Skip to Main Content Page Title
Library logo

Copyright: Copyright for Students

Copyright protects the moral and economic rights of writers, publishers and other creators. Copyright is protected by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and subsequent Statutory Instruments. Copyright applies to physical materials and to the electronic environment.

Copyright is infringed by copying without permission. Copyright law and associated licences are highly complex. These brief guidelines outline what copying is permissible and those activities which may infringe copyright. They do not constitute formal legal advice.

All staff and students of the University have obligations to observe copyright law and the terms of associated licences.

Copyright is not infringed where limited copying is carried out within   

  • the concept of “fair dealing" (see section below)
  • under the terms of a licensing scheme
  • with the written permission of the copyright holder (“clearing copyright”)

Fair dealing

This applies to:

  • paper to paper copying only (i.e. to photocopying from print originals)
  • copying by individuals of short extracts for the purpose of
    • private study
    • non-commercial research
    • criticism or review

The extent of fair dealing is not specified by the legislation. Generally accepted guidelines are whichever is the greater of

  • one chapter or 10% of a book
  • one article or 10% of an issue of a journal
  • one paper or 10% of a set of conference proceedings
  • one case or 10% of a law report
  • one poem or short story not exceeding 10 pages from an anthology

(thus, copying more than one chapter is acceptable provided that copying does not exceed 10% of the total length of the book.)

Blanket licences

  • are purchased by organisations from agencies and suppliers acting on behalf of copyright holders
  • set out the terms under which use of copyright material is permissible within the institution for educational purposes

Copyright holder permission

Where copying does not fall within fair dealing or the terms of licences, the only way in which it can be carried out without infringement is with the express written permission of the copyright holder.

Copyright advice

Creative works such as books, photographs, music and film are all protected by copyright automatically when written down, recorded or saved. This gives the copyright owner the right to decide what you're allowed to do with that work. You should make sure your use of copyright works is legal.

If you infringe copyright by using someone else’s work unfairly and without permission you may be liable for legal action.

Licensed resources

Most of the books, journals, databases and software you use in your studies are protected by copyright. Your tuition fees help us pay licence fees that allow us to provide you with the resources you need.

Our copyright licenses allow you to access these resources for your studies, but don’t allow you to share them with others online.

You may want to copy or share works that are not covered by a licence paid for by the University. In some cases you'll need permission from the copyright holder:

  • if you want to publicly perform a play, you need to contact a theatrical agency.
  • if you want to show films to a public audience in a non-educational setting, you need to get permission from an organisation like Filmbank.

In other cases your activity may be covered by copyright exceptions even if you don't have a licence.

Copyright exceptions

There are exceptions to copyright that allow you to make copies of copyright works and use them when writing coursework, essays and other projects without a licence. For example, you may need to:

  • quote some text from a book in an assignment or incorporate film clips into a video essay
  • make copies or adapt works if you have a disability.

It's important that your use of copyright material is fair to the copyright holder and that you always credit the author or producers of the works you're using.

If you have specific questions about using other people’s copyright in a fair and legal way, we can provide help and guidance.

Copyright in your work

You own the copyright in the original scholarly work you create whilst at Durham University. This includes personal lecture notes, essays and examination responses in any form.

Copyright and your thesis

If you're a PhD student and have used other people's work in your thesis follow the proper guidance especially on the inclusion of copyright or sensitive material when depositing your thesis into DRO.

Copyright infringement and plagiarism

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing, but you should avoid doing either.

  • Plagiarism means presenting someone else’s work as your own, even if you don’t copy their precise words or creative expression.
  • Copyright infringement means copying or sharing someone else’s creative work without their permission - this can happen even if you're not representing their work as your own. Using peer-to-peer puts you at risk of copyright infringement.

Work you submit for assessment must be your own original work. 

Ask Us

Ask Us

You can get in touch through our live chat service or by email, and search our FAQs for answers to your questions.

Ask us anything about Library and Collections

Quick Links

Tutorial : Plagiarism & Copyright - the absolute basics!!

Copyright Tutorial

If you are looking for more information on this subject then click on the link below which will take you to an online interactive tutorial on best practise in Copyright & Plagiarism.

Copyright and Plagiarism in the academic context