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Fair dealing

Fair dealing is a term used in a number of statutory exceptions in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended). In general terms, it is a defence for individuals who copy insubstantial amounts of copyright material for non-commercial private study or research purposes without the need to seek permission from the copyright owner.

It is advisable for anyone wishing to copy from a work under fair dealing to apply the following three step test:

  • Is the copying substantial (as a rule, more than 5% of the work)?
  • Will the copyright owner's economic interests be damaged by the copying and intended purpose?
  • Is the copy for commercial purposes or for group study or research?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, fair dealing is unlikely to apply to the intended copying.  

However in some instances, fair dealing may allow substantial copying. The text and data mining exception introduced in June 2014, may allow copying of collections of whole works for research analysis under certain conditions, including that it must be for a non-commercial purpose.

Changes to copyright law have also been introduced to allow fair dealing from all types of works, and make copying for education and research technology neutral.  In many instances, fair dealing exceptions cannot be overridden by contracts, so licence providers cannot override these in the legal agreements, providing a welcome degree of certainty over permitted uses for content users. However contractual terms can limit who is able to access content, so it may not be possible for all staff and students to fully copy all of the resources purchased by the University under contract.  

What copying is allowed under fair dealing?

Copying for non-commercial private study or research

Fair dealing covers the making of single copies from print or electronic works for non-commercial personal use. An instance of copying for private study or research purposes could be arguably copying for a thesis, which is an original and unique piece of work.

However, if the study or research is commercial in any way, fair dealing will not apply and clearance will be required.

Copying for the purpose of criticism and review or quotation

Copying may be permitted from a work which has been made publicly available, provided the copying is fair dealing and is acknowledged. Although no limits are given in law, as a general guide, short extracts (held by the Society of Authors to be 400 words or less) may be considered as fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review or quotation. For longer extracts, it might be necessary to get permission from the copyright owner.

What copying is not allowed under fair dealing?

Copying for an direct or indirect commercial purpose

This includes copying for contract research, consultancy-based research, collaborative research, sponsored research or private study with a direct or indirect commercial benefit.

Such copying is never fair dealing, although some copying may be covered under any copyright licensing agreements held by the organisation where relevant. If no relevant licence is held, copyright clearance must be obtained for all commercial copying, and may incur fees. You should seek further advice from the Copyright Officer or your .

Copying for educational purposes (group study)

Much of the copying carried out for educational purposes cannot be considered to be fair dealing, where the same material is being copied by substantially the same group of users.

An instance where fair dealing could not be applied is where a number of students taking the same module, copy, or are likely to copy, a book chapter listed as core reading on a module reading list. However, copying for a thesis, dissertation or final year project may count as fair dealing, where the work is unique to the individual. The University holds licences which permit some multiple copying for educational purposes.

Explore the links on the right for further information.

Making multiple copies from printed works

The making of multiple copies printed or electronic works is not permitted under fair dealing. Making more than a single copy for one or more individuals is also not fair dealing.

This type of copying is called multiple or systematic copying, and is only legal where permission or a licence has been obtained.

The University holds various licences covering multiple copying for educational purposes, including one from the Copyright Licensing Agency covering multiple copying from printed books, journals and magazines. Visit useful links on copyright in teaching and learning below for further information.

Making multiple copies from electronic works

Making multiple copies from such as websites or e-journals must be explicitly permitted under a contractual licence agreement, web copyright notice or other statement of permission. The University's subscription agreements or Copyright Licensing Agency Higher Education Copyright Licence make some provisions for copying from some e-resources, including some websites.

Where a licence doesn't apply, you should check websites thoroughly for a copyright notice or usage terms. These are usually found on through links on a site's home page. For more information see the web pages on Copying from e-resources and Copying from websites.

Copying a commercial film, or copying images or sound recordings

Copyright clearance for the intended use of the material must be obtained from the copyright owner, or must be specifically covered by a licence agreement, e.g. subscription database. See the links on the right hand side for more information.

How much can be copied under fair dealing?

There is no safe amount of a published work which may be safely photocopied under fair dealing. The legislation does not give any limit, other than that the copying should be insubstantial. Copyright owners have the right to challenge the fairness of copying.

Substantiality may be defined in qualitative as well as quantitative terms, however in practice, the recommended guidelines for fair dealing copying is generally interpreted as:

  • no more than 1 chapter from a book or up to 5% of extracts
  • no more than 1 article from a single issue of a journal
  • no more than 1 paper or 5% of extracts from a set of conference proceedings
  • no more than 1 poem or a short story of no more than 10 pages from an anthology
  • no more than 1 case or no more than 5% of extracts from a law report

Guidelines on best practice when copying under fair dealing

  • Copies made under fair dealing must be for personal use by the person making the copies and may not be passed on to other users.
  • Copies may be stored electronically, e.g. on a computer hard disc or removable media, but may not be placed on a network, such as an intranet or virtual learning environment where they will be accessible to others
  • Copies should acknowledge the author, title and publisher details on all copies unless this is impracticable.
  • Any copyright statement or rights management information attached to the work should be copied along with the material. Where rights information is attached or copy protection is in place, it is a criminal offence to delete, tamper with or amend it.