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 Kent.

The University has made a formal commitment to helping you navigate copyright law to support your work in its Copyright Literacy Strategy (pdf). The vision and values in the strategy underpin the guidance and support we provide.

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.

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.

The exception to this at Kent is if you create what are called “scholarly works” such as essays, journal articles or books. If you create a scholarly work it is likely that you will own the copyright in it.

Copyright ownership can also be assigned to other people or organisations. For more information on ownership of copyright at Kent contact the University’s Research and Innovation Services team.

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.

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.

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 Kent 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 us 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.

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

Summary of different licences

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 Demand)
NLA Media Access (Newspaper Licensing Agency) Links and copies of articles from newspapers
PRS for Music/PPL Public performance of musical works
Filmbank/MPLC Public screenings of feature films not linked to educational activity
Creative Commons Allows open sharing of copyright work as decided by the copyright owner who may restrict commercial use or adaptations, or require any adaptations to be licensed on the same terms
Digital library resources Allows you to access e-books, journals and other databases for your non-commercial study or research

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 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 journals

Copying images to use as stimulus in research study

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

Includes presenting extracts from books, journals and musical works to students

Potential use of whole works where the use is fair

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

Digitising print material

Format shifting text to audio

Creating subtitles for videos

Sections 31A-F
Illustration for instruction 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 recordings

Adding content to examination papers

Section 32
Educational performance Allows any copyright work that can be performed, 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 external audience) Section 34
Recording of broadcasts Allows educational establishment to record TV and radio broadcasts and make them available to students Underpins the University’s use of BoB Online TV streaming service Section 35
Making multiple copies Allows educational institutions to copy up to 5% of a copyright work and supply multiple copies to students

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 Moodle

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.

Because many elements of copyright law are subjective, particularly whether an activity is "fair", you may need to take a risk management approach. This is acknowledged in the University’s copyright policy (pdf).

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 your activity?
  • how likely is it that the copyright holder will 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 copyright@kent.ac.uk 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 Copyright, Licensing & Policy Manager at Kent.

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

See the Copyright Literacy at Kent blog (below) for more details.


We provide advice, training and specific guidance on copyright law to support you in your work and study. If you have any questions about copyright, email:

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