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What is Copyright?

Copyright is an intellectual property right that allows the creator of an original work exclusive rights over its distribution and reuse for a defined period after the work's creation. This is designed to protect the creator's commercial and moral rights, and to safeguard incentives to future creativity.

What is covered by copyright?

Copyright automatically covers a wide range of intellectual works including (but not limited to):

  • published literary works such as books, articles and pamphlets
  • dramatic and musical works
  • photographs, paintings and images
  • audio-visual material such as recorded music and videos
  • websites and online material, including social media content
  • computer software.

Copyright is often asserted by the presence of the copyright symbol: © and phrases such 'All Rights Reserved'. However copyright is an automatic right for creators and there is no requirement for these to be present for copyright be in force.  

Who owns the copyright for a given work and how long does it last?

Copyright is usually owned by the creator of the work. However it can also be transferred to other parties (e.g. publishers) by mutual agreement, and copyright over work created by an individual in the course of employment is owned by the employer unless varied by contract.

The length of copyright for a given work varies according to its format and where it was published. As an  example, in the UK literary works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Once the copyright period expires, the work generally enters the 'public domain' and restrictions on use are lifted.

What restrictions does copyright impose?

Copyright imposes restrictions on the following activities in relation to a particular intellectual work:

  • making and/or distributing copies of protected works either electronically or on paper
  • creating derivative works that adapt or reuse the original work
  • performing or displaying a work publicly
  • broadcasting or distributing a work.

In general, any of the above activities require permission from the copyright owner unless covered by an exemption or a licence (see below).

What happens if these restrictions are not observed?

Failure to observe copyright is considered infringement and gives the copyright owner the right to sue for damages. While minor infringement is often settled informally, more major cases could leave staff or students open to significant liabilities as well as negatively affecting the reputation of both the University and individuals involved. Whilst infringement is often considered to be a civil matter it may in certain serious circumstances be treated as a criminal offence

Moreover, regardless of potential penalties, copyright infringement has the effect of reducing incentives to creative activity in society. 

Are there any exemptions for personal study and research use?

Yes there are a several exemptions under UK copyright to assist with educational and research usage of protected works. These are categorised under 'fair dealing' and include:

  • the ability to make limited copies from published works for the purposes of private study or non-commercial research. This must be single copies for personal use only and does not give the right copy entire books
  • the ability to quote copyright works for the purposes of criticism or review (with appropriate attribution)
  • the ability to use copyright works for purposes of illustration during teaching/instruction (with appropriate attribution).

Is there any provision for using copyright material for teaching?

  • The default method for providing published resources to multiple students is to link them (via an online reading list) to the University's library resources, either online or in print format. No local copying by staff is necessary in this situation.
  • Alternatively, the University also holds a Copyright Licensing Agency HE licence which provides additional educational copying permissions for published works beyond those listed under 'fair dealing' above. This licence allows the copying of up to 10% of a library book or journal issue and the distribution of these copies to students enrolled on specific modules. This is most useful where large numbers of students are required to read a single extract/chapter from a book simultaneously. See Copyright guidance for Learning and Teaching for more details.
  • If you need to use TV or radio programmes in your teaching the University please get in touch with our Librarians at .

Additional permissions under Creative Commons or similar licences

A range of voluntary licences are now available that allow authors to give broader rights for reuse than those permitted under regular copyright. These licences are designed to encourage creativity, especially with digital resources, and they often allow unrestricted copying plus the ability to create adaptations. The most common of these licences are coordinated by Creative Commons.

Any works with additional permissions under these licences will usually be clearly marked. If there is no indication otherwise then you should assume that the material remains protected under traditional copyright.

Using copyright material for non-educational activity

Use, playback or performance of copyright material in an non-educational context is subject to stricter conditions and often involves payment of royalties to copyright owners.

Non-educational playback or performance of music, particularly in a commercial situation, is subject to royalty collection on behalf of the copyright owners. The University has a PRS licence to cover this and is required to report on music usage annually.