a concept which has never been fully defined in law, and does not in itself give specific permission to copy. What is deemed “fair” may vary from case to case. It is acceptable as a defence only if the act of copying does not unfairly deprive copyright owners of revenue or other benefits. For example, the copying of a single line of text may be deemed unfair if this is the key to the plot of a book. However, acceptable norms have been arrived at over time through custom and practice. Fair Dealing as outlined in the CPDA 1988 applies to the copying of printed materials, but does not specify the means by which the copy is made. The guidelines below may therefore be applied both to photocopying and scanning from an original.

As a rule of thumb, you are advised not to copy beyond these limits under fair dealing:

  • One article in a single issue of a journal or set of conference proceedings, or a single law report;
  • An extract from a book amounting to 5% of the whole or a complete chapter, whichever is greater;
  • A whole poem or short story from a collection, provided the item is not more than 10 pages;
  • Up to 10% (maximum of 20 pages) per short book (without chapters), report, pamphlet or Standard Specification;
  • One separate illustration or map up to A4 size;
  • Short excerpts only from musical works (not whole works or movements). No copying is allowed for performance purposes.

Do nothing which could prevent you from signing, if required, a declaration to the effect that:

  • You have not previously obtained a copy of the same material;
  • You will only use the copy for (non-commercial) research and private study and will not supply a copy to another person;
  • To the best of your knowledge, no other person with whom you work or study has made, or intends to make, at about the same time, a copy of substantially the same material for the same purpose;
  • You understand that you may be liable for infringement of copyright if the copy you make does not conform to these requirements.

Infringement of copyright rests with the person making the copy, not with the providers of the equipment.

If you need to exceed the limits set out above, you should either do so under the terms of the University's current CLA Higher Education Photocopying and Scanning Licence or obtain permission from the copyright owner, in writing, before you copy.