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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 Copyright?

Copyright gives protection to the owner of the rights to an original work. The owner will often be the creator, although this is not always the case. Individuals who want to reproduce the original work of others may need to seek permission to do so.

What is protected by copyright?


An open bookA television screen with various media devices underneathSeveral stacks of DVDs


The following categories of material (amongst others) are protected by copyright:

  • Literary works (which includes textbooks, journal articles and newspaper articles, as well as novels, poetry, plays, etc.)
  • Artistic works (which includes diagrams, illustrations and figures, as well as photos, paintings, sculptures, etc.)
  • Musical works (including lyrics)
  • Audio recordings
  • Films, videos, DVDs, radio and TV broadcasts
  • Typographical arrangement of published editions
  • Websites and other online sources

Who owns the copyright?

The owner of copyright is usually the person who created the material, but it is important to remember that:

  1. with regard to material which an individual produces under the terms of his or her employment, copyright usually rests with the employer
  2. for material written for publication in a journal or book, a researcher normally owns the copyright, but is sometimes contractually required to transfer this to the publisher.

How does copyright affect what I can do with material?

The following acts or activities are examples of what is restricted under copyright (though you may still be able to carry them out, under specfic circumstances and conditions - there are more details in the Fair Dealing and how to copy legally section).

  • Copying and scanning
  • Reproducing in an essay, dissertation or thesis
  • Adaptation or amendment of a work
  • Performing, showing or playing in public
  • Making available on a website, or a Virtual Learning Environment such as Moodle
  • Broadcasting
  • Issuing, renting or lending copies to the public
  • Importing, distributing or acquiring infringing copies

How long does copyright last?

Copyright applies to different types of work for varying periods of time as indicated below:

How long copyright lasts in different types of works
Type of work Copyright expires after...
Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work
  • Generally 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author died.
  • If music has lyrics/libretto and both were written for the same purpose, copyright in either does not expire until 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the longer surviving participant (composer or lyricist/librettist) dies.

Typographical arrangement of a published edition

  •    25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published
  • In general (from June 1957), 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the longest surviving of the following participants dies:
    • the principal director
    • the author of the screenplay
    • the author of the dialogue
    • the composer of the music (created for and used in the film).

      (Though this may vary depending on what date the last of these dies.)
  • Prior to 1957, there is separate copyright on each frame that makes up the visual aspect of the film, and the script; with the durations as usual for these.
Sound recordings
  • In general, 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was published or made available to the public.
  • If neither of these things has happened:
    • if created before 1957 or after 1989, 50 years after the recording was made (though if the recording is of a performance, performers' rights may last longer).
    • if created between 1957 and 1989, copyright will expire at the end of 2039.


Credits for images on this page

'Ulysses Sepia' by 96dpi (CC BY-NC 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 09/07/2015

'Home_cinema_01' by  (CC BY-SA 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 25/07/2017

'Mis DVDs version 2006' by Esparta (CC BY-NC 2.0) Accessed from Flickr 09/07/2015