UCL Library Services


Using copyright materials in your own work and in teaching

Guidance for using copyright material within your own work.


Using copyright material in your own work

As a general rule, you need permission from the copyright owner to include copyright material in your own work. This may include work created by you if you have assigned the copyright to someone else (a publisher for example).

There are also some exceptions within UK Copyright legislation which permit copyright material to be reproduced without permission in certain circumstances and for specific purposes.

Some of the exceptions are very relevant to academic work and to the educational environment. They include an exception for instruction and examinations and an exception for quotation.

Most of the relevant exceptions are subject to the "fair dealing test" which can be used to make a judgement on whether they cover your intended use of copyright work or not. There is a full account of the main exceptions and the fair dealing test under Legislation and background

Students and their work

Students who include third party materials in their work are reminded of the importance of proper citation and avoiding plagiarism. Guidance on these issues can be found online:

Theses and dissertations

There is a copyright exception for instruction and examination which permits you to reproduce extracts from copyright work within your thesis or dissertation, as long as this is "fair dealing". See Legislation for more details. This applies to your printed PhD thesis, submitted for examination purposes.

You are also required to submit an electronic version - your e-thesis - to UCL Discovery. For further information on this requirement see: Depositing your electronic thesis

The exception for instruction and examination does not help in the case of your e-thesis because the context is entirely different. Your e-thesis will be uploaded into UCL Discovery  which is an open access repository, freely available via the internet.

You will need either direct permission from the copyright owner to include their material or alternatively you will need to be quite sure that the statutory Quotations exception will cover the quotations you are using.

In principle the quotations exception may cover copyright material in any medium, including stand alone images and diagrams but only to the extent that your re-use of the material is fair dealing. This can be difficult to decide because of the absence of a precise legal definition. Therefore caution must be exercised, particularly with any high-profile material which may be contentious from a copyright perspective. 

As a general rule, you should keep the quantity of copyright material which you include to the minimum unless you have permission from the copyright owner. You should always acknowledge the author and the source.

When the time comes to submit your thesis the UCL Discovery team will check for any third party copyright material which may pose a problem. If you are uncertain about specific quotations it is a good idea to discuss this with the Discovery team well in advance of submitting your thesis.

The Discovery team make the final decision on whether the material you have included is covered by the quotations exception or not. There are options available if you are unable to clear rights in third party material, such as submitting an additional redacted version of your e-thesis. 

Should you decide to re-use the material in your thesis subsequently for any other purpose, such as publishing it as a book, the exception for instruction and examination also ceases to be relevant. You will need to consider applying for permission from the copyright owner unless a different exception - such as the quotation exception - may apply.

Staff and students who are preparing work to be published are responsible for ensuring that relevant permissions are in place to reuse any third party material contained within the paper, such as images and diagrams. For more information see Information for academic authors on publication

Using materials in the classroom and for e-learning

The copyright in any presentations, lecture notes and handouts that you create to support your teaching is owned by you. Therefore you are free to distribute and reproduce them as you wish. For more information regarding the ownership of any teaching materials that you create see: Information about your own copyright

On the other hand if you wish to include any content owned by third parties in your teaching materials you need to consider whether this can be done legally, in terms of copyright.

UCL has a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) which permits us to include scanned extracts from a wide range of journals and books in our e-learning materials stored on a secure website and made available to students on the relevant course.

The Teaching and Learning Support Section (TLSS) will help you by checking the copyright status of any material you wish to scan as a course reading, carrying out the scanning and completing the CLA requirements to ensure that we remain compliant with our licence. Some works are excluded from the licence and this is one of the factors which TLSS will check on your behalf.

The limits on what can be reproduced under the CLA licence for a given course are the greater of:

  • One article from a single issue of a periodical or 5% of the content.
  • One chapter from a book or 5% of the content.

The CLA licence also covers photocopying from licensed works to distribute to the students enrolled in a particular course. This does not need to be carried out or recorded by TLSS as there are no CLA reporting requirements. The limits on what can be copied are the same as those for scanning. For further details on the terms of our CLA licence please see here

What if the material you want to use is not covered by the CLA licence? The exception for "illustration for instruction" under copyright legislation may cover the use of some material not included under the CLA licence. It is not possible to define what would be covered because this depends on the fair dealing test, which in turn depends on the details of what you want to copy. See here for an explanation of fair dealing As a general rule your use of third party material is more likely to be covered by this exception if the extract is kept as brief as possible and properly attributed.

Please contact our copyright enquiry service for further guidance: copyright@ucl.ac.uk

Using Audio Visual materials in the classroom

There are educational exceptions expressed in Section 34 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which allow the performance of copyright works (such as pieces of music and drama) and the showing or playing of films, broadcasts and sound recordings. This must be in an educational establishment to an audience of teachers or pupils, for the purposes of instruction.

These exceptions cover only playing, performing or showing. They do not cover making a copy or digitising material and making available to students online. However in relation to broadcasts, UCL does benefit from the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licence and the related BoB (Box of Broadcasts) service. The ERA licence does permit us to record and store TV and radio broadcasts for educational purposes and the BoB service provides access to a wide repertoire of recorded broadcasts via the BoB website

More information on using copyright materials to support online learning

Do I need permission?

A simple chart has been created to help assess whether you need to request permission to re-use a piece of content.

If you are still not certain then please contact copyright@ucl.ac.uk with full details of the material.

Obtaining permission

In the event that permission is required to reuse materials then this should be sought as early as possible. Copyright owners can be difficult to trace and slow to respond to requests. You should be prepared to chase them up and try alternative methods of contacting copyright owners if necessary.

It is helpful if your initial request gives as much detail as possible regarding the reuse. The following pieces of information should be included:

  • Details of the course and expected number of students that will be taking it
  • A description of how you wish to reuse the material and why it important for your course
  • If it is to be reused in Moodle then mention that access to the material is restricted to registered students only
  • If the re-used material will be more widely available e.g. published on a web page, then this needs to be made clear.

You should always maintain a complete record of any requests sent and responses. If a copyright owner does not respond it is risky to assume that they will not object to your proposed reuse of their work.

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