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Integrated sessions: Read this: Copyright for research

Copyright for research

Copyright is a right given to creators of a wide range of works in material form. If you are engaging in research and scholarly communication, you should be aware of what copyright is and how it works.

How does copyright work?

contract iconIn the UK, copyright is an automatic right held by anyone who creates a work in a material form, including text, music, photos, artwork, audio and video recordings, performances and databases.  The creator has the right to control the reproduction of the work by other people.  (Protection of the original idea relies on Intellectual Property rights).

Unlike a patent or trademark, copyright does not have to be registered.  Works are automatically protected, whether or not they have a copyright statement or © symbol.

The creator can transfer or sell their copyright to a publisher or distributor. Protection lasts for a further 70 years after the creator's death, for most forms of copyright material.

UK copyright is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (amended in 2014).  The Act sets out the exceptional circumstances in which copyright material can be reused without the rights-holder's permission, including some educational scenarios.  See the sections of this guide For Teachers, For Researchers and For Students.

Creative Commons and other open licences

Many researchers and educators choose to share their copyright work with a licence permitting other people to copy and re-use it free-of-charge, under certain conditions. Creative Commons is an internationally-recognised licensing scheme:

Visualisation of Creative Commons licence levels

CC-0 ('public domain'): The creator has waived their right to restrict use of this work.

CC-BY Free to re-use with attribution

SA ('share alike'):  Any new material created from the licensed work must also have an open licence

ND ('no derivatives'): The work should not be adapted without permission, other than reformatting for users with a disability

NC​ No commercial use permitted. (Jisc has advised that UK university teaching is 'non-commercial', despite student fees. However, marketing activities may not be covered.)


Try out the Creative Commons Licence Chooser to identify a suitable licence for your own work, and the html code to embed it in your website.


Publications which originate from public sector bodies in the UK are assigned the Open Government Licence, which permits copying and re-use for any purpose, with attribution.

Software developers may choose to share their work with an open licence such as the GNU GPL or Apache. More information here about the range of licences supported on the GitHub platform.

Sources of advice

University of Hull staff and students: contact with any questions or comments.


Changes to Copyright Law (2014): From the UK's Intellectual Property Office, a series of guides to the law for specific scenarios including education, research, accessibility and more.

Copyright User is an independent educational resource targeted at content creators and students, with support from several UK universities. Up-to-date guidance includes how to Licence and Exploit your Work, plus animated videos and learning activities.

Copyright Cortex: created by UK academics with support from research councils and other professional bodies  "to provide libraries, archives and museums with information and expert commentary on how copyright law affects the creation and management of digital cultural heritage. The resource will also be valuable for anyone who works in the Digital Humanities".

Copyright Hub: launched in 2012 with support from UK publishers and licensing agencies to "make the process of giving and getting permission – the basic building block of the copyright process – fit for purpose in the age of the Internet".  Resources include template statements for rightsholders and requesting permission.

Non-Commercial Research and Private Study

Non-Commercial Research and Private Study

n the UK, 'fair dealing' with copyright material for "non-commercial research or private study" does not require the rights-holder's permission, providing the material is fully attributed. The UK Intellectual Property Office has published a guide to Exceptions to Copyright for Research (2014).

Sharing a documentFair dealing" is not defined in law, but it's generally understood as use of the work in a way that doesn't impact on the rights-holder's commercial opportunities. Making a copy to share privately with other researchers or participants who have no commercial interest in the outcome is likely to be fair. Sharing that copy with industry partners, an audience who have paid to be present, or a publisher who intends to market the work, may be harder to defend as fair dealing.

Research materials you have accessed overseas will be subject to the copyright law of that jurisdiction, which may be more restrictive.  Seek advice locally.

See also: Archives Referencing and Copyright, from the University of Hull Archives Team.

Writing for publication

Writing for Publication

writingUK copyright law allows anyone to quote from published material, "for criticism and review or otherwise", providing your use is "fair dealing" and you attribute the quote to the original author.  You do not need the rights-holder's permission for an attributed quote. 

You may "quote" excerpts from audio, video and images as well as text.  If you are reproducing an image, ensure you credit the rights-holder (which may be the creator, a publisher or a picture agency). When quoting text, it's not necessary to identify the rights-holder in your citation. 

If the source of your quote is unpublished, e.g. a private letter or interview, you should not use it in work for publication without the creator's permission.  The UK Oral History Society's Legal and Ethical advice is a good starting point for researchers intending to reproduce quotes from recorded interviews.

