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Copyright: for learning, teaching, and research

This guide introduces key concepts of copyright relevant to those both studying and working at the University of Essex.

This guide has been adapted from Copyright guidance created at the University of Kent. Morrison, Chris and Groth-Seary, Angela (2020) University of Kent Copyright Guidance. University of Kent, Kent, UK. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.92664).

The 2022 version of this guide is available in Word Document and PDF formats at:


Copyright is relevant whenever you are copying or sharing creative work. This includes publishing academic works, creating educational resources, uploading a thesis to the Repository, sharing images online, and more. This guide helps you to understand copyright and its relevance to your work and study at the University of Essex. 

For information about intellectual property (IP), please see the Research and Enterprise Office’s guidance, which includes the University IP policy. For information about plagiarism, please refer to our Referencing pages.

What is copyright?
Copyright is a type of ‘intellectual property right’ that gives the authors of the original, creative works the right to decide who is allowed to copy and share their work. Copyright also influences how these works can be copied and shared. 

Many types of work qualify for copyright protection in the UK. This includes books, journals, personal correspondence, software, music, artworks, diagrams, databases, audio recordings, films, and broadcasts.

Who owns copyright? 
When works are created, the author or creator of the work is usually the copyright owner. However if you create something as part of your job, your employer typically owns the copyright. This is the case for staff at the University of Essex. Copyright ownership can also be assigned to other people or organisations. This is often the case for researchers who publish their work with academic publishers. You can read more about this on our copyright for researchers page.

However, if you are a student at the University of Essex, then by default all the rights in work you create as a student belong to you. You can read more about how copyright affects students on our copyright for students page.

How long does copyright last? 
Copyright works are protected from the time they are first recorded in a ‘fixed’ form. This includes being written down, recorded, or stored in digital format. Works stay protected until the copyright expires, after which time they pass into the ‘public domain’. 

The time copyright protection lasts varies between different countries, and for different material types. In the UK, copyright protection generally lasts: 

  • For written, artistic, musical, or dramatic works, 70 years after the death of the creator (or 70 years after the death of the last of the creative team). 
  • For films and sound recordings, for 70 years from the date of creation or release. 

More information on copyright duration is available via the government’s web pages. If you have questions on specific works, please do get in touch.

Activities covered by copyright

Copyright law protects the copyright owner against unauthorised use of their work, and gives the owner the ability to control how their work is shared and reused.

Under copyright law, there are certain activities defined as ‘restricted acts’. With restricted acts, only the copyright owner or their representative has the right to authorise such activities. These activities include: 

  • Copying
  • Issuing copies to the public (i.e., publishing and distributing physical copies of works) 
  • Renting or lending
  • Publicly performing (i.e., showing, playing, or performing copyright works in a public space)
  • Communicating to the public by means of electronic transmission (i.e., broadcast, and online communication) 
  • Adaptation (e.g., making a film adaptation of a book) 

If you are doing any of the above listed activities with a copyright work, you need to make sure that you either have a licence to do so, or that a copyright exception applies.

Copyright licences

If you own the copyright in a work, you'll probably want others to use that work in a certain way. The permissions you give to others for this reuse will come in the form of a copyright licence. Similarly, if you want to make use of copyrighted material created by others, you will find that much of it comes with licences attached. 

Scroll through the following tabs to learn more about different copyright licences.

The terms of use you accept when you access digital resources such as websites, social media services, databases, and electronic library resources all contain copyright licensing terms.

Other types of "collective licence" are available to University of Essex staff and students that cover entire classes of copyright work. These licences enable staff and students at the University to make broader use of copyrighted works than is permitted under the general terms of use.

For example, the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) licence covers the majority of published books and journal articles. This licence allows us as an institution to copy up to 10% or one chapter/article from a qualifying book or journal, whichever is greater.

Further examples can be seen in the "summary of different licences" tab.

Creative Commons licences are widely used in research and education. These licences are designed to promote sharing of copyright material with as few barriers to use and reuse as possible. They allow use of the copyright works without payment, and may also allow others to create new works based on the original work.

See the section below for descriptions of the different creative commons licences.

Summary of different licences
Type of licence What's covered Responsibility
CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) Copies of up to one chapter/article or 10% (whichever is greater) from qualifying books, journals, and magazines. Library and Cultural Services.
ERA (Educational Recording Agency) Recordings from UK TV and radio broadcasts (provided by Box of Broadcasts - On Demand). Library and Cultural Services.
NLA Media Access (Newspaper Licensing Agency) Links and copies of articles from newspapers. Comms and External Relations.
PRS for Music/PPL Public performance of musical works. Applies to individual premises - contact the SU.
Filmbank/MPLC Public screenings of feature films not linked to educational activity. Apply for individual permissions via the SU.
Creative commons Allows open sharing of copyright work as decided by the copyright owner who may restrict commercial use or adaptations, or require adaptations to be licensed on the same terms.  Openly available for use.
Digital library resources Allows you to access e-books, journals, and other databases for your non-commercial study or research. Library and Cultural Services.

