Copyright: what you need to know

Copyright is relevant whenever you are copying or sharing creative work. This guide helps you to understand copyright and its relevance to your work and study at the University of Oxford.

Although this guide is primarily written for staff and students at the University of Oxford, other researchers using the Bodleian Libraries may also find it useful.

In this section you'll find further information for students, lecturers, researchers, sharing content online and copyright infringement.

On this page

What does copyright protect?

Copyright is a type of ‘intellectual property right’ that gives the authors of original, creative works the right to decide who is allowed to copy and share their work and how.

There are many types of work which qualify for copyright protection in the UK, for example books, journals, personal correspondence, software, music, art works, diagrams, databases audio recordings, films and broadcasts.

Who owns copyright?

The first owner of copyright is usually the author or the producer of the work, although if you create something as part of your job, your employer will typically own the copyright.

Most universities have intellectual property policies defining who owns copyright in certain types of works. These often allow staff and students to assert ownership in scholarly works.

At Oxford the main statute governing intellectual property is Statute XVI, Part B which in summary states that, unless specifically commissioned by the University, staff and students can assert copyright in:

  • artistic works not created with the aid of university facilities
  • books
  • articles
  • plays
  • lyrics
  • scores
  • lectures

More information can be found in the guidance for students to intellectual property and the Oxford University Innovation guide to IP, patents and licences.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright works are protected from the moment they are recorded in a "fixed" form, such as written down, recorded or stored in digital format. Works will then stay protected until the copyright expires, after which time they pass into the "public domain”.

In the UK copyright protection generally lasts:

  • for written, artistic, musical or dramatic works: for 70 years after the death of the creator (or the last of the creative team to die)
  • for films and sound recordings: for 70 years from the date of creation or release.

The government provides more information on copyright duration. If you have questions on specific works, we can help.

Activities covered by copyright

Copyright law gives the copyright owner certain "exclusive rights". This means that:

  • nobody else can use your copyright work in certain ways without your permission
  • you need permission to use someone else’s work.

The following activities are all defined in copyright law as “restricted acts” which only the copyright owner or their representative has the right to authorise:

  • copying
  • issuing copies to the public (ie publishing and distributing physical copies of works)
  • renting or lending
  • publicly performing (ie showing, playing or performing copyright works in a public space)
  • communicating to the public by means of electronic transmission (ie broadcast and online communication)
  • adapting (eg making a film adaptation of a book)

If you're doing any of the above with a copyright work, you need to make sure that you either have a licence or that a copyright exception applies.

Copyright licences

If you own the copyright in a work you'll probably want others to use it according to certain conditions. The permissions you give to others will come in the form of a copyright licence. Similarly, if you want to make use of copyright material created by others you will find that much of it comes with licences attached.

Digital content

The terms of use you accept when you access digital resources such as websites, social media services, databases and electronic library resources all contain copyright licensing terms.

Collective licences

Other types of "collective licence" are available to Oxford staff and students which cover entire classes of copyright work.

For example, the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) licence covers the majority of published books and journal articles. This licence allows staff and students at Oxford to copy up to 10% or a chapter/article from a qualifying book or journal, whichever is the greater.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licences are also widely used in research and education. These licences are designed to promote sharing of copyright material with as few barriers to use and reuse as possible. They allow use of the copyright works without payment and may also allow others to create new works based on the original work. Other equivalent open licences include the Open Government Licence and Open Data Commons licences.

The most commonly encountered licences at the University are summarised below:

Type of licence What's covered
CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) Copies of up to one chapter/article of 10%
(whichever is the greater) from books,
journals and magazines
ERA (Educational Recording Agency) Recordings from UK TV and radio
broadcasts (provided by BoB - On
NLA Media Access (Newspaper Licensing
Links and copies of articles from
PRS for Music/PPL Public performance of musical works
Filmbank/MPLC Public screenings of feature films not linked
to educational activity
Creative Commons and other open licences (e.g. Open Government Licence)

Allows open sharing of copyright work as
decided by the copyright owner who may
restrict commercial use or adaptations,
require any adaptations to be licensed on
the same terms

Electronic library resources Allows you to access e-books, journals
other databases for your non-commercial
study or research


More information about the University's copyright licences.

Copyright exceptions

Although licences can provide you with explicit permission to use copyright works in certain ways, there are times when licences are unavailable or inappropriate.

For example, if you're quoting extracts from a large number of different works in a piece of academic work, it may be impossible to get permission from every copyright holder. The law therefore includes "exceptions" to copyright which allow use of copyright works without the copyright holder's permission in certain contexts. These are called "permitted acts" in the legislation, which is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA).

Summary of relevant UK copyright exceptions

Name of exception Purpose Activities covered CDPA section
Research or
private study
Allows students
and researchers
to make copies of
copyright works
for non-commercial
research or
private study.

Making personal
copies of extracts
from books and

Copying images
to use as
stimulus in
research study

Section 29
Quotation Allows anyone to
copyright works
for the purpose of
quotation where
it is fair

extracts from
books, journals
and musical
works to students

Potential use of
whole works
where the use is

Section 30
Allows individuals
or institutions to
provide equal
access to
copyright works
for users with any
type disability

Digitising print

Format shifting
text to audio

Creating subtitles
for videos

Sections 31A-F
Illustration for

Allows teachers
or students to
use copyright
work in teaching
or study where
the use is fair

Including text,
images, music or
video in teaching
slides and lecture

Adding content to

Section 32
Allows any
copyright work
that can be
played or shown
in an educational
setting to be
performed played
or shown
Screening a film
in a lecture,
playing musical
sound recordings
in class,
performance of a
play in class (ie
not for an
Section 34
Recording of
establishment to
record TV and
radio broadcasts
and make them
available to
Underpins the
University’s use
of BoB Online TV
streaming service
Section 35
Making multiple
institutions to
copy up to 5% of
a copyright work
and supply
multiple copies to

Copying of book
extracts not
covered by the
CLA licence

Copying up to
5% of a film or
sound recording
and making it
available to
students on

Section 36

Fair dealing

Many copyright exceptions involve a test of "fair dealing". This means you need to think about whether your use of someone else’s work is fair, for example:

  • have you used it in a way that stops them from selling the work, or making use of it in the way they want to?
  • have you used more of the work than you need to for your purpose?

Deciding on whether something is fair will always need to be done on a case by case basis – we can help. Please contact

Copyright risk

Because many elements of copyright law are subjective, particularly whether an activity is "fair", you may need to take a risk management approach. 

This means you might use a copyright work even if you can't be 100% sure that the activity is non-infringing. To assess copyright risk you'll need to consider the following:

  • what is the likelihood that what you are doing infringes copyright?
  • how likely is it that the copyright holder will discover and object to your activity?
  • what is the impact (both financial and reputational) if the copyright holder was to take action against you or the University?

Read the relevant sections of this copyright guidance to minimise the risk of legal action and avoid financial and reputational damage. You can contact if you have questions about how risk management relates to your work.

Training sessions

Learning more about copyright is not only helpful to your work; it can also be fun! We run training sessions using Copyright the Card Game – a game-based resource co-created by Chris Morrison, the Bodleian’s Copyright & Licensing Specialist.

Chris also runs sessions on copyright, open access and scholarly communication using a board game he co-created called The Publishing Trap.

You can sign up to copyright training via the Bodleian iSkills workshops page or contact Chris Morrison to discuss delivery of tailored copyright sessions based on your needs.

This guidance is adapted from University of Kent Copyright Guidance by Chris Morrison and Angela Groth-Seary (2020), and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)