Copyright essentials


Copyright protects all manner of things which a person creates. Examples include books, music, films, broadcasts, and so on. These are usually referred to as ‘works’. As soon as a work is created, it is protected by copyright. Unless overridden by a contract, like an employment contract, copyright belongs to the person who created the work.

The purpose of copyright is to protect and reward creators for works they have produced. In the broadest sense, it allows creators to monetise their creations as well as to be identified as the creator. However, not everything that a person creates is automatically granted protection by copyright. For example, the written sentence ‘Hello, how are you?’ is unlikely to be protected by copyright as it doesn’t demonstrate creativity or originality, and likely took the individual little effort or skill to write it.

Copyright also helps establish 'owners' of works. Ownership is important as it determines who has control over how and when a work is used, as well as who uses it.  Owners have the right to sell the work, license it to others, and object to its mistreatment. If you need to get permission to use a copyright work, it is crucial that you are confident you are contacting the owner of the work. Sometimes this isn’t obvious. An academic who has written a paper may have initially been the owner of the copyright in their work. However they may then sign a publishing agreement which transfers copyright over to the publisher. The author is then no longer the owner of the work, the publisher is.

How can I use copyright works?

At university, the law recognises that we are an educational institution rather than a commercial entity. It provides us with some exceptions to the usual rules around copyright which mean we can use copyright works in teaching and learning under certain conditions.

Fair dealing

There is no statutory definition of fair dealing. Instead, we have to make decisions ourselves based on what we know about the law.  This is both an obstacle and an opportunity as it is the same for the users as it is for the owners. There isn’t a clear rule, it is open to interpretation.

Fair dealing can be intimidating but using it is a lot more intuitive than it might appear and in most cases it follows a kind of common sense logic. The important things to remember are that any copying we do should avoid exploiting the work and its owner. For example, reusing a whole work by distributing a scan of an entire book is unlikely to be considered fair, as it would impact on the ability of the author to sell their book.

There are some simple basic questions to answer when it comes to reusing a copyright work when it comes to teaching and learning, writing an essay or an article, or when researching your thesis.

As set out below, we make many of the judgements already when we are writing research papers, or when we create teaching materials:  

  • Will the way you are reusing the work make other people less likely to buy the original?
    • We usually own a copy of the resource or have a licence to access it, and by reusing it we draw attention to the original, potentially increasing sales.
  • Is your use of the work necessary? Do you need to use the work in order to demonstrate your point?
    • We are likely to only use works which relate directly the point we are trying to make whether that is an article or an essay.
  • Are you using a reasonable amount of the work?
    • It’s unlikely that we would ever use anything larger than a quote or an excerpt in teaching and learning.  Word counts are usually important and so we regularly only include what is necessary and we have room for.
  • Have you acknowledged the title and author of the original work?
    • We always cite our sources or we find ourselves in front of the plagiarism officer.

More specific guidance on how to use particular works can be found below.



Some works may be in the public domain, available under a Creative Commons licence, or licensed to the University for students to use. If you are trying to find an image to use in a presentation, why not try the library catalogue? Alternatively, you might want to use one of these Creative Commons databases to see if you can find what you’re looking for.

Written works

Where you quote from a written text in your work, make sure that you cite the author and title of the original work. We do this routinely every day as we know that failing to cite works you have reused means you are committing plagiarism.

Remember, only use as much as you really need and avoid reproducing entire works. Unless the original is out of copyright or you have permission. See Licences for more information.


Where you want to use an image in your work that supports the topic being taught we should automatically include an acknowledgement, citing at least the author and title of the work.  Again plagiarism issue arise where images are not cited properly.

One particularly useful approach when thinking about images is to compress the image to a lower resolution than the higher quality original. It’s the high resolution images which tend to be of the most commercial value, so by using a low resolution image you’d be less likely to prevent a sale.


Videos can be played in lectures and tutorials provided they are related to the topic at hand.  Where you want to include/ embed a video clip into slides or Canvas we should automatically include an acknowledgement, citing at least the author and title of the work. (Don’t forget to pause the recording when using lecture capture tools. See Copyright for Lecturers for details.)

If you link to online videos, ensure that the content you want to use is legitimately available there.  For example, a Disney film will be legitimate if it is on Disney’s YouTube Channel, but would probably be an illegitimate upload if it’s hosted by a fan channel.  We should avoid illegitimate content.

Also, see Licences for details about licences for TV programmes for ‘educational purposes’.

If you would like to show a film as part of a student society or public event held by the University, you will need to purchase a Film Bank licence.

Music and sound recordings

Music can be played via live in-class performance or in recorded form to a class provided there is a demonstrable link to academic study.  The audience must be students or staff excluding members of the public.

For playing music in public areas or in performances to the public, see The Music Licence.

Data and databases

Data in its raw form is usually not protected by copyright as it is not regarded as a creative work. However, the data will be covered by a different kind of right called a ‘database right’. This works in a similar way to copyright and effectively prevents the copying of substantial amounts of data.

There is an exception to UK law which permits the downloading of large volumes of data in order to conduct research known as ‘text and data mining’- see the Research page for further details.

If you require assistance making your research data available, please visit Research Data Management.



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