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Copyright for students - know your rights and responsibilities.

Almost all the learning resources that you use as a student – books, periodicals, videos, software, etc. - will be covered by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. You need to understand the basics of copyright so that you obey the law, avoid plagiarism, and know how to protect your work.

Please see our guide for updated information on this issue

Almost all the learning resources that you use as a student – books, periodicals, videos, software, etc. - will be covered by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This prohibits copying someone else's copyright material unless (a) you have their permission or (b) it falls within the limits allowed for “fair dealing”. The University has a responsibility to ensure that its students are fully aware of the principles of the law. Students are responsible for making sure they do not break the law. If you do, the consequences for you as an individual, as well as for the University, may be severe. Obeying copyright law and licences will also help you from falling into the trap of plagiarism, which is a disciplinary offence at the University.

Copying for private study and research: fair dealing

There are some things that the Act does allow you to do for the purposes of your own study, within reasonable limits, under what is known as “fair dealing”. 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.

Copying for criticism and review: quoting others’ work

There will be times when you wish to include, or make reference to, material which is not your own (i.e. which is someone else’s copyright) when completing an assignment. It is legitimate to include quotations for the purposes of criticism and review, but you must make sure that such material is properly acknowledged or cited. See the section on use of quotations for more detail.

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. You may find the following library guides useful:


The University has also taken out a number of licences which permit its students and staff to copy more than is allowed by the Act, although what can be copied is still strictly limited. The most important of these for students is the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Higher Education Photocopying and Scanning Licence which permits reprographic copying (scanning or photocopying from paper originals) of multiple copies. This covers such things as class handouts. The making or receiving of photocopies of copyright material which are in excess of the licence, or buying photocopies which are being sold for profit, are illegal activities that can attract severe penalties.

Digital copyright

Copyright does not only cover printed materials, but also includes information in electronic format, whether that is music, films, software, or material on the Internet. Because copying from digital media is so much easier than from print, you need to be especially careful.

You should not:

  • make, store, transmit or make available illicit copies of such material on the University’s computers, networks or storage media. As well as being illegal, this breaches the University’s own regulations and may lead to disciplinary proceedings;
  • put copyright material on the Internet without permission from the copyright owner. Check the information on Copyright and the internet for more detail;
  • download music from the internet without permission of the rightsowner. This is illegal;
  • circulate your coursework on the internet. If it contains copyright-protected material you are probably breaking the law. If it is all your own work, you risk this being plagiarised. . You might want to take a look at the Creative Commons licensing initiative. Applying a Creative Commons licence means you can allow other people to use your work under specified conditions and provided they give you credit, but you still keep your copyright.

You should make sure you’re familiar with the details of what’s allowed, and should also read the copyright notices near all photocopiers and in any publication you wish to copy. If in doubt, ask a member of the library staff before you copy.