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Copyright: Learning materials

Using copyright-protected material for teaching

UK law permits teachers and students to makes copies of third party material for the purposes of "giving or receiving instruction".  The UK Intellectual Property Office has published a guide to Exceptions to Copyright for Education and Teaching (2014).

Lectures (in person or recorded), student activities and assessments are covered by this legal exception. Course reading is treated differently in UK law.

You must have acquired the material legally (free or paid for), and your use must be fair dealing. Broadly speaking, this means all of the following criteria must be met:

  • relevant to the topic under discussion (not just for decoration or light relief)
  • fully attributed
  • a 'reasonable' amount 
  • for a limited audience (ideally on a VLE such as Canvas)
  • for a limited time 
  • in a non-commercial setting.

There's no legal definition of how much is 'reasonable'. Use your judgement about whether your use would impact on the rights-holder's market.  For instance:

  • Don't attempt to digitize an entire textbook
  • Don't make a copy of an e-learning resource which is charged for
  • Minimise your use of images or AV sourced from sites which generate revenue for the creators (directly or through adverts).

Consider whether you can link to the material on the host platform instead of making a copy. Sharing a link is unlikely to breach copyright,  providing you aren't knowingly promoting online piracy, or enabling students to get round a paywall.

Multimedia materials

Take care when utilizing other people's images in your teaching materials, to ensure that your use meets the criteria for Instruction as defined in English law:

  • Instruction is the "sole purpose" (this might suggest that reproducing the image for light relief in between educational activities, or to promote the institution, would not be covered)
  • The image is fully attributed "unless this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise"
  • Your use is non-commercial (UK publicly-funded HEIs are considered non-commercial in this context, despite tuition fees. However, an educational activity with ticket-buying members of the public may not be covered)
  • Your use is fair dealing, i.e. no impact on the rights-holder's commercial opportunities.

If the image is sufficiently high quality to have a market value in its own right (for example, a film still, cartoon, photographic landscape or book cover), be mindful that should your teaching material become available online beyond the virtual classroom, the rights-holder might claim that your reproduction is competing with the market for their work.

Recommended sources of images which are free to re-use for non-commercial purposes:


A subscribed collection of digitized artworks licensed for educational use:

Films are protected by copyright in the UK for 50 years after the last of these rights-holders dies: principal director, producer, screenplay author, composer of soundtrack. TV programmes are protected for 50 years from date of first broadcast; sound recordings for 50 years from the date of recording.

cinema iconIf you wish to incorporate copyright AV material which isn't already licensed for educational use into your teaching:  UK law permits teachers and students to screen a film or TV broadcast "at an educational establishment", for "instruction". 

youtube iconLegal opinion is mixed about whether this can include using unlicensed AV material for e-learning activities.  It can be argued that streaming a film via a password-protected platform to a closed group of students at a specific time meets the criteria for an "educational establishment".  However, there's less confidence amongst UKHEIs that making a recording available via the VLE for students to engage with in their own time would qualify as a permitted use in UK law, and any legal exception would be unlikely to cover students based outside the UK.

For this reason, uploading copyright-protected AV files to Canvas should be avoided if possible.

If you find freely-available video content which is relevant to your teaching, but you're not sure whether it's a legitimate source, you can reduce the risk of liability for copyright infringement if you give students the link rather than making a copy of the file.  But be mindful that the host platform may remove any unauthorised material without warning


Copyright Guidance for Using Films in Online Teaching During the Covid-19 Pandemic:  a paper by Emily Hudson, Kings College London School of Law,  exploring the legalities and potential workarounds (published 6-8-2020).


Subscribed sources of digital AV content which are licensed for educational use:

undefinedSheet maps are not covered by the University's CLA Licence for course reading. Ordnance Survey maps are Crown Copyright, protected for 50 years from date of publication.  

UK law permits teachers and students to play recorded music "at an educational establishment", for "instruction", whether or not it is licensed for educational use.  Opinion is mixed about whether this could include ripping CDs for remote learning.


