Library Services


Copyright for students

Why do I need to think about copyright?

Copyright restricts what you may do lawfully with someone else's work. You may face legal issues for infringing someone's copyright.

It is very important to remain within the law. The law also protects your copyright in your own work. The default is that you need permission before you can reproduce or distribute someone else's work.

What is protected by copyright?

Any kind of creative output you can think of is likely to be protected by copyright from recorded music to blog posts, from novels to computer code, from photographs to journal articles. It needs to be the original work of the author or authors and it must be recorded in some way but there is no quality threshold. 

Copying library materials for private study

Can I copy an article or a chapter in the Library to study it later?

Yes. Copying limited material such as an article from a journal or an extract from a book for your own private study is fine as long as it is "fair dealing".  There is an exception to copyright for non-commercial research or private study, which would usually cover that. It must be "fair dealing".

You must consider, am I...

  • Doing something which could damage the interests of the copyright owner?
  • Copying more than is reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances?
  • Crediting the author and the source?
How much can I copy?

There is no precise answer to this question but "Keep it short" is a good rule. Then you are more likely to pass the fair dealing test. The amount you copy must be reasonable and justifiable in the circumstances. 

Is it Ok to share the copy with my friends?

No! You must not share the copy with anyone else. You may not email it to others or post it on social media or distribute print copies. That would not be covered by the relevant exception.

Can I scan a print article to read it later?

That is fine, as long as it is for your own private study and you adhere to fair dealing.

How about copying an article from an e-journal or an e-book?

That is also fine, as long as it is for your private study and you adhere to fair dealing.

Using other people's work

How can I use extracts from published works within my own work?

When you want to quote an extract from a book or a journal article the usual position is that you must have permission from the copyright owner. This is particularly true if the quote is lengthy and if your own work will be made available to a large number of people (posted on a website for example). The original owner is usually the author but copyright is often transferred to the publisher. It is often best to approach the publisher in the first place. Allow time for obtaining permissions. It is not always a speedy process! Remember to keep the email correspondence as evidence that you have sought and obtained permission.

When quoting modest extracts from someone's work in an academic context you may be able to rely upon one of the "fair dealing" exceptions, chiefly the Quotations exception. This is an alternative to seeking permission, which is valid in some cases. You must use caution when relying upon an exception to copyright. If you are reusing someone's work in a commercial context, such as a published book, it is less likely to be covered by an exception and therefore advisable to seek permission.

What is "fair dealing"?

Fair dealing is a test which you need to apply when you want to use one of the copyright exceptions in order to reuse extracts from someone else's work. There is no legal definition and it would be challenging to formulate one because the circumstances are always different.

The main things to ask yourself are am I…

  • Using too much of the author's work - more than I need to for the purpose?
  • Doing something which could damage the interests of the author - financial interests or otherwise? For example, am I providing a substitute to the original work? Am I doing something that could have an impact on the sales of the original? Am I using it in a derogatory way?
  • Have I attributed the author and source correctly?
Credit where credit is due!

It is essential that you credit the author(s) and the source. This must be accurate and in line with usual academic practice. There is a Library Guide to conventions for citing published works, which you may find helpful. When relying upon the Quotations exception you must ask:

  • Am I using more of this work than is justified (Remember to keep it short!)
  • Could I be I damaging the interests of the copyright owner?
  • Are there any other reasons why this might not be fair dealing?

Provided you have correctly credited someone's work, the use of short extracts from it in an academic context is likely to be covered by the Quotations exception. 

What is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement?

If you reproduce the work of others without crediting the author, giving the impression that it is your own work, you will be open to charges of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious academic issue but not a legal issue like copyright. Copyright is a matter of law and infringement may result in legal action. You infringe copyright when you reuse someone's work without either permission, or a licence or the benefit of an exception, even though you may have credited the author correctly. In practice, the two issues often overlap, that is when someone's work is reproduced without permission and without crediting the author.

Another significant difference: Copyright does not protect ideas, it protects the way they are expressed in someone's work. Plagiarism on the other hand can arise as an issue if you make extensive use of someone's ideas without proper acknowledgement, giving the impression that they are your original ideas.

Why can't I reuse this photograph, which I found on the internet?

Internet content is protected by copyright in just the same way as other material. You may be able to access it freely but that does not mean that you can copy it or reuse it without permission. Photographs and other images are easy to find and copy from the internet but that does not mean it is legal. They are protected by copyright as "artistic works". It can be difficult to discover the identity of the artist or photographer: Images can often be reproduced without retaining that information. Photographers are likely to pursue those who misuse their work. You must be particularly careful about reusing photographs and other images. You need permission or a licence. 

How can I find internet content, which I can reuse?

Creative Commons licences (CC licences) can provide a solution: This is a web-based system of licensing used by authors and artists to offer a licence to those who wish to reuse their work. There is no fee or negotiation of terms. Each type of CC licence includes a simple set of conditions for reuse depending on the author's preferences. Creative Commons licences are explained here in more detail.

Each type of CC licence can be represented by a symbol and is underpinned by an explanation in plain language and by a full legal agreement. If you choose to reuse some content which is CC licensed you must take care to follow the terms of the licence as they are legally binding on you. You can search for CC licensed material on sites such as Flickr and YouTube and you can also start your search from the search page of the Creative Commons website.

The UCL Copyright resources reading list also contains links to a range of websites which offer material which may be freely reused including images and music. Some material is available under a Creative Commons licences and some under other free licences. Some websites may also offer paid-for material so use these websites with care.

Can I link to other people's content? Are there copyright implications?

There can be copyright implications in hyperlinking to internet content but if you are linking to material which a) is freely searchable and available on the internet and b) has been uploaded legitimately, then it is usually fine to link to it. The main priority is to avoid linking to material which is obviously infringing copyright. In addition to any legal implications you should also be aware of the embarrassment factor in linking to infringing material and the fact that the material is more likely to be taken down, leaving you with a broken link.

It may be difficult to decide whether something has been uploaded legitimately (with the copyright owner's permission). There are positive indicators: Is it the website of an academic institution or of another recognised body? Is it a properly managed website with terms and conditions? If it is on a website such as YouTube, is it on the official channel of a recognisable body?

There are also negative indicators: Does the work appear to be infringing? Is it uploaded on an informal website, the ownership of which is unclear? Has it been uploaded by someone other than the copyright owner or with no evident connection to the copyright owner? Some social media sites contain many items of infringing material uploaded by users.