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Copyright for Researchers: Basic Copyright Facts

Online guidance on copyright as it applies to researchers

The Law

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 sets out the law governing UK copyright. Various amendments have been made to the Act since 1988, in order to reflect changes in society and technology, and these changes have been incorporated into the provisions of the Act.  

The Library has many print and electronic books on this subject if you would like to explore it in more detail. 

  • Literary works
    • e.g.books, poems, journal articles, song lyrics, leaflets, manuals, tables, computer programs, databases, website content
  • Dramatic works
    • e.g.plays, dance
  • Musical  works
    • e.g.musical scores, sheet music and other musical notation
  • Artistic Works
    • e.g.photographs, painting, maps, diagrams, paintings, sculpture etc.
  • Films
    • e.g.feature and animated films, home videos, video footage
  •  Broadcasts
    • e.g. tv and cable programmes, podcasts, online seminars
  • Sound Recordings
    • e.g any recorded sounds such as speeches, performances, songs, pieces of music 
  • Typographical arrangements of published works
    • e.g. the typeset, format and layout of books and journal articles etc.
  • Copyright arises automatically on creation of the work and does not need to be registered in order to provide legal protection. 

  • Creators can mark their copyright material using the international copyright symbol (c) , followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication, e.g. (c) Jones 2015

  • Under UK law this marking is not essential for legal protection. However, it can help those who wish to use the creator's work to trace them and request permission to reuse the material. It may also assist the copyright owner in the event of pursuing infringement proceedings for unauthorised use of their material. It is necessary to have included the mark in order to enforce copyright in certain other jurisdictions, where copyright law differs from the UK

  • Copyright protection is not unlimited and will expire after a period which gives the creator time to exploit their work.This period differs for the various types of copyright work.  

  • 25 years - for typographical arrangements, dated from publication

  • 50 years - for broadcasts, dated from when its first broadcast

  • 70 years - for artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works, dated from the death of the author/creator

  • 70 years - for films, dated from the death of the last to survive of director/author/composer

  • 70 years - for sound and music recordings, dated from when it's first published

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to:

  • copy the work;
  • issue copies of the work to the public;
  • rent or lend the work to the public;
  • perform, show or play the work in public;
  • communicate the work to the public (includes making material available online or broadcasting it);
  • make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation.

Copyright Ownership

The creator of the work in question is usually the copyright owner. However:

  • copyright can be sold or assigned to other people; for example, when a researcher writes an article and assigns copyright to a publisher
  • copyright in work created by an employee in the course of their usual work will usually belong to the employer
  • for commissioned work, the copyright will normally be owned by the third party you commission, unless this is specified in the commission contract

The University has an Intellectual Property Policy which covers ownership of IPR created by staff and students during the course of their work and study at the University.  The Policy states that:

Ownership of copyright

The University will waive ownership of copyright (unless a sponsor requires ownership) in materials such as text books (unless such text books were developed using University administered-funds paid specifically to support textbook development), academic journal articles, conference papers and related presentations. 
However the University reserves the right to assert ownership of material:
  • used by the University for administrative purposes, promotion and marketing, student and staff recruitment, assessment and examination, handbooks, or for any other institutional purpose;
  • specified under contract or in writing;
  • generated by prior agreement as part of a joint venture with the University;
  • produced to be delivered as flexible and distributed learning material or e-learning material; or
  • computer code, that can be reasonably considered to have commercial potential.
In return for the University waiving ownership of copyright the owners will, unless a sponsor or publisher requires otherwise, grant to the University a non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free licence to use and adapt the material for teaching and operational purposes, with a right to sub-license to third parties.
If joint authorship is planned between students and/or staff of different institutions, all co-authors must declare their copyright obligations and secure written agreement from the co-authors that these rights will be honoured.
Students will automatically own the copyright to their theses unless the sponsor of their research requires ownership".

You will often see reference to third party copyright.  Do not worry, this is not some special form of copyright you need to grapple with. It is merely referring to copyright work owned by someone other than you!

Typically, it refers to images, graphs, extracts from journal articles or books produced by other people that you might want to copy or include in your own research.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.

However, copyright does not last forever so consider whether the work you wish to use is out of copyright.

And, copyright is only infringed if you use a 'substantial part' of the copyright work. Insubstantial parts can be used without infringing the owner's rights.

Remember that copyright protection does not last forever. If you are using historic material then it may not longer be protected. Differing copyright durations apply to different forms of work:

  • 25 years - for typographical arrangements, dated from publication

  • 50 years - for sound recordings and broadcasts, dated from the end of the year in which it was made

  • 70 years - for artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works, dated from the death of the author/creator

  • 70 years - for films, dated from the death of the last to survive of director/author/composer

Copyright is infringed only when a 'substantial part' of a work is copied or used in any other way that is within the exclusive rights of the owner, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.

This means you can use insubstantial parts without infringing copyright. Unfortunately there is no magic formula available to help you weigh up what is a substantial versus an insubstantial part and it will vary in each circumstance. If in doubt it is advisable to err on the side of caution and seek permission to use the material rather than 'hope' you can argue the material is an insubstantial part at a later date. A small part of a work could be deemed substantial if it is a key part of the whole work.

Owing to the uncertainty in this area, it can be more useful to look at the fair dealing provisions that the law provides for those who wish to make use of a substantial part of a work.

And if the fair dealing provisions do not apply to your use of the materials, then you will need to seek permission.

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