Creative commons licences

CC0 (No Right Reserved)

CC0 enables creators and owners of copyright to place their work as completely as possible in the public domain. This means that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright law.

CC BY (Attribution)

This licence lets other distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licences offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licenced materials.

Symbol result for CC BY licence

CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike)

This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new works based on yours will carry the same licence, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivs)

This licence lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form,and credit must be provided to you.

Symbol for CC BY-ND licence

CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial)

This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don't have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)

This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.

CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs)

This licence is the most restrictive of the six main CC licences. It only allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Symbol for CC BY-NC-ND licence

Copyright exceptions and "fair dealing"

Although licences can provide you with explicit permissions to use copyright works in certain ways, there are times where licences are unavailable or inappropriate. 

For example, if you are quoting extracts from a large number of different works in a piece of academic writing, it may be impossible to get permission from every copyright holder. Copyright law therefore includes 'exceptions' to copyright which allow use of copyright works without the copyright holder's permission in certain contexts. There are called 'permitted acts'.

Read on to the next tab to see a summary of relevant UK copyright exceptions.

Summary of relevant UK copyright exceptions
Name of exception* Purpose Activities covered
Research or private study - CDPA section 29 Allows students and researchers to make copies of copyright works for non-commercial research or private study. Making personal copies of extracts from books and journals. Copying images to use as stimulus in research study.
Quotation - CDPA section 30 Allows anyone to reproduce copyright works for the purpose of quotation, where it is fair. Includes presenting extracts from books, journals, and musical works to students. Potential use of whole works where the use is fair.
Accessible copying - CPDA sections 31A-F Allows individuals or institutions to provide equal access to copyright works for users with any type disability. Digitising print material. Format shifting text to audio. Creating subtitles for videos.
Illustration for instruction - CPDA section 32 Allows teachers or students to use copyright work in teaching or study where the use is fair. Including text, images, music, or video in teaching slides and lecture recordings. Adding content to exam papers.
Educational performance - CPDA section 34 Allows any copyright work that can be performed, played, or shown in educational setting to be performed, played, or shown. Screening a film in a lecture, playing musical sound recordings in class, performance of a play in class (i.e., not for an external audience).
Recording of broadcasts - CPDA section 35 Allows educational establishments to record TV and radio broadcasts and make them available to students. Underpins the University's use of BoB Online TV streaming service.
Making multiple copies - CPDA section 36 Allows educational institutions to copy up to 5% of a copyright work and supply multiple copies to students. Copying of book extracts not covered by the CLA licence. Copying up to 5% of a film or sound recording and making it available to students via Moodle.

*CDPA (copyright, designs, and patents act 1988) - relevant UK copyright legislation.

Many copyright exceptions involve a test of 'fair dealing'. This means that you need to think about whether your use of someone else's work is fair. To help you assess whether your use of a work is fair, it's important to consider the following questions:

  • Have you used someone else's work in a way that stops the owner from selling their work, or making use of it in the way they want to? In other words, does your use of the work affect the market for the original?
  • Have you used more of the work than you need to for your purpose? I.e., was it necessary to use the amount that you did?

Deciding on whether something is fair will always need to be done on a case by case basis. A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the shoes of the copyright owner - would you be happy with the way the work is being used? When making judgements of fair dealing, please get in touch if you would like a second opinion.

Managing risks of copyright infringement

As many elements of copyright law are subjective, particularly when you are making assessments about whether an activity is 'fair', you may need to take a risk management approach. This means you might need to use a copyright work even if you cannot be 100% sure that the activity is non-infringing. To assess copyright risk, you'll need to consider the following: 

  • What is the likelihood that what you are doing infringes copyright?
  • How likely is it that the copyright holder will object to your activity?
  • Have you considered the recommended questions about whether your use of the work can be classed as 'fair'?
  • What is the impact (both financial and reputational) if the copyright holder was to take action against you or the University?

Reading the relevant sections of this copyright guide will help to minimise the risk of legal action and avoid financial and reputational damage. You can also contact us if you have any copyright questions, or would like a second opinion on any decisions you are making regarding copyright. 

Creative Commons Licence
Except where otherwise noted, this work by University of Essex Library and Cultural Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.