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Referencing: Copyright

What is Copyright?

The information on this page is advisory and is not intended as legal advice. 

Copyright is a system of law designed to give creators of original works the right to control the ways in which their works are used. Protected works include written material, dramatic works, music, websites, databases, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, art works, photographs, sculptures, translations and typographical layout. Works do not have to be published to be protected. Most artistic works are protected irrespective of artistic quality (however, this is a requirement for works of architecture and artistic craftsmanship).

Copyright lasts for a fixed term period. This varies depending on the format of the work in question, but as a general rule copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator. Following this period, works fall into the public domain and can be freely reused.

Copyright law in the UK is defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). Copyrighted material can only be used if you have the express permission of the copyright holder, it is available under licence (where applicable), or if your usage falls under one of the Fair Dealing exceptions to UK copyright law.

Need Help?

If you have any questions about copyright, contact your Subject Librarian.

Further copyright advice for teaching and research purposes is available on the Staff Support pages

Copyright for Students

Although copyright law protects all works created by someone else, UK law makes provision for you to use these works for the purposes of your own study, within reasonable limits, under an exception to copyright law known as Fair Dealing. More information about fair dealing exceptions, and how to use these legally, can be found on the UK.Gov website, but the two most relevant exceptions are:

Copying for Research and Private Study
Students and researchers will often need to make use of materials which are copyright protected. In the context of your studies, you may have to make copies or use extracts of those materials. This is covered in UK law by s.29 of the CDPA, which permits making single copies or taking short extracts of works when the use is made for non-commercial research or for private study. The exception for research and private study applies to all types of copyrighted work, and to recordings of performances of works. However you are only allowed to copy what is necessary for your purposes and could be considered to be 'fair' - copying the whole work or making multiple copies of a chapter/section would not be considered fair dealing.

Copying for Quotation, Criticism or Review
When writing an academic essay, dissertation or thesis, or doing most other kinds of academic research, you will almost certainly want to quote from copyrighted works. This is permitted under s.30 of the CDPA, so long as your usage can be said to be Fair Dealing and the extracts you use are no longer than required to achieve your purpose. This is allowed for any type of copyrighted work, including images.

You must also include sufficient acknowledgement of the original work, to identify the creator of the work and the title of the material. In practice, this is done with proper referencing and citation – which is a copyright requirement as well as an academic convention. 

Your Own Copyright

As artists and creators, you should also know how copyright protects your work. In the UK your work is protected automatically as soon as it is "fixed" in some way, such as written down, drawn on paper, recorded electronically, etc. No registration is required to obtain copyright protection, and you are not required to include the © symbol to assert your copyright. However, if you are concerned about infringement it is best to make this explicit. Also bear in mind that copyright does not protect ideas, only the fixed expression of them. 

Anti-Copying in Design (ACID) and the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) are organisations that can help you protect your copyright and intellectual property.

More information about copyright for artists can be found in this book:

Copy This Book: An Artists Guide to Copyright

Useful Websites
Independent, comprehensive advice on UK copyright law.

Anti-Copying in Design (ACID)
The UK’s leading campaigning organisation for design and intellectual property.

Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS)
UK-based organisation providing rights management and copyright advice for artists.

Section of Artquest service concerning all aspects of art and the law, including copyright, written by a legal specialist.