Skip to main content

The Digital Student: Licensing & copyright

Ensuring you are aware of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is important. It helps you to understand how your own work is protected and can stop you from infringing the rights of others. Intellectual Property Rights are legal rights that exist in works of original intellectual or creative activity. These rights exist at all levels of society, so even if you don’t know about them, you are still bound by them!

The primary goal of IPR is not to prohibit the use of resources, but to ensure that creators receive proper financial recompense for their work. The different types of IPR include copyright, patents, designs, trademarks and database rights. This webpage is a very quick introduction to this topic. More help and advice can be found on the Copyright LibGuide.

Types of IPR


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.

See also the Copyright LibGuide


Patents are a right you must register for, and give an inventor the right to stop others from making, using or selling their invention for a period of 20 years, after which it passes into the public domain.

Patents are governed by the Patents Act 1977. To qualify for a patent, an invention must be new, involve an ‘inventive step’ and be capable of industrial application.


Design rights are automatic and protect a design for 10 years after the design was first sold or 15 years after it was created which evere is earliest. If registered, rights will be extended to 25 years and provides a registration no. which can be displayed on a design. The rights cover 2-dimensional designs such as graphics, textiles and wallpaper, in terms of their appearance, physical shape, configuration and decoration. A design must be new, cannot be offensive or make use of protected emblems or be an invention.

Designs are governed by the Registered Designs Act of 1949. You can view existing designs at

Database rights

Database rights refer to collections of independent works, data or other materials which are arranged in a systematic or methodical way and are individually accessible by electronic or other means. This covers encyclopaedias, library catalogues and bibliographic databases such as Cinahl or Web of Science. This exists to protect the investment of financial, human or technical resources in the creation of the database. The individual elements of the database may be available in a form not covered by copyright, but the wholesale copying of the entire database would be prohibited.

Database rights are governed by Section 3A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act and The Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997.



Where rights exist that prohibit people from reusing intellectual property, the way around this is usually to agree a licence to use the resource with the rightsowner. For resources the university subscribes to, licences have already been agreed, and similarly, when you sign up to a service such as Flickr or Spotify, the terms and conditions will include what licensed rights you have. Often there is a cost involved with licensing, but the Open Access movements has seen a greater awareness and granting of rights than has existed previously.

Licensing your own work

If you create something, you may want others to be able to use it. One licensing scheme that is easy to use and provides licensing templates is Creative Commons. Creative Commons offer a range of different options that allow you to easily licence what rights you want to other users and the licences are recognised internationally.

All Creative Commons licenses have many important features in common. Every license helps creators retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work — at least non-commercially. Every Creative Commons license also ensures licensors get the credit for their work they deserve. Every Creative Commons license works around the world and lasts as long as applicable copyright lasts (because they are built on copyright). These common features serve as the baseline, on top of which licensors can choose to grant additional permissions when deciding how they want their work to be used.

(Credit: Creative Commons. 2015)

Licence your work here

If you are creating material to be open educational resources or open access, it is still important to manage your copyright in terms of what you want other people to be able to do with it. To do so it is best to create a licence that is clear on what users are able to do. One of the most commonly used licensing schemes is Creative Commons, which is recognised internationally.

Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons Licences

Useful legislation

There are several exceptions to copyright: and these cover a number of uses including teaching and parody, but all in respect of fair dealing.

In 2014 amendments to copyright law increased the capacity for fair dealing. "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)

It also created a provision for format-shifting material for personal use, meaning that individuals can create digital copies of things that they own, though they are not allowed to share those digital copies.

Issues for students:

Issues for students can arise when working on research, or in the reproduction or exploitation of creative works.

Here are some scenarios:

I am creating a presentation and want to include a reproduction of one of Banksy’s artworks in it. I aren’t able to take a picture myself, so I’ve sourced one from the internet.

I’m working in a group on a project and have found a video I think is useful to us all and want to share it by putting it on a website.

I’ve found

We’re running an event as part of … and want to use the Facebook logo in our publicity.

Can I use this image?


What do you intend to do with the image? If it is for personal research and non-commercial purposes, you should be fine. If you are going to use the image in a classroom, you should be fine. If you are going to post the image on the internet, you need to check the licensing.

When was the image created? Depending how old the image is, it might have fallen out of copyright and into the public domain. If so you can use the image without prejudice.

Duration of copyright as stated by the 1988 copyright, designs and patents act is

  1. For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
    70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies.

    If the author is unknown, copyright will last for 70 years from end of the calendar year in which the work was created, although if it is made available to the public during that time, (by publication, authorised performance, broadcast, exhibition, etc.), then the duration will be 70 years from the end of the year that the work was first made available.
  1. Sound Recordings and broadcasts
    50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was created, or, if the work is released within that time: 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first released
  1. Films
    70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last principal director, author or composer dies.

    If the work is of unknown authorship: 70 years from end of the calendar year of creation, or if made available to the public in that time, 70 years from the end of the year the film was first made available.
  1. Typographical arrangement of published editions
    25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published
  1. Broadcasts and cable programmes
    50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made.
  1. Crown Copyright
    Crown copyright will exist in works made by an officer of the Crown, this includes items such as legislation and documents and reports produced by government bodies.

    Crown Copyright will last for a period of 125 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.

    If the work was commercially published within 75 years of the end of the calendar year in which it was made, Crown copyright will last for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was published.
  1. Parliamentary Copyright
    Parliamentary Copyright will apply to work that is made by or under the direction or control of the House of Commons or the House of Lords and will last until 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.
More information