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.

See Copying for education and research on this page for guidance on using copyright protected works by type.

UK copyright legislation

Copyright in the UK is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 which is currently being revised to incorporate changes to UK copyright law. 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 in 2014

The UK government is making a number of small legislative changes to update copyright for the digital age, some of which have come into force in June 2014. The legislative changes affect education and research, libraries, museums and archives, and public administration. Further changes affecting copying for private personal use, quotation and parody came into effect in October 2014.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has published the Statutory Instruments which will implement the changes alongside plain English guidance to help interpret the legislation on their website. There are guides for education and teaching, libraries and archives, research and disabled users, among others. Among the changes is a new exception for text and data mining, which requires lawful access to the content being mined.

An unofficial consolidated copy of the legislation incorporating the changes has been deposited in the libraries of the Houses of Parliament however in itself has no legal authority until it has been approved and formally released. 

Copyright guidance on this website will be updated on an ongoing basis, as the impact of the changes on education and research are clarified, and good practice for the HE sector is established. When complete, this page will be updated accordingly. Questions about the changes in the meantime should be directed to the Copyright Officer.

Copying for education 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. Copyright exceptions introduced in June 2014 also permit some previously restricted acts of copying, provided they are meet fair dealing provisions.

What copying is permitted depends on a number of variables, including what and how much you wish to copy, and whether it is for private use, classroom use, and whether you are sharing copies in a closed access environment like Blackboard Learn or the public-facing internet. Where no exception or licence covers the intended use or proportion of a work you wish to use, written permission from the copyright owner is required.

The University may be required to maintain central records of material used under some licences and copyright exceptions. Please seek advice from the Copyright Officer.

For more information about copyright for education 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 copyright legislation and licensing
  • training on copyright issues
  • advice on how to obtain clearance for your needs

Page last updated: Tuesday 25 August 2015