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Subject guides

Copyright Right!: The Law

What you need to know to use other people's work legitimately in support of your learning, teaching and research


In the United Kingdom the main piece of legislation that defines and protects copyright is the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 as updated by subsequent legislation and a raft of Statutory Instruments. It covers everything to do with copyright including owners' rights, how long copyright lasts in different types of work and what users are permitted to do with copyright works under certain circumstances. Several small but significant changes were introduced in 2014/15, largely in response to the Hargeaves Review. These included revisions to some of the Permitted Acts or 'Exceptions' to make them more in line with current practice in the digital age.

Duration - How long does Copyright last?

Format of the work

Duration of copyright in the work





70 years after the year in which the last known creator died. If the creator(s) is unknown 70 years after the year in which the work was made or was first made available to the public

Typography 25 years after the end of the year in which the edition was first published
Sound Recordings 50 years after the recording was made, or if the recording has been published or played to the public, 70 years after that first occurred

70 years after the year in which the last know of the following died:

  • Principle Director
  • Author of the screenplay
  • Author of the dialogue
  • Composer of an original soundtrack

If none of the above are known 70 years after the year in which the film was made or first made available to the public

Broadcasts 50 years after the year in which the broadcast was first made (copyright in a repeat broadcast expires on the same date as that of the original


What do the Permitted Acts ('The Exceptions') enable us to do?

Under s28B (Personal copies for private use) of the CDPA 1988 an individual can make a personal copy for their own private use of an original work (other than a computer program) that they have lawfully acquired on a permanent basis i.e. that they have purchased themselves or that someone else has purchased for them (but this does not include a borrowed or rented copy nor a broadcast or streamed copy). Such private use must not be commercial (either directly or indirectly) but might include the creation of a back-up or storage copy.

(N.B. the amending S.I. was quashed with prospective effect by the High Court in the case of R (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and others) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills [2015] EWHC 2041 (Admin), 17 July 2015)

Under s29 (Research and private study) of the CDPA 1988 A fair dealing copy can be made for the purposes of non-commercial research. Where possible the copy should be accompanied by an appropriate acknowledgement, though this is not essential where it would be impractical to do so. The section also covers copying for the purposes of private study. This section can not be over-ridden by a contract that purports to restrict copying for these purposes.

It would not be fair dealing under this section to convert a computer program expressed in a low level language into a version expressed in a higher level language.

Under s32 (Illustration for instruction) of the CDPA  1988 an extract from a work in any format can be used to illustrate a particular point in a lecture or PowerPoint presentation providing the use is Fair Dealing, is not for a commercial purpose, and that where practicably possible the original source is acknowledged appropriately.

 Under s30 (Criticism, review, quotation and news reporting) of the CDPA 1988 a short excerpt from a work in copyright can be used legitimately (under Fair Dealing) providing that the original work has been made publicly available and is acknowledged/cited appropriately. Also, where a quotation is used e.g. in a lecture presentation, the amount of the original work should be no more than is necessary for the purpose.

Under s36 (Copying and use of extracts by education establishments) a copy of an extract from a work in copyright (with the exception of a broadcast or artistic work not included in another work) can be made and circulated to students via a secure network, providing that it is for the purposes of non-commercial instruction and where practicably possible the original work is appropriately acknowledged.

However, it is important to note that across the University as a whole the proportion of any particular work used in this way under s36 must not exceed 5%. In practice extracts are more likely to be circulated under the terms of our CLA Licence which generally provides a larger allowance i.e. whole articles or book chapters (or up to 10% of a book) can be used for each taught module. If the original work isn't covered by the CLA (or NLA) Licence , and permission is not forthcoming from the publisher or is prohibitively expensive, we can fall back on s36 to disseminate copies of an extract via Leganto and in doing so we can ensure that across the University we do not exceed the 5% allowed.


Under s31A (Disabled persons: copies of works for personal use) CDPA 1988 part or the whole of a work can be copied in order to make it more accessible to a disabled person where their disability would otherwise hinder their enjoyment of the work. The following conditions apply:

  • The disabled person must own or have legal access (e.g. a library copy) to a copy of the work
  • The accessible copy is made for the disabled person’s private use
  • The same kind of accessible copy is not commercially available under reasonable terms.

However, under paragraph 4 once the copy has been made it could be transferred to another individual who fulfills the same conditions.

An Accessible Formats Service is provided in the Library where we will endeavour to obtain essential texts in a format that is accessible to particular university members. Contact the Computing and Library Services Disability Support Advisor if you would like to make use of this service.

Under s29A (Copies for text and data analysis for non-commercial research) CDPA 1988 a person who has legal access to a work can make a copy of it in order to undertake computational analysis of it for the purpose of non-commercial research. Where practically possible the copy should be accompanied by an appropriate acknowledgment.

This section cannot be over-ridden by the terms of contract purporting to restrict such activity.

What is Fair Dealing?

As a concept Fair Dealing is not explicitly defined in law as it would be judged in context on a case by case basis. It describes the use of a copyright work that might be considered to be reasonable and fair to an ‘average honest person in the street’. Certain conditions apply i.e. use described as Fair Dealing would not compromise the market for the original and would only involve the minimum proportion of the work necessary. Such use would also necessarily be non-commercial and be for a particular individual or defined group. Examples where Fair Dealing would apply include:

  1. An individual copying a chapter or article for their own private, non-commercial study or research
  2. A lecturer using an extract (or image) from a copyright work to illustrate a point in a PowerPoint presentation and made available to students on a particular module via UniLearn (under Section 32 of the CDPA 1988)