Last week we discussed the basics of copyright, how it works and why we all need to keep it in mind. This week focuses more on the practical considerations when studying and working in education.

When copyright gets complex

Copyright is already more complex in academia for multiple reasons.

For instance, when a number of authors create joint works, copyright rights exist per individual. Additionally, as mentioned briefly in the previous blog post, if employees create materials for an organisation, the employees do not own the copyright, the organisation does. This also includes students at most institutions, completing research and assignments, etc. For more information on the above in the UK, see government guidance on ownership of copyright.

Below, we’re going to touch on how to avoid copyright infringement in UK higher education.

What is copyright infringement?

Here are some simple examples of where copyright infringement (or breaches of copyright) can occur:

  • A lecture in which video footage has been shown without acknowledgement and/or permission for its use;
  • Departments distributing monthly newsletters and failing to attribute copyright to the owner of the images and/or seek permission for image use;
  • Issuing PDF or printed copies of journal articles to students (i.e. not via library links);
  • Copying whole printed works to students;
  • Public performance of an artistic work, such as a play or musical piece, without licence from the copyright holder.
Faded story book, open at pages 76-77.
A couple of pages out of a large novel is generally not considered “substantial”, but there are other factors.

In order to be considered a breach of copyright, the 1988 Copyright Act (chapter II, section 16) states that “any substantial part” of a work must have been reproduced. This is objective, and comes down to both the significance and value of the portion used, as well as the proportion used.

How can I avoid copyright infringement?

Within a higher education institution such as Queen’s University Belfast, there are ways that you can legally use a wide variety of copyright material, for specific purposes. Blanket licences and “fair dealing” are discussed below.

When a work (or the specified use, such as a commercial endeavour) falls outside these areas, you must obtain permission directly from the copyright holder to use any part of that work. This must be explicitly for each use of the work and will, most likely, incur a fee.

Blanket licences

Published works: CLA Licence

The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) is a licensing body which grants permissions to copy published content without dealing directly with the authors. Royalties from copies issued under license are distributed among authors, thus paying them for their work.

In practice, staff (but not students) at Queen’s can log in to the CLA system to gain access to materials that are covered by the licence. Staff can then place links to these documents into VLE or teaching materials, so that students can access them. Your subject librarian will provide advice and guidance on how CLA works, and on adding additional materials to the system.

A stack of documents.

Some material cannot be copied under the CLA licence: this includes printed music, maps, charts or books of tables, bibles, and liturgical works. For more information see QUB’s LibGuide on Copyright.

To find out whether a work is covered by the CLA licence, you can search using the CLA check permissions tool. Additionally, authors publishing online may provide copyright terms for public sector and commercial users on their websites. The CLA recommends to read these Terms & Conditions carefully.

Broadcast video content: ERA Licence

For video content, the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) provides a licence to many educational institutions, including Queen’s University. This allows the educational use of free-to-air broadcast video content from producers such as such as the BBC and ITV, Open University and some others.

As long as the content is to be used for educational purposes, it can be copied to a secure university server such as Mediasite, incorporated into VLEs and presentations, and retained for as long as the institution holds the licence. Materials must be labelled with:

  • Date (when the copy was made)
  • Name of the broadcaster
  • Programme title

For more information on the ERA licence at Queen’s University, see the Broadcast Content for Education page. Note that the licence does not cover online sources such as YouTube.

Fair dealing

It may be possible to use copyright works under “fair dealing“. This can only apply to works which have been made public – i.e. unpublished works cannot be used under fair dealing. Additionally, the use of the work:

  • Must not be for commercial purposes.
  • Must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.
  • Must be a proportion that is considered fair dealing, i.e.
    • Does using the work affect the market for the original work? If a use of a work acts as a substitute for it, causing the owner to lose revenue, then it is not likely to be fair.
    • Is the amount of the work taken reasonable and appropriate? Was it necessary to use the amount that was taken? Usually only part of a work may be used.

Fair dealing covers six core uses of copyright works:

  • Private study
  • Examination or instruction
  • Quotation, critique or review
  • Reporting current news events
  • Parody, pastiche or caricature, and
  • For text and data mining

The first three of these are most relevant to higher education, and are covered in more detail in the next sections.

UK Intellectual Property Office. Exceptions to copyright: Research
UK Intellectual Property Office. Exceptions to copyright: Accessible formats for disabled people
UK Intellectual Property Office. Exceptions to copyright: Education and Teaching

Additionally, here are some helpful guides produced by the UK Intellectual Property Office. These cover exceptions to copyright in the areas of Research, Education, and when providing Accessible formats for disabled people. To read more, go to the 2014 Copyright Law page on their website.

A student sits at her desk in university accommodation.

Private study and exploration

Individuals wanting to make copies of works for research or private study must do so themselves. The use of the work:

  • Must not be for commercial purposes.
  • Must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.
  • Must be a proportion that is considered fair dealing.

While UK law does not quantify the amount of a work that may be used, The Society of Authors has previously published guidance (1965) as follows:

  • One article from an individual issue of a journal
  • Up to 10% of a book
  • One poem or short story of up to 10 pages
  • A report of one case in law reports
  • Copying of materials for a disabled person is permitted if no accessible versions are commercially unavailable

As stated by the Intellectual Property Office’s Exceptions to Copyright for Education and Teaching, fair dealing also covers reproduction of parts of sound recordings, films or broadcasts for noncommercial research or private study.

Lecturer delivering a presentation to her class.

Examination or instruction

Copying literary, musical, dramatic, artistic work and even broadcasts, film or sound recordings, are allowed for the purpose of school or industry examination or instruction. The use of the work:

  • Must not be for commercial purposes.
  • Must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.
  • Must be a proportion that is considered fair dealing.

Reproduction is permitted as long as it meets the guidelines set out by the Intellectual Property Office’s Exceptions to Copyright for Education and Teaching, namely:

  • The work must be used solely to illustrate a point

This means minor uses, such as displaying a few lines of poetry on an interactive whiteboard, are permitted, but uses which would undermine sales of teaching materials still need a licence.

Quotation, Critique or Review

The use of the work:

  • Must not be for commercial purposes.
  • Must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.
  • Must be a proportion that is considered fair dealing.

The Society of Authors advises that citations of a work are permitted solely for the purpose of critique or review under these conditions:

  • Materials quotes are supplemented by assessment or discussion;
  • The amount of material quoted is deemed acceptable for review purposes.

What is the cost of Copyright Infringement?

  • The CLA compliance section may investigate your organisation (QUB) if it suspects copyright infringement.
  • Organisations may incur financial penalties. Infringement is typically a civil offence and damages awarded are on a case-by-case basis.
  • Reputational damage is likely to be caused. Bad publicity could impact current and future investments for your organisation as well as affecting its (and your) reputation.
  • Individual employees can be held responsible and be liable on a personal level in certain circumstances.


Tony Furnell

E-Learning Officer in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University Belfast. Passionate about digital literacy, making life easier for users of technology by designing better systems, and incorporating equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) (including accessibility) into teaching and daily work.


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