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The Digital Student: Licensing & copyright

"You must not infringe copyright, or break the terms of licences for software or other material."

ICT Acceptable Use Policy, University of Hull, 2021.

In the digital world, clipping or downloading someone else's material is often so easy that we don't notice that we might be infringing their copyright. In an educational setting, UK law enables students and teachers to reproduce copyright material without the rights-holder's explicit permission, in specific scenarios.

Copying for private study

Copying for Private Study

ReadUK copyright law permits anyone to copy/save material from a book, journal, website, audio/video recording or social media platform for their own private study,  providing you are accessing the original legally, and your use is "fair dealing" (see below).

Printing, photocopying or scanning, ripping or downloading, screen capture, photography or filming, recording and transcribing are all treated in law as 'making a copy', therefore subject to copyright law.

Your lecturer does not have an automatic right to make copies for students.  For information about what lecturers are allowed to copy,  see the section of this guide For Teachers.

How much is 'fair'?

Your copy should not be a substitute for paying for the material, and shouldn't reach a wider audience than the original. 

Be mindful that publishers derive income from selling e-books and e-journals to libraries, even when access via the Library website appears to be unrestricted.

Material which is free to access online (including websites, journalism, social media and image galleries) is also protected by copyright, even though you may not be able to find a copyright statement or licence terms.  

Thumbs upProbably fair thumb downProbably not fair
Photocopying or scanning a few pages from a Library book Copying a different chapter every week until you've got the whole book
Downloading an article from an e-journal to read offline Emailing the pdf to a friend at another university
Snipping a photo from a news website to use in an assignment Publishing the photo in a student newspaper
Embedding an audio/video clip in a presentation to classmates Uploading the presentation onto Slideshare or a similar platform

Assessments (including dissertations)

Assessments (including dissertations)

Under UK law, students are permitted to reproduce copyright material in classroom activities or assessments, for the attention of classmates, tutors, and examiners (CPDA s 32). Your use must be 'fair dealing':

  • Fully attributed
  • No more than is necessary to illustrate your point
  • Not shared with anyone who's not a participant in the educational activity
  • No impact on the rights-holder's market for the work.

See the panel to the left for some examples of 'fair dealing' in a university context.

Accessible copies

Accessible copies

When you're unable to use the material in its original format, and there's no accessible version available, you are entitled to copy the whole work into a different format which you can access more easily, or ask someone else to copy it for you.

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‚Äč 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.