Skip to Main Content

Library Services

  1. Library Services Home
  2. Resources
  3. Support
  4. About
  5. My Library


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 and when can I copy?

A computer-generated image of a photocopierA presentation slide with a pie chart being projected on a wall

Copyright law does allow copying and usage for certain specific purposes (which are known as 'exceptions' to the law), without asking permission from the rightsholder. Please note that often only limited copying is permitted for these purposes - see the explanation of Fair Dealing below.

Those purposes particularly relevant to University activities like research and education include:

  1. Making photocopies or scans of material for private study or research (not to be shared)
  2. 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 explanation of Fair Dealing below, and the 'Copyright and Theses' section if appropriate).
  3. Using material in a lecture, e.g., in a Powerpoint slide or handout (again please see the 'Fair Dealing' box below).
  4. 'Performing, playing or showing work in course of activities of educational establishment' (see section 34 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as revised and amended): this could be for example a DVD of a film, a recording or a live performance by students of a piece of music, or reading through a play in a class. (Please note that making such performances or showings available online (including on Moodle) as part of a lecture capture recording is not normally permitted. They will need to be edited out.)
  5. Text and Data Mining: please see information in the 'Copyright for Researchers' section of this guide.

With the first three of these uses, it is necessary to be careful about how much of a work you use. Please see the boxes below, about how much can be legally copied.

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

How much can I legally copy from a copyrighted work?

Anyone may copy an "insubstantial" part of a published work for private study and certain other reasons. Unfortunately, however, copyright law does not define what is meant by "insubstantial". For convenience 5-10% is sometimes recommended as a reasonable proportion, but what is more important is to make a judgement about the amount you would consider as fair to be copied if it was your work. The concept of 'fair dealing' will help with this - see this video about photocopying for personal use, and the box below.


Copyright fair dealing video

Transcript: Copyright: Fair dealing

[Image of an iphone camera lens]. “Did you know that you can make copies of extracts from library books and journals using a mobile phone camera as well as a photocopier or scanner?”

[Image of a traffic stop sign] “BUT...”

[Image of a photocopier with book being photocopied.] “How much material by other people are you allowed to copy?”

[Image of an untidy desk (files, papers, pen, container of paper clips, etc.)] “As much as you need (but no more), up to about 5-10%.”

[Image of kitchen scales] “This is known as ‘Fair Dealing’, and is intended to strike a balance between your needs as a scholar and the creator’s livelihood.”

“For more information please see City’s Copyright Guide:”

[On screen text] “Credits

  • •‘iphone6+ camera bump’ by Omar Jordan Fawahl (CC BY-SA 2.0). Accessed from Flickr 17/08/2017.
  • ‘Sens interdit’ by Carlos ZGZ (Public Domain). Accessed from Flickr 17/08/2017.
  • ‘Let’s digitize’ by Mace Ojala (CC BY-SA 2.0). Accessed from Flickr 17/08/2017.
  • ‘Work prep’ by FergieFam. (CC BY-SA 2.0). Accessed from Flickr 17/08/2017.
  • ‘Scales’ by Mauro Cateb (CC BY 2.0). Accessed from Flickr 17/08/2017.”

Deciding how much of a work may be fair to copy and re-use - 'Fair Dealing' explained

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. Sometimes even reproducing just a small detail can be significant enough to the work to go beyond what would be considered fair according to Fair Dealing.


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. With private study, is the copy being made for the person doing the copying, and no-one else? It mustn't be passed on; it is for personal use only.
  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 (except photographs)
    • Text and/or data analysis, for non-commercial purposes (not limited to fair dealing)

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)

Asking permission from rightsholders

If you think that what you want to copy will not be covered by Fair Dealing, then you will need to ask permission, normally by approaching the publisher or rightsholder. Publishers will usually have a webpage which will contain instructions. Sometimes you can ask permission by filling in an online form, or there may be an email address to use. If there is no webpage use their standard contact email. For other rightsholders (especially if not organisations), you may need to search internet and other sources to identify them and find contact details.

There are some other ways in which you can ask permission.

  • For US publishers, you may need to use the Copyright Clearance Center to request permission, which represents the interests of many US publishers.
  • PLS Clear: this service can also be used to request permissions. It is necessary to create an account.

Remember that it can take time to get permission. If the rightsholder does not reply, this does not mean that you can use the material without permission.

Credits for images on this page

'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