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Copyright legislation and licences relating to academic practice.

Copyright - A quick guide

Copyright, with patents and trademarks, is part of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) group of legislation.  Copyright is an automatic right placed on original works at creation for a period of time specified by legislation.  Unlike patents and trademarks, it does not have to be registered or accompanied by the © symbol for protection to apply.

In the UK, Copyright regulations are governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and its subsequent amendments. Copyright legislation is designed to protect the creative, moral or economic rights of the rights holder.  When copying any work it is important to consider whether or not the amount of material being copied could be considered to prejudice the interests of the rights holder or could be considered to be a substantial part of that work.

"Substantial” is not quantitative, and does not necessarily relate to the volume or amount of copying taken from an individual work.  Using song lyrics as an example, it could be argued that copying just a few words or a sentence from a chorus could be copying a “substantial” part of the work if those words have a particular significance and importance to the meaning of the song. Therefore, "substantial" must be considered in qualitative terms as well.

Copyright Legislation and Fair Dealing

In the UK, Copyright regulations are governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and its subsequent amendments.  The Act gives members of  Higher Education establishments additional copying privileges and states:

“Fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of research for a non-commercial purpose does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.”
paragraph 29. (1) (as revised)

"Fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for the purposes of private study does not infringe any copyright in the work."

paragraph 29. (1B) (as revised)

"Dealing" in this context refers to the right to copy. The act does not directly state what is deemed fair, and this would be ruled on in a court of law should a rights holder wish to take action against a suspected infringement.  Fair dealing can be used as a defence for copying if the copying is performed for one of the following reasons:

  • Private Study 
  • Research for non-commercial purposes
  • Criticism and Review
  • Illustration for instruction (i.e. setting examination papers)

Please note that if placing a copy digitally into a VLE, it is important that access to the copy be restricted to those instructing and being instructed. Clear parameters of what can be done with the copy should also be provided for those who have access to the copy.

Material covered by copyright

The intangible status of copyright is seen to subsist rather than exist within a work.  Copyright applies regardless of format or published status. The following material types are all entitled to copyright protection if they fulfil the original work criteria:

  • Books
  • Journals
  • Newspapers
  • Musical scores
  • Films
  • Images
  • Websites
  • Letters
  • Paintings
  • e-mails
  • computer software

Original material in any format is categorised by type or work, as either literary, dramatic, artistic or musical works and protected accordingly.  Because the emphasis is placed on its “originality”, copyright legislation does not make any distinctions for the perceived “quality” of the work.  


Cornish, Graham P. (2009) Copyright, interpreting the law for libraries, archives and information services, 5th ed, London: Facet Publishing.

Norman, Sandy (2004) Practical copyright for information professionals, the CILIP handbook, London: Facet Publishing.

Padfield, Tim (2007)  Copyright for archivists and records managers, 3rd ed. London: Facet Publishing.

Pedley, Paul (2008) Copyright compliance, practical steps to stay within the law.  London: Facet Publishing.

Pedley, Paul (2011) Essential law for information professionals, 3rd ed. London: Facet Publishing.


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