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Copyright: Learning materials

“Teachers and lecturers often feel uncertain about how copyright works, leading some to avoid using specific content for teaching and others to believe that anything goes”.

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)

hyperlink iconConsider 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

Using copyright-protected material for teaching

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.

UK copyright law (CDPA s 34) permits teachers and students to screen a film or TV programme "at an educational establishment" for an audience "directly connected with the activities of the establishment", without applying for a screening licence. 

It is unclear whether this provision could also cover streaming or making a copy of unlicensed audiovisual material for distributing to students via a VLE.

Learning On Screen, the UK's specialist charitable body supporting the use of moving image and sound in education, has launched a Code of Fair Practice for the Use of Audiovisual Works in Film Education (2023), "designed to empower film educators with the knowledge and guidance they need to make informed decisions regarding copyright and the legal use of audiovisual materials for educational purposes", co-written with academics and legal experts.

As well as clarifying legitimate use of licensed content, the Code sets some parameters for best practice when screening or embedding content from free-to-access video sharing services (e.g. YouTube, Tik Tok), or educators' own subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime).  Format-shifting (e.g. ripping a DVD) and using clips/making adaptations of copyright-protected films for education and assessment are also addressed.


artist iconTake 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.

University of Hull Library Skills team maintains a directory of sources of images which are free to re-use for non-commercial purposes


A subscribed collection of digitized artworks licensed for educational use:

Oxford Art Online

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. 

Reproduction of an extract from an OS map in teaching material or assessed work may be defensible as fair dealing, if there's no suitable licensed alternative.

University of Hull Library subscribes to several sources of geospatial data which are licensed for educational use.
UK law permits teachers and students to play recorded music "at an educational establishment", for "instruction", whether or not the recording 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),  consider using the soundtracks provided if you wish to incorporate backing music.  Or see below for a selection of music collections which are licensed for educational use.

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.

Sites offering music tracks with an open licence for non-commercial reuse:

University of Hull Library subscribes to several digital collections of music recordings which are licensed for educational use.


To play recorded music in a non-educational setting such as a campus catering venue or public event, you will need a licence from PPL PRS Limited, who represent musicians and distributors:

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.

University of Hull Library subscribes to several digital collections of current and historical newspapers which are licensed for educational use.

Livestreaming a video game is technically a breach of the rights-holder's copyright in the artistic, dramatic and musical elements of the game. An article in PC Gamer (2020) sets out the arguments for and against reimbursing game developers for reuse of their material.

However, many game developers are known to tolerate livestreaming, as they benefit from the exposure.  Currently, very few distributors offer any kind of educational licence for recreational video games (other than Minecraft).  Use of a modest amount of video game footage with full attribution for educational purposes may be defensible as fair dealing.

Recording Lectures

Jisc has published a guide (2020) to the legal considerations applying to lecture recordings in HEIs.  Some key points:

  • "Where materials are produced by a lecturer (employee) as part of his/her job, copyright is generally owned by the employer (university)".
  • "Apart from certain exceptions, where a lecture includes works that have been created by non-employees (eg visiting speakers, students, third parties) permission will be required to include them in a recording".
  • "Universities need consent of performers (including employees and visiting speakers) in order to record, copy, or make available a performance".
  • "Everyone attending should know that it is being recorded, why it's being recorded and who will have access to it".

If your slides incorporate text, images or AV created by someone else, read the section of this guide on Using copyright-protected material for teaching.

If the recording is going to be made public on a platform which does not require a University of Hull login, ensure that any third party material has an open licence, or obtain permission from the rights-holder.

Open Education Resources (OERs) 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)

  • HathiTrust Digital Library: 18+ million scanned items from the collections of more than 60 academic and research libraries from across North America and other countries. Around 40% are free to read online (although downloads are restricted), created from works which are out of copyright or published with an open licence.  You can search the full text by keyword or browse curated collections.
  • 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.
  • MIT Open Courseware: OERs from over 2500 courses provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including online textbooks, lecture videos and complete modules.  All content is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA, so that it can be copied and adapted in any non-commercial context, providing the original source is acknowledged and any new content arising also has an open licence.
  • 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.
  • Open 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.
  • New!Open Textbook Library: hosted by the University of Minnesota, a searchable collection of over 1000 course texts which are free to download, adapt and distribute.  Most titles originate from US university presses.
  • Project Gutenberg Bookshelves: curated themed collections of digitized texts from one of the first free e-book libraries, maintained by volunteers and overseen by the US-based non-profit Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.  Read online or download for Kindle or EPub reader. A good source of high-quality digitizations of out-of-copyright classic texts and novels.
  • 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.

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


Further reading

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)