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Research Support: Copyright for Research

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.

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. 

Fair Dealing makes provision within the law to legally reproduce limited sections of copyrighted work for various purposes, including for non-commercial research, within certain restrictions. More information about Fair Dealing can be found on Gov.UK website.

Copyright for Research

Researchers often need to make use of materials which are copyright protected. In the context of their research or study, you may have to make copies or use extracts of those materials. This is covered in 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.

When reviewing a work, writing an academic paper, or doing most other kinds of academic research, you will likely 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 your quotation is no more than is required to achieve your purpose. This is allowed for any type of copyrighted work, including images.

However, you cannot just reproduce the material without accompanying it with genuine critique or putting it into context, by way of discussion or assessment.

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

Copyright guidance concerning the incorporation of other people’s work into your research still applies for conference presentations. You should ensure you have permission to use any third party materials if they are in copyright. However, you may be able to use extracts of works under Fair Dealing exceptions, and the exceptions for Illustration for Instruction (s.32 CDPA), can still be relied on, although educational licences such as the CLA and ERA are not applicable. Caution is advised in this area, as many conference presentations are recorded and shared online, making any breaches of copyright a higher risk. 

Various forms of art and design that incorporate copyrighted works, such as appropriation art and collaging, have resulted in contentious copyright issues regarding their validity under copyright law. If you are incorporating copyrighted works into an artwork, and you are using a  ‘substantial part’ of the work, you need to ensure your usage falls under one of the exceptions to copyright or you have permission from the copyright holder. The Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) operates a licencing system to make it easier to acquire appropriate permissions.

Written accoutrement (titles, names, phrases, and slogans) are not usually subject to copyright. This is a good thing, otherwise calling your work Untitled would be a violation of copyright!

Additional information about artworks and copyright can be found on the DACS website.

Protecting Your Copyight

Researchers who publish their work will also need to consider how to assert or protect their own copyright over their 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.

Copyright is a right that can be transferred, sold or waived. Many academic journals require authors to transfer the copyright of their article to the publisher. Once you have signed a copyright transfer agreement with a publisher, you must ask the publisher’s permission to re-use your publication in new publications or in teaching. However, it is possible for authors to negotiate the terms of these contracts and retain some of their copyright. Template forms have been developed to assist with this, see the SPARC Author Addendum

Artists are also frequently asked to "waive" their moral rights, another protection conferred by copyright law. It is extremely inadvisable to waive your moral rights: this is your right to be identified as the creator of your work and your right to object to derogatory treatment of your work.


The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Licence permits photocopying as well as limited scanning and digitisation from textual works. All digitisation must be done by AUB’s Library Service and reported to the CLA. Under the terms of the CLA, AUB has the responsibility to ensure that access is controlled and secure. See the page on Reading Lists & Digitisation for more information.

The NLA (Newspaper Licensing Agency) licence permits copying from the print and online versions of all the major UK daily and Sunday newspapers (excluding The Financial Times), as well as some regional newspapers.

The NLA licence only covers printing; it does not extend to making digital copies via scanning. 

The Educational Recording Agency (ERA) Licensing Scheme permits staff at educational establishments in the UK to copy, access and use TV and radio programmes for non-commercial educational purposes. In practice, this is mostly done through the BoB National service.

Creative Commons (CC) is a worldwide licence. Any individuals, no matter where in the world they are located, may reuse material that has been made available under CC Licence. You can easily find materials licenced for reuse under Creative Commons using the Creative Commons Search. You can also use materials available in Open Educational Resources, which can be searched for using the OER Commons.  CC Licensing does not replace copyright; you need to abide by any restrictions on the licence, or doing so is a violation of 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.

Need Help?

If you have any questions about copyright for teaching and research, contact your Subject Librarian.