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I found this image on the internet, why can't I just use it in my work?

Content on websites may be very easy to download and reuse, but that does not mean it is lawful to do so. Whether it is an image, music, a video or a piece of writing, content on the internet is protected by copyright. Before you reuse it you must check the copyright and licensing position. If it has a Creative Commons licence then you may use it as long as you stay within the licence terms. The same is true if it has an equivalent or similar licence. License information could be in the website's "terms and conditions"  or "legal notices" - often in a footer to the web page.

If there is no information, you must assume that you need permission from the copyright owner and that the copyright position is "all rights reserved". You should also ask yourself: Is it likely the person who uploaded this had the right to do so? People sometimes upload the work of others without permission. If there are serious doubts, it is not safe to reuse the material.

Who owns the copyright in my PhD thesis?

You do! The author is generally the first owner of copyright and the UCL Student IP Policy also recognises that students own the copyright in their own work, unless specific exeptions apply. It follows that you can reuse the material as you wish. If you are fortunate enough to receive an offer to publish your thesis as a book then the publisher's contact may ask you to assign copyright in the work to them. It is always advisable to check the small print in order to understand what will happen to your copyright under the agreement.  If there are certain rights you really want to retain then you must negotiate before signing. 

How long does copyright last?

Copyright generally lasts for the lifetime of the author or artist plus 70 years. To put this in perspective: The published works of an author who died in 1945 would come out of copyright in January 2016. Since it is calculated from the end of the calendar year in which the author died, works always come out of copyright on the first of January. Different rules apply to different media, for example a musical recording remains in copyright for 70 years from its release date.  The rules for unpublished material are also different. There is a fixed date of the end of 2039 when a very large amount of older unpublished works comes out of copyright.

How do I ensure my work is protected by copyright?

In the UK and in the EU your work is protected automatically as soon as it is "fixed" in some way, such as written down, drawn on paper, recorded electronically etc. There is no need to take any further action. It can be a good idea to add a copyright notice to your work, such as: "Copyright AN Author 2016. All rights reserved". It clarifies the copyright situation for anyone wishing to reuse the work and makes it clear whom they should contact to seek permission.

If you are comfortable with the idea of others using your work as long as you are credited as the author, then you could apply one of the "ready made" licences provided by the Creative Commons website. You can choose a licence which reflects the restrictions you wish to place on how your work is used. You should bear in mind that while you can take your work down subsequently, you cannot withdraw a CC licence from someone who is already making use of it. You need to be sure you are happy for your work to be reused before you apply a CC licence.

Why can't I pass copies to my fellow students?

You have copied a relevant article as a pdf or a printed copy which you want to draw to the attention of your fellow students. If you have simply copied the extract from a print journal or a book using a Library MFD or your own device then you are relying on the copyright exception for "non-commercial research or private study". The exception does not cover sharing the material with your student group or with anyone else. It enables you to take one copy strictly for your own use, as long as it is "fair dealing". If you want to share something from an online source such as an e-journal with other UCL students it is safer to send a link rather than a copy of the item in pdf or another format. Sending a link is much less likely to run into copyright issues. It is not generally permitted to email the full text of articles to your fellow students unless this activity is covered by a Creative Commons licence or the equivalent.

Can I show a film in my lecture?

Yes, you can. As long as the film is being shown on UCL premises for the purpose of "instruction" and to an audience consisting entirely of UCL students and staff. Naturally it must also be a legitimate copy of the film, such as a DVD which has been purchased. This stems from a very useful exception in Section 34(2) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, but it is important that we fulfil all the criteria, otherwise the exception will not be valid and we may be infringing copyright. 

Please note also that UCL Library subscribes to a service called BoB (Box of Broadcasts) which is a streaming service covering a large amount of broadcast material from various TV channels. If you locate a relevant film on BoB our licence permits you to stream it for a UCL audience for educational purposes. This blog post gives further information.

On the other hand events such as film club showings which are not for the purpose of "instruction" and may include external participants will need a licence.

Do I need a licence for my department's film club?

Showing films at a film club meeting does require a licence, unless the specific film is out of copyright (which is unlikely to be the case). Licences tend to be specific to a given venue and cover either a specific film or a defined repertoire of films so it is not possible for UCL to subscribe to a general licence covering activities across the University. It is your responsibility to organise licensing for your own film club or event. There is a blog post on the UCL Copyright blog with further information.

Filmbank is able to offer licences for a range of films, including one-off screenings, but if the films you choose are not in the Filmbank repertoire you may need to track down the rights owners. 

There is also a web-based film streaming service which the Library subscribes to called Kanopy which can be used for streaming at a range of UCL events. It is described in this blog post.

How can I find images that I am free to reuse in my own work?

Images on the internet with a Creative Commons Licence attached by the copyright owner may be freely reused, provided you keep to the terms of the licence. You can search some popular websites, such as Flickr for licensed images from the Creative Commons search page The "Images and Copyright" section of the UCL Copyright Resources Reading List includes further websites which you may find useful.

