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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'?

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

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 for private study. Unfortunately, however, copyright law does not define what is meant by "insubstantial", although it is normally taken to be between 5-10% (but no more than you need for the purpose you are copying for). 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 this video about photocopying for personal use, and the box below.


Copyright fair dealing video

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

"Fair dealing" is a legal concept which guides how much of a work you may reproduce for certain specific reasons. It allows any individual to make photocopies of, or re-use in another context, 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. Sometimes reproducing a small detail can be significant enough to the work to go beyond 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. If photocopying, 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