What is copyright and why is it important?

Copyright is an intellectual property right giving legal protection given to original intellectual and creative work by authors, artists, musicians, photographers and others. It exists to prevent the unauthorised reproduction of work (including photocopying, scanning, recording, publishing), and safeguards the rights of creators and owners to profit from their intellectual property. Only the copyright owner is entitled to authorise copying from an original work.

Original works are automatically protected by copyright law in the UK, whether or not the © symbol is used, and include:
  • Written work such as books or articles
  • Typographical arrangements of written work
  • Artistic works such as paintings, drawings and photographs
  • Moving images such as film, video and DVD
  • Work in electronic form such as web pages, software and databases
  • Music in written, recorded and electronic form

UK copyright legislation

Copyright in the UK is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 ("as amended at 1/1/2005" made available by R.G.C.Jenkins & co). Other relevant UK legislation includes the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002, and the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003.

Changes to UK copyright law and guidance

The UK government is making a number of small legislative changes to update copyright for the digital age, which are due to come into force on 1 June 2014 subject to Parliamentary approval. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has published the Statutory Instruments which will implement the changes alongside plain English guidance on their website. There are guides for research, education and teaching, libraries and archives and disabled users, among others. 

Please note that copyright guidance on this website is based on the current legislation only, and will only reflect the changes after they have been implemented.

Copying for learning, teaching and research

Copying from copyright protected works is normally prohibited, unless you have obtained prior written permission from the copyright owner, or are permitted to copy for your intended purpose under a licence, copyright waiver or statutory exception in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The University holds a number of licences which permit certain otherwise restricted acts of copying for educational purposes.

What copying is permitted depends on a number of variables including what and how much you wish to copy, and whether it is for personal use, classroom use, and whether you are sharing copies via Blackboard Learn, e-mail or the internet. Making copies of copyright work available in Blackboard Learn is not usually permitted, except where written permission has been obtained from the copyright owner. Limited permission exists in some licences held by the University, but these must normally be authorised by the Copyright Officer.

To find out more about copyright for learning, teaching and research, follow the links below:

Copyright advice

It is very easy to be in breach of copyright. Scanning or photocopying the whole issue of a journal, copying an image and putting it in Blackboard Learn, downloading music illegally from the internet, or putting a whole report or a video clip into an e-learning module are all illegal, unless you have a licence, or explicit permission from the copyright owner(s).

Copyright is an extremely complex area, but universities and individual staff or students are not immune from prosecution, so check these web pages and their links, and ask for help if you are unsure.

Some external sources of copyright advice are:
Alternatively, the University's Copyright Officer provides the following services to staff and students:
  • advice on the use of copyright material under current copyright legislation and licensing
  • training on copyright issues
  • help obtaining clearance

Page last updated: Friday 28 March 2014