If you are creating e-learning material using proprietary software (such as Camtasia),  use the soundtracks provided if you wish to incorporate backing music. You could also try the Free Music Archive,  a music platform used by over 34 000 artists to share tracks with an open licence for non-commercial reuse.

undefinedMusical scores are protected for 70 years after the death of the composer; later additions such as lyrics, fingering or breathing marks are also protected for 70 years after the death of the creator.  The typographic setting of a score is protected for 25 years from the date of publication. 

Photocopying or scanning sheet music for educational purposes isn't covered by the University's CLA Licence: refer to the MPA Guidelines for Copying Sheet Music.

Subscribed digital collections of music recordings which are licensed for educational use:

The University holds the NLA Education Establishment Licence for making digital copies from UK print newspapers for teaching and media monitoring purposes.  Copies can be uploaded to a VLE or distributed to students via email.


Subscribed sources of news and current affairs material which are licensed for educational use:

Open Education Resources for teaching

Universities own the copyright in teaching materials produced by their employees, unless they have explicitly waived this right.  However, some educators choose to licence their material for wider use, free of charge.  See Copyright: The Basics for an overview of open licensing schemes, including Creative Commons.

Where to find OERs  (University of Hull has no formal relationship with these providers)

  • MERLOT: maintained by California State University, a peer-reviewed collection of online tutorials, self-contained modules, student activities, assessment tools, teacher guides and reading material.  Users can search by keyword or browse by discipline, academic level (from pre-school to graduate), format and more.
  • OER Commons: a curated digital resource library founded by ISKME, "an independent, education nonprofit" based in Califormia,  Browse by discipline and filter by academic level (from pre-school to graduate), material type and more.  Register for membership (free) in order to join interest groups and receive updates.
  • OpenBook Publishers:  "...the leading independent Open Access publisher in the Humanities and Social Sciences in the UK: a not-for-profit Social Enterprise run by scholars who are committed to making high-quality research freely available to readers around the world. All our books are available to read online and download for free".  Paper copies are also offered for sale.
  • newOpen Content Toolkit: created by independent education consultant and former Hull researcher Theodore Kuechel,  the Toolkit consists of a curated directory of cultural heritage resources from around the world which have an open licence for educational use,  plus a collaborative space for teachers.  Content includes text, images, audio and multimedia digital collections from the British Library, Rijksmuseum, Smithsonian, Project Gutenberg, NASA and many more.
  • OpenLearn Create: the Open University's Moodle platform for its own free courses also includes a space for educators at other institutions to create and share open courses.  Use it to identify standalone modules for your students to undertake,  some of which are credit-bearing.
  • Textbook Revolution:  "a student-run site (based in the USA) dedicated to increasing the use of free educational materials by teachers and professors".  Browse by discipline for an interesting selection of open books and course materials for higher level study.
  • Wikiversity: from the not-for-profit Wikimedia Foundation, a collaborative space for creating and sharing educational resources for all levels.  Browse by discipline for bitesize learning objects and fully-realised courses which you can repurpose in your own material or signpost for students.

You may also find useful teaching material in the many e-books and e-journals which are published with Open Access.


Further support for University of Hull teaching staff:

The Brynmor Jones Library Skills Team maintain a directory of sources of images (photos, artworks and illustrations) which are free-to-reuse in education and other non-commercial contexts:


Follow the University's Teaching Excellence Academy on Twitter for more suggestions and advice about creating remote learning materials.


Contact the Library's Skills specialists for advice about embedding Library material in your teaching:

More information

Copyright, Fair Dealing and Online Teaching at a Time of Crisis 

This blog post (18-3-2020) by UK e-learning and copyright experts Chris Morrison and Jane Secker includes free access to selected chapters from their authoritative handbook:

Copyright & E-learning: A guide for practitioners (Facet Publishing, 2018)