Is there a way for me to find some music I can use in a video I am making for my student project?

The Creative Commons search page can be used to search for music that is licensed for reuse. It covers websites such as Jamendo. The "Music and Copyright" section of the UCL Copyright Resources Reading List includes other websites which may also be useful. 

Should I use a Creative Commons licence to licence the content of my blog?

If you are happy for others to reuse your work without seeking permission then a Creative Commons licence may be suitable. There is a choice of CC licences, all of which protect your right to be acknowledged as the author while allowing your work to be reused within certain limits. CC licences combine simple symbols underpinned by a full legal agreement (see the CC website). A few points to bear in mind:

  • You may only licence your own work, not that of others.
  • Once you have licensed your work you cannot withdraw the CC licence from someone who is already taking advantage of it to reuse your work in line with the licence.
  • CC licences may not be suitable in all circumstances. If your work has commercial potential for example there may be good reasons for not making it available under a CC licence. 
What is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement?

Plagiarism arises when you reuse somebody else's work giving the impression that it is your original work. This would include not crediting the author of the material you are using while repoducing their work either exactly or with some changes. It can also include reproducing someone's ideas without crediting the author.

Copyright infringement is essentially using someone else's work without the permission of the copyright owner. The two things often coincide and overlap, for instance you may be passing another author's work off as your own and simultaneously reusing that work without permission. That would be both plagiarism and copyright infringement.

To look at a different example: You may be reproducing an author's ideas without acknowledging that author but expressing those ideas entirely in your own words. That would be plagiarism but you would probably not be infringing the author's copyright. By contrast if you correctly credit an author's work but fail to ask permission to reproduce it, that would be an infringement of copyright but would not be plagiarism.

Copyright is a legal concept and infringement of copyright can have serious legal consequences. The copyright owner may seek damages. In some extreme cases infringement of copyright is also a criminal offence. Plagiarism on the other hand is a matter of academic discipline and ethical standards.    

Can I give my students a scan of a book chapter?

UCL has a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) which permits us to provide digitised copies of book extracts and journal articles for student course materials. Please do this via the Reading Lists service so that the Teaching and Learning Services team can assist you by carrying out the necessay copyright checks and fulfilling the CLA licence requirements on your behalf. TLS will welcome any enquiries from you with regard to this service.

I want to reproduce some unpublished letters from the 1920s - are they still protected by copyright?

The usual term for copyright in published literary works is the author's lifetime plus 70 years. For the unpublished works of an author who died after 1st January 1969, or who is still alive today, the same term applies - author's lifetime plus 70 years.

However if the author died before 1st January 1969 the copyright term lasts until a fixed date, the end of 2039. In other words it will come out of copyright on 1st January 2040. It follows that you need the permission of the current copyright owner in order to reproduce the letters (unless what you plan to do may be covered by an exception to copyright). In the case of unpublished works the copyright owner is likely to be a surviving relative of the author so some research may be required.

There is more on "the 2039 rule" in the Copyright blog.

My student drama society wants to stage a play by a modern dramatist. Do we need permission?

Oh yes, if the play is still protected by copyright then you do need permission from the copyright owner. In the case of a living dramatist you will usually need to apply to the author or the author's agent. The fact that your production is not being run on a commercial basis makes no difference when it come to the requirement for copyright permission. Although the author would be entitled to ask for a payment, there are also wider issues. The author may have concerns about the artistic integrity of their play: You may be convinced that your stage interpretation of the work is exciting and innovative but the author may disagree.

Incidentally, there is an exception in Section 34 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which permits performances of dramatic works in an educational institution but the exception only covers performances in a teaching context, "for the purposes of instruction" not the activities of a drama society.

How long does the copyright in sound recordings last?

Copyright in a sound recording which has been released lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which it was released. Otherwise if the recording has not been released or made available to the public then copyright expires after 50 years from the end of the year in which it was created.For example, Elis Presley's Heartbreak hotel was released in 1956 so the recording will come out of copyright in January 2027.

Who owns the copyright in a film?

The "author" is generally the first owner of copyright and in the case of a film this is defined as the producer and the principal director. If, on the other hand the film had been created by an employee "in the course of employment" then the employer would be able to claim ownership.

What does a CC BY-ND licence allow me to do?

Creative Commons licences permit you to reuse the licensed work provided you keep within the licence terms. The "ND" part of the CC BY-ND licence stands for "no derivatives" and means that you can reuse the original work, as long as you don't make a derivative version available to others. You can make the original version available to others - on your website for example - as long as you comply with the other terms of the licence. 

Some examples of derivative works would be a translation of a text into another language, an animated version of a novel or a mash-up of a visual design. The Creative Commons website may help you to decide whether specific changes amount to a "derivative version".