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Lambeth College LRC - Subject Guides: Copyright


What 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 legislation 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.

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 over that artefact, whatever it may be—a piece of writing, video, image, or even 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 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 work, 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 the copyright of their books or articles to publishers. Creators can also provide their work to others under exclusive and non-exclusive licences, such as the Creative Commons license.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright lasts for 70 years after the demise of the creator for pretty much all copyrighted 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, tell a completely different story. For example, if an unpublished work was created before August 1, 1989, and the author is known and died before January 1, 1969, copyright expires on December 31, 2039. This is something that could prove problematic for anyone wanting to use this kind of material in their research.

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

Copyright exceptions

There are exceptions in the legislation that allow limited use of copyrighted 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, 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 allow a creator to share their work with others while still retaining their copyright. There are several different kinds of licences available in the UK that cover different resources and what you can do with those resources; a few are listed below.

1. The Creative Commons License

Creative Commons licenses give creators the power to retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some use 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 be given, meaning that the work must be referenced. The Creative Commons website gives comprehensive instructions 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 work.

2. 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" is any part of a student’s programme that is a discrete and self-contained unit, such as a module.

3. The Newspaper Licensing Agency

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

4. The Educational Recording Agency

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

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,


  • The above "Copyright" text is copied from LSBU Library and Learning Resources, (2023). Copyright, How-To-Guide [Online]. Avaliable at: (Accessed 21/07/2023).