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Please note: this document can only provide guidance and does not constitute legal advice. Further information on copyright and commonly encountered copyright issues can be found on the website of the University's Legal Services Office.

Libraries and librarians work with copyright protected material every day and often have to field questions about related issues from their users. It can be difficult to know where to start as the issues are as varied as the library user base. The following webpages are intended as a guide to some of the basic issues surrounding copyright that library staff may encounter.

What is copyright?

Copyright exists to protect the rights of the person(s) who has created a work and ensure that they receive due recognition for their contribution. As a property right it gives the copyright holder power over how the work is used, distributed and adapted for a set period of time.  It is part of a group of rights which protect intellectual property whilst at the same time encouraging creativity in the creation of new material.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright is an automatic right that comes into force when a work which meets certain criteria is created:

  • the work should be original
  • it should be produced in a fixed form (for example, written down)
  • it should be a literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, film, broadcast work or a sound recording

Although this seems like a small list it covers a wide range of material, for example documents, reports, papers, data, letters, tables, computer programs, databases, photographs, typographical arrangements of published editions, sculptures, sound recordings, films and broadcasts.

Works may contain many separate instances of copyright. For example, a book or journal article may contain text and tables (treated by copyright law as literary works) and photographs or maps (artistic works). It is important to consider any third-party material used in your work and check permissions with the copyright holder as necessary.

Who owns copyright?

Copyright is usually defined as belonging to the creator of a work but there are some issues to bear in mind.

In the case of University staff, the position regarding copyright in works they create is set out in their terms and conditions of employment and in the University's Intellectual Property Rights policy. The policy states that for most works, copyright in a work belongs to its creator, except where a funding or sponsorship agreement provides otherwise or the work is created for the administrative or managerial purposes of the University or is commissioned by the University e.g. special reports on University policy, library catalogues etc.

The University's Intellectual Property Rights policy also addresses copyright in works generated by students. Please go to this page for more information.

Although UK copyright law, by way of the statutory copyright exception of ‘fair dealing for the purposes of illustration for instruction’, allows an author to incorporate short extracts of others’ in-copyright material into their thesis, with sufficient acknowledgement, it is more restrictive when it comes to publishing or disseminating the thesis.  So stricter conditions apply if the thesis is to be made available via Apollo or placed on a website.

Copyright basics

The following covers some of the common issues that library staff experience when dealing with copyright queries from users. For a more comprehensive overview please visit the University Copyright Compliance pages (Raven login required).

Libraries offer a ‘fair dealing’ policy around the copying of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study. A single copy of a published printed work can be made for personal use to the following limits:

  • One chapter of a book or extracts from a book up to a maximum of 5% of the whole book
  • One article of a journal issue
  • One article from a single newspaper
  • One paper from a set of conference proceedings
  • One report of one case from a book of law reports
  • Up to 5% of an anthology of short stories or poems or one short story or poem if not more than 10 pages
  • Up to 10% (if not more than 20 pages or 2 pages if brief) of a short book without chapters, report, pamphlet or standard
  • A short excerpt from a musical work for study purposes but not performance

Seeking written permission or a licence to reproduce a copyrighted work in whole or in part

It may be possible to use copyrighted works with permission from the copyright holders. Check for copyright statements on the work in question.

Publishers often have a Rights and Permissions section on their website which will detail what you need to do to use material.

If you wish to use material from a website queries should be directed to the webmaster in the first instance.

Permission requests should include:

  • A full description/bibliographic reference for the material you wish to use
  • Identification of the rights sought i.e. what do you want to use the material for?

Please note that permission requests can take time and the material should not be included without them.

Orphan works are works currently protected by copyright but where the copyright holder cannot be traced or is not known. This must not be assumed and attempts must be made to establish if the copyright holder can be contacted, a process known as ‘diligent searching’. More information on this process and orphan works in general can be found here.

Using copyrighted images

The use of copyrighted images is an area which library staff often have to consider. Users commonly want to know if they can use such images in their own work or presentations.

Section 32 of the Copyright Act allows fair dealing for the purposes of instruction. For example when talking about a famous painting it would be acceptable under fair dealing to show an image of the painting in question. However the source of the image must be acknowledged and the exemption applies only to staff and/or a single cohort of students viewing the presentation. This means that if the presentation were subsequently uploaded to the Internet any images would have to be removed. One way to deal with this is to remove the images prior to upload and replace them with links to the online content.  If in doubt it is best not to use the image and instead try to find a non-copyrighted image. Further information about finding non-copyrighted images is available here.

When it comes to reproducing images in written work users should seek the permission of the copyright holder. In such cases it is good practice to acknowledge the source (e.g. Reproduced with the kind permission of…) and keep a record of correspondence in case it is needed in the future. Templates for permission letters can be found through the following links:

Cambridge University Press

University of Texas


For more information please see the page on third party copyright.

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