There's no limit to the length of your quote, although you should be able to justify why you needed to reproduce the amount that you chose in order to make your point.  It's arguably not "fair dealing" to rely on the Quotation defence when re-using material which could have a market value in its own right, such as a poem, artwork or high-res photo (see the Using Images tab).Your publisher may set an arbitrary word limit for any quotes, beyond which they will expect you to obtain permission from the rights-holder.  This is not a legal requirement, but an indication that your publisher is risk-averse.

icon representing a copied imageReproducing other people's figures, illustrations or photographs in work for publication requires care, as the copyright status may not be clearcut.  

An image found on a free-to-view website is not necessarily free to re-use,  and a figure taken from a book or journal article may have a different rights-holder from the surrounding text.  Check your source for any terms of use, or a licence statement such as Creative Commons.

Ensure that you credit the rights-holder in your image caption (the Creative Commons wiki has a useful guide to captioning CC images). 

When the image you have chosen to use does not have a CC licence, or you cannot meet the licence terms, you may be able to defend your use as Quotation, if it can be justified as 'fair dealing'.  Your use must be fully attributed and "no more than is required by the specific purpose for which it is used".

If your intended use has commercial potential, or could impact on the rights-holder's commercial opportunities,  it is unlikely to be fair dealing.  Contact the rights-holder for permission to reproduce their material  - look for a request form or email address on the host platform.

updateIn 2023, a UK court ruled that a high-quality digital reproduction of a physical out-of-copyright artwork does not meet the threshold for "originality" which enables the producer to claim copyright (THJ v Sheridan).  Museums and galleries who have previously impeded use of their digital reproductions by charging a fee or applying restrictive licence terms may no longer have a legal basis for doing so.

Not a quoteIf your use of other people's material can't be defended as 'Quotation', you should try to get permission from the copyright owner.  Be prepared to negotiate a fee, and/or accept their terms and conditions.



Oxford University Press Instructions for Authors include detailed guidance for obtaining permission to reproduce copyright material (applicable to other publishers).

Advice from University of Leeds about how to find and contact a copyright owner.

If the copyright holder can't be traced, the material is defined as an 'orphan work'.  The UK's Intellectual Property Office has developed a process for applying for a licence to copy an orphan work.

When you sign your agreement to publish,  your publisher may ask you to transfer copyright to them, to enable them to market your work and protect it from unlicensed reproduction.

Some research funders provide authors with a 'rights retention' statement to append to an agreement to publish, enabling the author to prevent the publisher from limiting access to the work (by paywalling it or claiming an exclusive licence to distribute it).  Check the terms of your funding agreement - this will take precedence over any contract with the publisher.

For more information about authors' rights and obligations to publish their work with an open licence,  see the Library's guide to Open Access.


Conferences and Networking

microphoneWhen you speak or perform in front of an audience, be mindful that English law dictates that the first owner of copyright in an audio or video recording is the producer, not the speaker.  The speaker retains ownership of the copyright in their presentation materials and their performance.

Before you consent to being recorded, ensure you understand how the recording will be preserved and distributed, and keep a copy of any written agreement for reference.

Any material used in your presentation which is not your own (such as images. video footage or music) may be defensible as 'fair dealing' for non-commercial research, or quotation.  However, if the event has a commercial sponsor, or recordings are being shared via a commercial platform such as YouTube or Slideshare, 'fair dealing' may not apply.  You should choose material which has been made available with a licence which covers your intended use (such as CC-BY), or request the rights-holder's permission.

Networking platforms such as ORCIDResearchGate or LinkedIn enable researchers to create a profile and promote their research outputs to potential collaborators and readers.  Their terms of service typically state that the profile owner is responsible for ensuring that they have retained the right to make their published work openly available on their profile:  check your Agreement to Publish, or your publisher's guidelines for authors.

The Library's guide to Open Access provides advice about taking advantage of 'green' OA routes to share your submitted or accepted manuscript in line with your publisher's terms.


Sharing other people's work


When you download or print an extract from a paywalled publication, you are likely to be asked to accept liability for any infringement of copyright.  Activities which potentially infringe copyright include:

In the UK, sharing a file on a secure network with a limited group of co-researchers may be defensible as 'fair dealing' for the purposes of non-commercial research (CDPA s 29).

thumbs upSharing a link to a published work is unlikely to infringe copyright, providing you have not circumvented any digital protection implemented by the rights-holder or distributor.  A number of search engines enable you to identify any open access version of a published work, to ensure that you can share it legally.

Publishers and web hosts can remotely monitor patterns of downloading, and may ask the University to block an account or IP address if copyright infringement is suspected.