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Legislation and background information

All UCL staff and students need to be aware of the main points of copyright law. The following sections summarise the key provisions of UK legislation and some of the Licensing Schemes that enable re-use of materials:

What is copyright?

Copyright is the legal protection given to a piece of original work as soon as it has been recorded either on paper, in an audio recording, on film, or electronically. It gives the creator of the work the exclusive right to make copies of their work and issue them to the public. Anyone who infringes that right by copying a protected work without the permission of the copyright owner can be sued for damages.

Copyright is a form of property which can be sold ("assigned") or leased ("licenced") in the same way as other forms of property. It comes into existence automatically as soon as a work is created without any need for registration. Copyright legislation does not protect ideas, only recorded works.

In the UK the legal framework, including what is protected and for how long, is laid out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and subsequent Statutory Instruments.

What is protected?

Literary, dramatic, musical works

Literary works are defined as anything which is written, spoken or sung and includes tables, compilations, computer programmes and databases. Dramatic works include works of dance or mime.

Artistic works

These include photographs, maps, charts, plans, engravings, sculpture, buildings and models of buildings.

Sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes

Sound recordings include spoken word material. Films include any kind of video recording. Soundtracks are treated as part of films.

Typographical arrangements of published editions

This means the way the words are arranged on the pages of a literary, dramatic or musical work.

To qualify for protection a literary, dramatic or musical work must be recorded in writing or some other form and be original, that is not copied from another work.

Copyright legislation applies to works whether they are made available in traditional formats – books, etc, or published on the electronically on the Web.

How long does copyright last?

The length of time during which a work is protected depends on its type.

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works are protected for 70 years after the death of the author.
  • Films are protected for 70 years after the death of the last to die of the director, author of the screenplay/dialogue or composer of the soundtrack.
  • Sound recordings are protected for 50 years after the end of the year in which they were first made or released.
  • Typographical arrangements are protected for 25 years after the end of the year in which the edition was published.
When can copyright material be copied?

Copying material that is protected by copyright usually requires the permission of the copyright holder or their representatives.

However, you can copy without permission in certain circumstances under the exceptions to copyright holder's exclusive rights contained in the 1988 Act. The most important of these for universities are fair dealing and for examinations.

Fair dealing

This allows individuals to make copies for the purposes of their own private study or research or for criticism and review. Only a single copy is permissible. The amount that can be copied under fair dealing is not specified but reasonable limits should be applied.

For example: as a student you may make a photocopy or scan a book chapter that appears you need to read for an assignment. You may only use this copy yourself and it should not be passed on to others.


The Act permits copying for the purposes of examination by way of setting questions, communicating the questions to candidates or answering the questions. "Purposes of examination" is not defined but experts advise that it is unlikely the exemption applies to work continually assessed as part of the examination process.

For example: you may wish to include images from printed sources within your thesis or dissertation. This is possible under the exemption. Some issues may arise if your thesis is then made available online, please refer to http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/e-theses/ for further information on this.

Licence schemes

Groups of publishers and authors' representatives have combined to grant collective permissions in the form of licence schemes. These allow staff and students at subscribing institutions to copy protected works without having to seek individual copyright holders' permission.

UCL holds a CLA Higher Education Scanning and Photocopying Licence (sometimes referred to as the ’Basic’ licence), which enables copying from printed sources to support groups of students on a course of study.

Licensing Agencies and Licensing Schemes

A number of national bodies exist that administer copyright on behalf of groups of creators and copyright owners. The majority of these bodies provide licensing schemes to enable end users to reproduce copyrighted material without requesting permission. Details of these agencies and their schemes are below:

Printed materials: books and journal

The Copyright licensing Agency (CLA) is the largest licensing body. It is a not-for-profit body that is owned by the publishers and authors and so looks after rights owners' interests in the copying of books, journals, magazines and periodicals.

UCL holds a CLA Higher Education Scanning and Photocopying Licence, which enables copying from printed sources to support groups of students on a course of study. The Photocopying aspect of the Licence covers all copying across UCL, the Scanning aspect is administered by the TLSS. Full details of the Licence, it's limits and how it can be used are available here: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/library/coursecopy.shtml


UCL holds a Newspaper Licensing Agency licence which allows staff and students to copy newspaper articles subject to the following conditions:

  • the whole newspaper must not be copied
  • no digital copy of the article is made
  • the copy carries a clear reference to the original
  • no more than 250 copies of the article are made
  • copies are only made from newspapers represented by the NLA. This includes all UK national and Sunday newspapers and many regional and local ones. See library web pages for a full list.
Off-air recording

UCL holds an Educational Recording Agency Licence. This allows designated individuals to make off-air recordings of radio or television programmes. Within the conditions of the licence tapes may be copied further and used in class, catalogued and kept.


UCL holds a licence with the Design and Artist's Copyright Society which permits the creation of slides from images in books and similar. The Licence does not currently provide for digital copying of images at all.

Crown and Parliamentary Copyright

Licences are in place, which allows members of UCL to reproduce materials protected by Crown or Parliamentary Copyright. These Licences are issued by the Office of Public Sector Information (soon to become Legislation.gov.uk). Click for more information on Crown and Parliamentary Copyright and the Click-use Licence.

Creative Commons

A little different from the schemes above as it encourages the sharing of content created by individuals. You will find material on the Web that is issued under a Creative Commons Licence. The licence accompanying the material (usually a logo that links to more information) will clearly define what types of re-use are permitted by the creator. More information about the scheme and the licenses:

If you have any queries or need further advice please contact: copyright@ucl.ac.uk

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Last modified 24 January 2013

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