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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 published work can be quoted for publication without any need to obtain permission from the copyright holder. However, the amount you can quote (i.e. copy) without permission is restricted by the considerations set out below. 

  • The extent of the quotation must be no more than is required by the specific purpose for which it is used
  • There must also be sufficient acknowledgment of the source
  • The use of the quotation must constitute fair dealing with the work

The concept of fair dealing applies to criticism, review, quotation and news reporting (as well as non-commercial research and private study)

Both the amount and significance of the text quoted is a crucial consideration. Quotation of a conclusion, or key data from a survey, might not be considered fair dealing.The proportion of quoted to original material is a further consideration. Generally, the more text quoted, the less likely the quotation could be considered to be fair dealing.  Quotation should also not undermine the commercial interests of the copyright holder. 

The Society of Authors has published guidelines on fair dealing for criticism and review which suggest the following limits: 400 words for a single extract, or 800 words over a series of extracts each of no more than 300 words. In the case of poems, no more than one quarter of the whole or 40 lines (whichever is the shorter). However, these are guidelines only.

Quotation from an unpublished work is also possible under the conditions noted above. However, the unpublished work most have been 'made available to the public' in some way. This would include any lending or issuing to the public. It would not be permissible to quote from a privately held letter, for example, without permission from the copyright holder.

Changes to UK copyright legislation introduced in 2014 have in addition explicitly allowed quotation for 'illustrative purposes' in the context of teaching and learning. The change includes the possible use of quotation within teaching and learning to include e.g. materials used for distance learning.

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. 

Changes to UK copyright law introduced in 2014 also mean that limited amounts of sound recordings, films or broadcasts from any source can be copied for non-commercial research or private study. 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 2014 changes to UK copyright law permit the copying of whole works for the specific purpose of text or data mining 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. Researchers must also have 'lawful access' to the works used. A researcher must e.g. have subscription access to a digital work used for this purpose.

Library copying (and inter-library loans)

UK legislation allows a number of exceptions for libraries when making copies. The most important of these for the researcher is the exception entitling librarians to make copies of single journal articles and parts of published works for supply to other libraries. This exception allows the copying or articles and book chapters for inter-library loan services.

Before copies can be supplied the library user must sign a declaration which states among other things, that the copy has not previously been supplied and that the copy will be used for non-commercial research or private study.

Libraries may only copy one article from any single issue of a periodical (or journal), or a ‘reasonable proportion’ of a book.  The British Library has a 10% limit, but normally lends the book itself if an extract is requested.

A library may also copy an unpublished work provided the author has not prohibited copying. A declaration similar to that for published works must be signed. However there are no limits on the amount of the work that can be copied.

Copying from web pages

There is no special law applying to text held in digital form. Unless the author of the text has given permission for unrestricted copying, the statutory provisions noted above apply. There is no implied permission to copy a web page or pdf file. Images are whole works, which means that copying images from web pages cannot be considered fair dealing.

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).

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