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Copyright for students: Home

Copyright for students from the Information Services and Library Team

What is Copyright?

What is copyright?

Copyright is the legal protection given to creators of certain kinds of original works. It gives them the exclusive right to make copies of their work and issue them to the public. Anyone who infringes that right by copying a protected work without the permission of the copyright owner can be sued for damages. 

Copyright is a form of property which can be sold (‘assigned’) or leased (‘licensed’) in the same way as other forms of property. 

It comes into existence automatically as soon as a work is created without any need for registration. If the work was made in the course of employment, copyright is owned by the employer unless a contract specifies otherwise.

Material on the web is also protected by copyright legislation.

Who owns Copyright?

 As a student of the University, you will own the copyright in your work unless you have been employed specifically to produce the work (in which case your employer will own the work), or you enter into an agreement with someone else (e.g. a sponsoring organization or a publisher) and assign them the copyright, (usually in exchange for royalty payments.)

Go to the UK Copyright Act

What is protected?

There are eight major types of creative works that are protected by copyright:

  •     Films
  •     Music
  •     Broadcasts
  •     Dramatic Work
  •     Artistic Work
  •     Literary Works (books, articles, newspaper articles and databases)
  •     Sound Recordings
  •     Typographic Arrangements

Copyright protections lasts for a specified length of time only and this length varies depending on the type of material produced. Usually this is:

  • For a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work usually 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died.
  • Copyright in a sound recording, broadcast and cable programmes expires 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made.
  • Films are protected for 70 years after death of the last to die of the director, the author of the screenplay/dialogue or the composer of the music created for and used in the film.
  • Copyright in a published edition/typographical arrangement expires 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.

Material published on the web is covered unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Out of Copyright?

Public Domain

What you can copy and how much of it will be directly dependent on whether it is in or out of copyright.
Be very careful if you are told that you can use something because it is 'in the public domain’. This is an ambiguous term and is used differently in the UK and the US. In the USA this means that it is ‘out of copyright’ or the rights owner has agreed that it can be used freely by anyone, whereas in the UK it means that something has been published and is openly available, but that it might still be in copyright and therefore you can only copy it under the terms of the law, with permission, or under a licence.

Just because the copyright owner places an image or document on the internet it does not become free for all. 
Copyright rules still apply unless explicitly stated otherwise. It does not need to have the Copyright symbol attached.

Out of Copyright

Once material is out of copyright (and you have verified this) you can copy and use it as you want without needing the permission of anyone. However you should ALWAYS acknowledge the author and the source of the material you use and DO NOT pretend that it is your work. To do so is to commit plagiarism and it applies to both ‘out of copyright’ work and ‘in copyright’ work.

Always include your source acknowledgement in BOTH the main text of your work AND any bibliography. 

Using copyright material

Fair dealing

You CAN legally copy from material that is still in copyright in a number of circumstances. The law allows you to copy small portions of many classes of work for certain purposes and this is known as ‘fair dealing’ (in the UK) or ‘fair use’ (in the USA).  "Fair dealing" for private study or research is one of the exceptions in the UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act which allow copying of copyright protected material without the permission of the copyright owner.  

The concept is not defined in the legislation, but the underlying idea is that the copying should benefit the individual or society without harming the interests of the copyright owner.

For fair dealing to apply, all of the following conditions must be met:

  • No more than a single photocopy should be produced, for the personal use of the person doing the copying.
  • The purpose of the copying must be non-commercial private study or research. "Non-commercial" is not defined, but is believed to rule out any copying for direct or indirect commercial advantage.
  • The source of the copy must be acknowledged. This means recording at least the name of the author and the title on the photocopy if this is not already included. This is vital to avoid the charge of plagiarism.

The proportion of the work that is photocopied must not be “unfair” in terms of its impact on the copyright owner. There are no defined limits, but the amount that may be copied is usually accepted to be:

  • One complete chapter or extracts of up to 5% of a book.
  • ‚ÄčOne article from an issue of a journal or a periodical.
  • Up to 10 pages of a poem, short story, or other short literary work, taken from a volume of short stories or poems.
  • Up to 10% (maximum 20 pages) of a short book, report or pamphlet.

There are posters explaining the restrictions located next to the self-service photocopiers. 

Please do not make scan of items or take PDFs from our subscribed databases and pass them on to others. They are only for your personal non-commercial use.

Plagiarism and how to avoid it

Plagiarise: "to copy (ideas, passages of text, etc) from someone else’s work and use them as if they were one’s own."  
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary, © Chambers Harrap Publishers Limited 2001

It is vital that you learn to use information from other sources without committing plagiarism. Your work must show that you have read and understood the main theories and arguments surrounding your topic (or gathered the appropriate data) and are able to use this information appropriately through the correct attribution of the words and ideas of others and the use of appropriate and consistent referencing techniques. See: Research Guide: Referencing.

In order to avoid plagiarism you need to be methodical throughout your research. You need to:

  • record all sources consulted - see out Citing and Referencing guide
  • take thorough notes. Record the details: title, author, date, edition, pages
  • record the full details (urls and dates accessed) of the material accessed on the web. 
  • learn to paraphrase correctly and allow time to incorporate accurate references in your essays
  • Test your understanding

Plagiarism101 explains it well.