Digital content and copyright

The most important thing to note is that the same rights and restrictions apply to digital content as relate to printed material.

There are two main aspects to electronic material and copyright:

  • where the material already exists in electronic form and you want to use it or copy it; and
  • where the material is in printed form and you want to convert it to electronic form (i.e. digitise it) for further use.

For information about copying from printed sources see the photocopying and scanning pages.

Why is this relevant to me?

This page covers many of the sorts of copyright works that students and staff at the University will use in their day to day activities.

It is important to know what you can and cannot do with a particular type of copyright material.

Before you start

Before you consider using any third party content including downloading and printing a webpage, saving an image, cutting and pasting content, or copying it for any other purpose, you should attempt to locate a copyright and/or usage statement from the author or publisher associated with that page. This might be on the site's ‘terms of use’, legal pages or viewed on another page via a link, or on the cover pages of a printed resource.

These terms might grant specific rights to users to use the material for certain purposes. You should also bear in mind that the person who placed the material on the Internet might not have had any right to do so in the first place and that your copying and re-distribution of the material could be an infringement itself.

If your use is not covered by the terms of the site or if there is no statement, then the ‘fair dealing’ exceptions may apply. You will need to ensure that your use is compliant with all of the ‘fair dealing’ tests before you use the material. Failing that you will have to seek the permission of the rights holder to use the material.

Content types


Webpages can be complex in copyright terms. The text, images, logos, layout and design of the page will all have separate copyrights associated with them. To complicate matters further, these rights could be owned by different people or organisations. Care should be taken to read any copyright notices on the webpages in order to identify ownership of the rights and, from this, what a user can do.


If you are in doubt as to whether you are able to copy the material legally either under the terms of the site or via ‘fair dealing’ then linking to that content is a viable alternative. 

Hyper-linking to publicly-available content is not a breach of copyright, has been long-established and was re-affirmed by the European Court of Justice in February 2014, even if the content is itself infringing copyright. Linking is illegal if by linking to something you circumvent any paywalls or 'communicate' this work a new public- i.e. make it available openly for the first time.

That said, there are ethical issues and a reputational risk to the University when linking legally to infringing material.  Members of staff are advised not to create hyper-links for teaching purposes to sites that are themselves infringing copyright.

When linking you should draw users’ attention to any applicable copyright notice on the site. This may involve the provision of a supplementary link to the relevant copyright statement. If you feel that linking to an individual page ('deep-linking') is essential, then you should advise your reader that the target page has copyright associated with it and that they should check out the relevant copyright permissions before doing anything else (other than simply viewing) the target page. It should be noted that links do change and those links should be reviewed periodically.

Further guidance on how to deep link.


Images and illustrations, regardless of whether they are in digital or print format, are all classed as ‘artistic works’ for copyright purposes. This classification includes standalone photographs, works of art or figures within printed text books or online journals. Copyright will usually last for seventy years after the death of the creator.

The use of images from third party sources in teaching (e.g. in lectures or on Canvas) is an area of particular uncertainty form a copyright perspective. Every case is different but where the amount copied is reasonable and appropriate to the context then it is likely that it can be considered ‘fair dealing’. The crucial factor in determining whether copying is permitted will be the nature of the usage itself. If the purpose for which the image is reproduced is covered by one of the exceptions and the copying is fair in that it does not negatively impact on the market for the original materials, then use is likely to be permissible. 

It should be noted that use needs to be ‘fair dealing’ and this requires a judgement to be made. For example, where the copying is for the sole purpose of illustration for instruction (i.e. the image reinforces the topic being taught), the work is sufficiently acknowledged and the copying is fair in that it does not negatively impact on the market for the original work, it is likely that the use will be permitted. 

To provide another example, if a student posts an image to illustrate a point in an online discussion within Canvas as part of their course, provided the image is sufficiently acknowledged and the use is fair this would also permissible. 

