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Copyright for students

What is copyright? 

Copyright is a part of intellectual property law, which gives control over the use of original works. The copyright holder is often the creator of the original work but this isn’t always the case, as copyright can be bought and sold. In the UK the basis of copyright is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The types of creative works covered by copyright are: 

  • Literary works, such as novels, poetry, articles, leaflets, song lyrics, computer programs.
  • Dramatic works, such as plays, dance.
  • Musical works, such as the score and a recording. 
  • Artistic works, such as paintings, drawings, photography, digital art, sculptures, maps, logos.
  • Typographical arrangement of published editions. This refers to the layout and appearance of a published work. 
  • Sound recording. This can be a recording of a copyright work, such as a musical or literary work. 
  • Film. This covers video recordings, broadcasts, films. 

Copyright does not have to be applied for, it is an automatic right that the law confers once an original work has been created. It is a time-limited right but the length of time that a work is copyrighted varies according to the type of work. For example, the copyright for a literary work lasts for 70 years after the author’s death, a broadcast is subject to copyright for 50 years and Crown Copyright is valid for 125 years. 

There are exceptions to copyright restrictions that cover research and private study, criticism, and review, and access to copyright materials for those with disabilities. 

Research and private study 

For the purposes of research and private, non-commercial, study you are allowed to copy extracts from any copyrighted work. This subject to limits under a legal clause called fair dealing. This has not been strictly defined but case law has determined that it relates to the economic impact on the copyright holder. If the economic impact is low, it is likely that copying an extract of work will be classed as fair dealing. This means that you are not allowed to copy the whole of a book, for example.  

In addition, copying under fair dealing, the University holds a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency. This allows you to copy one article or chapter, or 10% of a work, whichever is the greater. 

Criticism and review 

An exception to copyright law under fair dealing also applies to the use of material for the purposes of criticism, review and quotation. This allows you to use copyrighted material in your academic work, as long as you provide a citation. This means that referencing is not just an academic convention but is also required to comply with copyright law. 

Exceptions for disabilities

If a person’s disability or impairment affects their ability to access copyrighted material, it is permitted to modify that material to render it accessible. Examples of permitted modifications include:

  • making braille, audio or large-print copies of books, newspapers or magazines for visually impaired people
  • adding audio-description to films or broadcasts for visually impaired people
  • making sub-titled films or broadcasts for deaf or hard of hearing people
  • making accessible copies of books, newspapers or magazines for dyslexic people

Copyright and the internet 

The nature of the internet is that anyone can publish original content and make it available via a website or social media. Content published on the internet is subject to the same copyright rules as other original works, you should not assume that an internet source is copyright-free if it does not mention copyright. Copying and distributing internet content is very easy but you should not assume that it is legal to do this. Many people publish material on the internet under a Creative Commons license. There are six Creative Commons licenses, with different permissions, but they all allow non-commercial use with appropriate attribution of the creator of the content. You can read more about Creative Commons licenses at 

When you submit original content to a social media website you retain the copyright of that material. However, the terms of use mean that you give the site permission to host your content and often reuse your content for commercial use, without your explicit permission. 

Copyright of coursework 

The University has an Intellectual Property Policy and this states that, in most cases, a student owns the copyright to their own work that has been produced in relation to a programme of study. There are exceptions to this policy, where the copyright ownership of a student’s work passes to the University. These include the work of students who are in receipt of sponsorship, students whose work is a part of a funded research project and students who are also university employees and the work is undertaken in relation to that employment. 

There is a requirement for Post Graduate Research Students to permit their work to be publicly available via Pure, the University’s research archive. Although students usually retain the copyright of any work submitted for assessment, the University reserves the right to retain such submissions.  

You can read the full Intellectual Property Policy by going to Paragraphs 5.9, 5.10, 5.11 and 5.12 deal with the copyright of students’ work.