Basic Copyright guidance

What is copyright?

Copyright protects written, theatrical, musical and artistic works as well as film, book layouts, sound recordings, and broadcasts. Copyright is an automatic right that is vested in the creator, unless any sort of contractual obligations override this basic position, you do not have to apply for copyright protection.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea as it is recorded and not the idea itself.

A copyright protected work can be covered by more than one copyright, or have another intellectual property (IP) right connected to it. For example, an album of music is likely to feature separate copyrights for individual songs, their performance, the cover artwork, and so on.

Source: UK Intellectual Property Office

Why is this relevant to me?

Copyright applies to anything you create either as a student, lecturer or a researcher, both in a personal and in a professional/ academic capacity.  It applies to anything found online or in printed/ physical form.  If you want to copy something then copyright will be a factor in deciding how and what you can use and whether you will need permission to do what you want to do.

Different rules apply to different types of materials, when they were created and how you want to use them. These pages explain the difference so that you can decide what you need to do.

Copyright types and durations

Type of WorkExample (applicable to digital and/or printed analogue format)Duration of copyright 
Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Journal articles, books, letters, pictures, photographs, images, graphs, tables. 70 years after death of author.
Sound recordings. Songs, speeches, performances, pieces of music, any recorded sounds. 70 years from the end of the year in which the recording was made.
Films. Feature films, animated films, home movies. 70 years after the end of the year in which the last of the principal director, author of screenplay, author of dialogue or composer of music dies.
Broadcasts. TV programmes, podcasts, online seminars as aired. 50 years from the end of the year in which the broadcast was made.
Typographic arrangements. The typeset/ appearance of something, i.e. layout, format, stylisation etc.  Includes published new editions of music, books, etc. that are otherwise out of copyright. 25 years from publication.


In order to attract copyright the work created must be the result of independent creative effort using sufficient skill, labour and judgement.  It will not be original if it has been copied from something that already exists. However, if the work is similar to something that already exists, but there has been no copying, either directly or indirectly, then it may be sufficiently original to attract copyright protection.


Ownership is important as it determines who has control over how and when a work is used, as well as who uses it.  Owners have the right to sell and license the work as they see fit and even to object if their work is mistreated. 

The first owner of a copyright work is the creator of the work, except where  a contractual arrangement alters this  basic position. For example, the copyright in work produced under the terms of a contract of employment is usually owned by the employer.

Students will own the copyright in any work that they produce whilst at the University, although this is subject to any contractual obligations that they may enter into (e.g. with a funding body).  

Most HEIs will have detailed Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policies in place that will provide appropriate guidance- see Regulations 3.16 for staff and 5.4 for students.

Where copyright works have been commissioned, the first owner is the creator, unless there is a contractual agreement stating otherwise.  Care should be taken when commissioning work to ensure that ownership of copyright is clearly defined in the contract.

Creators retain what are known as Moral Rights even if they sell a work to another party.  They can object if they are not identified as the creator of the work and if their work is misrepresented.  Moral rights must be asserted and they can be waived by the authors, although they cannot be sold or licensed. However, moral rights do not apply to works created under contracts of employment.


Copyright infringement occurs when a ‘substantial part’ of the whole of a protected work is used by a third party without the consent or authorisation of the copyright owner, and without use of an exception allowed by law.* 

The copyright owner’s rights include the right to:

  1. copy the work;
  2. issue copies of the work to the public;
  3. rent or lend the work to the public;
  4. perform, show or play the work in public;
  5. communicate the work to the public – this includes making the work available online, and broadcasting the work; and
  6. make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation.

If you are in any doubt, don't copy- seek advice.

* (It follows then that if an 'insubtantial' amount is copied that would not be an infringement- however, the definition of 'substantial' [and 'insubstantial'] isnt clear and so caution should be exercised.)

These pages are for guidance only and relate in the main to copying carried out by members of the University (staff and students). It is not intended that these (or linked pages) should provide definitive legal opinion on copyright.