One particularly useful approach is to use a low resolution image derived from a higher quality original. The point here is that using a low resolution version of the image within the closed Canvas environment may provide strong support for the contention that the use is fair. Where high resolution copies are made of an image then it may be more difficult to justify the copying as being fair as a high resolution image is more likely to compete with the original work. If you reuse images found on commercial image library sites this will probably not be covered by any of the ‘fair dealing’ exceptions and you may be liable for the licence fee.

If the copying cannot be considered ‘fair dealing’ because it impacts on the rights holder’s ability to commercially exploit their work or the amount copied exceeds what would be fair, the University would have to rely on the CLA licence. However, this only applies where the images are contained within a publication that is covered by the CLA repertoire. See CLA pages for more information.


Access to, and use of, this kind of material is almost always governed by a licence granted as part of a contract between the supplier and the University of Birmingham.

The licence will vary from product to product but FindIt will display the licence information about the particular resource under the ‘licence information’ ‘I’ icon.

Such licences usually state that you can copy (or download), “part” of the licensed material. This is usually taken to be one article from a single edition or, if it is more advantageous, 5% of any journal edition. The systematic downloading of individual sections of, for example, a database in order that you can build your own equivalent is (usually) forbidden in such licences. (See also the Text and data mining exception.)

Open Access (OA) articles may be used irrespective of the licence noted above/ via FindIt.  The OA articles will be subject to the institutional agreements but also to the licence that is attached to the item itself.  The articles may be linked to in the usual way but may also be downloaded and even edited in some circumstances.  The licence will usually be clearly displayed and easy to understand however please email the Copyright team if you have queries.

E-Journals may also be covered by the CLA HE licence.

 Videos (film, media, animations etc.)

For film and video in general, copyright expires seventy years after the death of the last of the following: the principal director, the author of the screenplay, the author of the dialogue or the composer of the music created for and used in the film. However, in practice the copyright holder will be the producer or the production company that made the film, and permission should be sought from them to include the clip.

As with other third party content ‘fair dealing’ applies here, but care should be taken to ensure that only what is absolutely necessary is used as a clip. 

YouTube is a familiar source for video clips, but care should be taken to ensure that the clip selected is legitimate and use is not an infringement of copyright.  For example, a clip from a Disney film would need to be uploaded by Disney for it to be legitimately used by the University. Additionally the clip might be uploaded via one of the ‘fair dealing’ exceptions such as ‘criticism and review’, but again care should be taken.

A commercially purchased film can be shown to a class provided there is a demonstrable link to academic study, and the audience is solely students, staff or related persons, excluding members of the public.

The University holds a licence from the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) that allows the recording of TV programmes for ‘educational purposes’. The link above provides more detail about the licences held by the University.

 Sound recordings

Copyright in sound recordings in any format lasts for seventy years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording was first made or first released or first made available to the public.

Rights in a sound recording are separate rights to those of the musical score, lyrics and composition which may all have separate owners.  When you throw in the performance rights for the musicians these multi-layers of rights can make knowing what you can do with a sound recording difficult.  Indeed knowing who to contact can be difficult too.

The University holds a licence for the making of recordings of radio broadcasts which are covered by the Education Recording Agency. If you need to make copies that are not covered by ‘Fair Dealing’ or the ERA licence, you will need to seek permission from the rights holders. In many cases rights are handled by agencies.


Music can be difficult from a copyright perspective as it can involve several different owners.  There could be distinct separate rights for the lyricist, composer, arranger, producer, performing musicians and also the record companies involved.  Most of these rights could be covered by a contractual agreement transferring ownership to one or more party but they could equally remain separate.

Music can be played via in-class live performance or in recorded form to a class provided there is a demonstrable link to academic study.  The audience must be students, staff or related persons which excludes members of the public.

For playing music in public areas or in performances to the general public please see:

 Scanning printed material

Copyright legislation simply refers to 'copying' and does not distinguish between photocopying and scanning. The same rules therefore apply to both.

In particular, you should not scan and then make multiple printed copies or re-publish and distribute the material in electronic form (i.e. via the VLE, an Intranet, or the wider Internet), unless the scanning is covered by the University's CLA HE licence or permission has been granted by the rights holder.