It is very easy to copy or scan other people’s work, but before you do so, stop to consider whether you are operating within the bounds of copyright law.
Copyright exists automatically and does not need to be registered. It is there to protect the creator’s intellectual input and to allow them to control how their work is subsequently used.
As long as it is correctly referenced, it is permissible to use copyright material in your academic work for assessment purposes, but if you intend to use it for any purposes other than this, you must get permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright lasts for certain periods of time, depending on the format, so it is important when using copyright material to ensure that the relevant permissions have been obtained, or to see if copyright ‘exceptions’ apply.
If copyright has expired, the work is then considered to be in the public domain, and restrictions no longer apply.
Please note: This information should be viewed as a guide and does not constitute legal advice.
Published literary, artistic, musical or dramatic works: 70 years after the death of the author.
Unpublished literary, artistic, musical or dramatic works: 70 years after the death of the author or until 31 December 2039, whichever is the later date.
Typography: 25 years from point of publication.
Sound recordings: 70 years from the date of creation or release.
Crown Copyright: usually 50 years after creation or publication.
October 2014 saw revisions to UK law that bolstered ‘exceptions’ to copyright for educational and research purposes, however, they should be applied with caution as they are only appropriate in some circumstances and should be used in conjunction with the principles of ‘fair dealing’. For further information on these exceptions see this Intellectual Property Office page.
In this case, fair dealing means the proper acknowledgement of the creator, not using the work for commercial purposes, not copying the whole work when a smaller extract is required, and ensuring that the subsequent use of the work does not compete with the normal exploitation of it by the rights holder.
Copyright laws allow for a limited amount of copying under the right of ‘fair dealing’ whereby the copyright holder’s rights are not infringed. Copying should be for the purposes of “non commercial research or private study”.
The proportion that can be copied is restricted to whichever is the greater of:
- 5% or one chapter of a book
- 5% or one article of a journal issue
- 5% or one paper from a set of conference proceedings
- 5% of an anthology of short stories or poems or one short story or one poem of not more than 10 pages
- The report of one case from law reports
- One copy of a web page
Copyright and the Web
Copyright applies to all material on the internet unless there is a statement to say otherwise.
If you want to print or download from a page, first check to see if the page indicates what is allowed.
If no guidance is given, you may make a single copy of the material for the purposes of private study or non-commercial research.
The design, layout and contents of websites are protected by copyright so if you are looking to build a new website, it is essential that this is done without taking from someone else’s work.
Creative Commons (CC)
These are widely-used licences that work alongside copyright and which give the creator the opportunity to indicate how that work is shared or reused by the public. A range of CC licence options are available allowing for more restrictive or permissive conditions, depending on the creator’s choice. CC licences can be used free of charge. To identify if a Creative Commons licence is in use, look for the CC logo followed by additional letter codes. These additional letter codes will show the type of restrictions or permissions chosen by the creator for the work. To learn more about the licensing options available, see the Creative Commons website.
Photographs, maps, illustrations and graphics are all considered to be artistic works under UK Copyright Law, even if they are not considered to have any artistic quality. If you want to copy images for use within an assessed piece of work it is okay to do so as long as you properly acknowledge the source, but if that work is then published (putting material online is considered to be publishing), and you do not have the permission of the rights holder, it would be a breach of copyright.
Taking a photograph of an artistic work, for example a painting, is an infringement of the artist’s copyright unless permission has been sought.
If images have the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence it means the copyright holder has waived all rights over their reuse. You can copy or modify the work for personal or commercial purposes and attribution is not required.
Below are some online sources for free images:
- Bridgeman Education
A database of over 1.2 million images cleared for educational use. The university pays a subscription for this service.
- CC Search
A metasearch for Creative Commons multimedia.
This site contains many artworks and artefacts from European cultural institutions which are available to reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Change the browse search to an image search. Scroll down the filter and select Can I use it? > Free re-use
- Flickr Creative Commons
The section within Flickr where people have uploaded images under a Creative Commons licence.
- Free Images
Images unique to the site, but the site must be credited if their images are used.
- Google Advanced Search
Allows you to refine your search by usage rights and select a range of licensing options from the drop-down menu. See Google’s guide for extra help.
- OER Commons
A large collection of Open Education Resources.
From the Open University. Gives free access to course materials.
Free stock photos.
A free-to-use library of travel images.
Free stock images.
Free stock photos.
Freely usable images.
- Wellcome Collection Historical Images
Artworks and photographs collected between 1890 and 1936.
- Wikimedia Commons
A database of over 33 million freely usable multimedia files.
Frequently asked questions
- Yes, small amounts of text under the terms of fair dealing, however check the terms and conditions of any electronic material. Beware of using text that could be considered significant, such as the ending of a book, and always acknowledge the source.
- Yes, if you wish to use more than the legal limit, you need to contact the rights holder.
- It is recommended that you receive written permission to reuse or reproduce a work. If you wish to use the work for non-commercial, academic research purposes, you should state this in your request. You should not take a non-response as permission to go ahead, only a response can indicate if permission has been granted.
- All material on the Internet is subject to copyright and not just content. Layout and design are also protected by copyright, although it may not be clearly indicated. Many official websites have terms and conditions of use, but ask permission if you are not certain.
- Copyright exists to protect the authors or publishers against unauthorised use or copying of their work. Almost all work, be it in print (e.g. a book) or electronic format (e.g. a website), is protected by copyright.