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Copyright for the Researcher: Home

A brief guide to copyright issues relating to copying and quoting text in copyright.

What is copyright?

Copyright is primarily a property right. The owner of copyright has the right to prevent others copying without permission. Copying is one of the ‘restricted acts’ outlined in the legislation; others include broadcasting, performing, renting and lending.

As a result, it is important to bear copyright in mind when copying from books and journals for private study, or quoting for publication.

Who holds copyright?

Copyright in text belongs with the author, unless it has been assigned to someone else. However, a book may contain illustrations and photographs that have their own copyright protection. This guide concentrates on published text. There are further considerations that need to be taken into account in considering the copyright position for non-text material (including databases, computer programs, videos and films).

Copyright in journal articles usually belongs with the publisher. Universities have not pressed a claim for ownership, although an organisation can claim ownership of materials produced in the course of employment.

Bear in mind also that a copyright holder may not be free to do what he or she wishes with published text. In most cases the author will have entered into an agreement with the publisher which prevents re-publication without the publisher’s permission.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright in the published text of a work continues for 70 years after the author’s death. It can be inherited or passed on like any other right to property. There is also copyright in the typographical arrangement of a work, which belongs with the publisher for 25 years.

Quoting for publication

A 'fair dealing' exception in copyright allows for quotation from published works, as long as two key conditions are met:

  • The extent of the quotation is no more than is required by the specific purpose for which it is used
  • There is sufficient acknowledgement of the author where possible

The exception applies to all works which have 'been made available to the public', so would include, for example, quotation from an unpublished thesis. An unpublished letter in private hands would not be covered by the exception.

Care should be taken, however, when quoting a substantial part, or the whole of a work, even if it is felt to be required for the specific purpose for which the quotation was used. 'Fair dealing' should not undermine the commercial interest of the copyright holder. In case of doubt, it is advisable to contact the copyright holder and request permission to quote from a work. 

When providing sufficient acknowledgement of sources, the normal conventions of academic referencing should be followed, including the need to reference paraphrases of other works.

Copying for personal research or private study

The copying of limited amounts of any published text for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study is permitted under UK copyright law. This must however be copying for personal use.

The concept 'fair dealing' covers copying for personal use as it does for quotation for publication. Again, the extent of the copying is crucial. In practice the library community has assumed rule of thumb guidelines on fair dealing that correspond to the CLA Higher Education copying licence limits, i.e. no more than one article from an issue of a journal, or one chapter from a book. 

Limited amounts of sound recordings, films or broadcasts from any source can also be copied for non-commercial research or private study following changes made in copyright law in 2014. The concept of 'fair dealing' still applies, which would certainly exclude the possibility of copying whole works.

Sound recordings and films can be copied in their entirety where an individual already owns a copy of the work. Again, this applies to individual, personal, use only

Copying for text or data mining

The changes to UK copyright law which came into force in 2014 mean that copying whole works for the specific purpose of text or data mining is now permitted for non-commercial research. This only applies to the use of automated analytical techniques to analyse text and data for patterns, trends and other useful information. Contract terms which restrict copying for this purpose are unenforceable. 

Researchers must have 'lawful access' to the works used. There must e.g. be subscription access to a digital work used for this purpose. Copies used must also be credited to the rights holder.

It would, in addition, be advisable to contact the Library if you wish to use Library subscription sources for this purpose, so that the Library can inform publishers of any large scale copying being undertaken.

Moral rights

Authors have a number of moral rights in addition to the economic rights that form the major part of copyright law. These include a right to be identified as the author (the right of paternity); a right to prevent or object to derogatory treatment (the right of integrity); and a right not to have a work falsely described as their own (the right of false attribution).

The changes to fair dealing exceptions introduced in 2014 explicitly allow the use of a work for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche.