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Copyright, How-To-Guide

Any time you want to copy or share another person's work, it's important to consider copyright law. In this how-to guide, you will learn what copyright protects, who owns the copyright, and what exceptions you can use for copying and sharing resources for educational and research purposes. 

What is copyright?


Image by David Wees CC BY licenseWhat is protected by copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property. It protects creative works, things like books, journal articles, webpages, paintings, photographs, and broadcasts--and assigns certain rights to the author. 

Copyright covers creative works that are:

  • Original
  • and Fixed

Works are considered original if they are the author's own creation. They are considered "fixed" if they have a permanent physical form. This means that things like ideas are not covered by copyright until they are written down on paper, filmed, recorded, or made into a digital format, etc.

What you can do with copyright is laid down in the law of the land and that applies to everyone.

Copyright law is territorial, different countries and regions have their own copyright laws. This guide covers UK law, so if you are using copyrighted materials in another country, you will want to make sure to follow the local law.  

The current piece of UK legislature is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988--which has been updated several times over the years to include things like digital material and copying rights for people with disabilities. 

Copyright owner

Who owns the copyright?

According to UK copyright law, the author of the work is the sole copyright owner. This means that as soon as you create something, you have copyright in that artifact, whatever it may be—a piece of writing, video, image, even if it’s a scribble on a napkin, as soon as you have created that thing, you are the copyright owner. You don’t have to say you are the copyright owner, the law protects you automatically.

The law gives the creator exclusive rights so that anyone who wants to use the work will need to get permission from the creator of that work. 

Without permission, only the copyright owner has the right to:

  • copy their work

  • issue (distribute) copies of their work

  • rent or lend their work to the public          

  • make an adaptation of their work

  • perform, show or play their work in public, and

  • communicate their work to the public

The author also has moral copyright. This involves the right to attribution, the right to integrity (that is, the right to object to the derogatory treatment of a work), the right to object to false attribution, and the right to privacy in privately commissioned photos and films.

Exceptions to Copyright Ownership:

It is important to note that if you create something (other than scholarly works) as part of your job or while in a course of study, the university is the copyright owner of that work. For more information on what does and does not count as scholarly works, check out the relevant sections on copyright for lecturers and copyright for researchers.

Copyright can also be assigned to others, that is, the author can give their copyright to someone else. It is common practice for authors to assign their copyright of books or articles to publishers. Creators can also provide their work to others under exclusive and non-exclusive licenses such as the Creative Commons license. 

Copyright Duration

How long does copyright last?

Copyright lasts for 70 years after the demise of the creator for pretty much most copyright works. 

For sound recordings, copyright expires 70 years after publication.

For films, it’s 70 years after the demise of the director, then the script writer, the composer of the soundtrack, and the executive producer—so there are four people involved in the making of the film that have to die before the copyright expires.

And it’s 50 years after transmission for broadcasts.

Unpublished works such as diaries are a completely different story. For example, if an unpublished work was created before 1 August 1989 and the author is known and died before 1 January 1969, copyright expires on 31 December 2039. This is something that could prove problematic for anyone wanting to use this kind of material in their research. 

As soon as copyright expires, the work enters the public domain and can be used by anyone without permission. 

Copyright Exceptions

Copyright exceptions.

There are exceptions in the legislation which allow limited use of copyright works without the permission of the copyright owner.

The main exception for individuals is: “Fair Dealing”

Fair dealing is the right to reproduce limited portions of copyrighted works without permission. It covers reproduction of published material for:

  • non-commercial research and private study
  • criticism and review
  • quotation and reporting of current events
  • parody, caricature, and pastiche 

This applies to literary, dramatic, musical, artistic or typographical works, and not just text-based works. 

You can use material under fair dealing as long as you do not infringe upon the interests of the creator or copyright owner.

You should comply with the following:

•Financial benefit: You cannot deprive the creator of revenue.
•Acquisition: You must have acquired the material fairly and legally.
•Quantity: You must use only what is needed.
Acknowledgement: You must acknowledge the author or creator.
There are more copyright exceptions under Fair Dealing that apply to educators. Please refer to the Copyright for Instructors section of this guide to learn more. 

Copyright Licenses

Copyright Licenses.

Copyright licenses allow a creator to share their work with others, while still retaining their copyright. There are several different kinds of licenses available in the UK that cover different resources and what you can do with those resources--a few are listed below. 

The Creative Commons License

Creative Commons licenses give creators the power to retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve. There are 6 different kinds of licenses, but the basic CC BY license merely requires that attribution is given--meaning that the work must be referenced. The Creative Commons website gives comprehensive instruction on how all the licenses work and how to add a creative commons license to your own work. 


The following are collective licenses that LSBU pays for so that staff can copy entire classes of works. 

The Copyright Licensing Agency

The CLA license allows staff to make multiple copies of most published book chapters and journal articles for students and members of staff with strict reference to a course of study. "The course of study" being any part of a student’s program which is a discrete and self-contained unit such as a module.

The Newspaper Licensing Agency

The NLA license allows staff to make photocopies of any article from newspapers and make digital copies from newspapers.

The Educational Recording Agency

The ERA license allows recording of any broadcasts made in the UK of works and performances made by ERA members. And then it allows us to show them to students and staff. 

Copyright Compliance

Copyright Infringement.

Copyright infringement happens when you copy or share someone else's work without their permission. Why should you avoid it?

Because copyright infringement can lead to substantial penalties.

If you knowingly make someone else’s copyright materials available, you can face incarceration and/or pay a large fine.

Who’s complicit when this happens?

The CDPA says that an offense by the body corporate is also an offense of the people who work for that body if they knew what was happening. So if you know that the institution your working for is doing something like this, then you are as guilty as the company. 

If you receive a complaint or take-down notice from someone claiming that you have infringed their copyright, contact the library for assistance by sending an email to It's possible that copyright has not been infringed and the person making the claim is mistaken. The library can provide guidance on next steps.