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Explaining aspects of copyright to be aware of when studying, lecturing or undertaking research. Please note that information on these pages is for guidance only: it does not constitute formal legal advice.

What is 'copying'?

The act of copying includes:

  • making photocopies or scans of material for private study (please see the 'Copying for Private Study' box below).
  • re-using material (including text, photos, images, maps, music scores/recordings etc.) in an essay, dissertation or thesis for criticism and review (please see the 'Fair Dealing' box below, and the 'Copyright and Theses' section if appropriate).
  • using material in a lecture, e.g., in a Powerpoint slide or handout (again please see the 'Fair Dealing' box below).

If you carry out any of the above acts, please think about copyright!

If you have any queries, please contact the Copyright Librarian.

Copying for Private Study

Anyone may copy an "insubstantial" part of a published work (around 5-10%) for private study. Unfortunately, however, copyright law does not define what is meant by "insubstantial". You must make a judgement about what you would consider as fair if it was your work. The concept of 'fair dealing' will help with this - see the box below.

Fair Dealing, and what kind of copying is permitted by law

"Fair dealing" is a legal concept which allows copying for certain specific reasons. It allows any individual to make photocopies of, normally, an "insubstantial" amount of a work, under certain circumstances.

Bear in mind that the significance of the extract you use to the publication it is from is as important as the quantity you use when considering how much to reproduce.

The copy is not "fair" unless the answer to all four of the following questions is "yes":

  1. Has copying left the original market for the work unchanged? (i.e., if it replaces the need for you or anyone else to buy the work, then the copying is probably not fair.)*
  2. Have I taken a reasonable and appropriate amount of the work? Was it necessary to use the amount that was taken? Usually only part of a work may be used.*
  3. Is the copy being made for the person doing the copying?
  4. Is the copy for one of the following safe purposes?
    • Research of a non-commercial nature
    • Private study
    • Criticism or review
    • Illustration for instruction (e.g., use in a lecture, a thesis, or an examination)
    • Reporting current events
    • Text and/or data analysis, for non-commercial purposes

It is essential to give a full acknowledgement of the source of any material copied in this way wherever this is possible.


*Based on or quoted from: (2014) Guidance: Exceptions to copyright. Available from  Licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 (Accessed 1 September 2017)

Image credits

'Photocopier' by mitopencourseware (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 09/07/2015

'23C3: Powerpoint Karaoke - Pie chart which resembles Pac-man' by svenjas (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 09/07/2015