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Copyright: Copyright basics

Welcome to the copyright guide for Sheffield Hallam University staff and students.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a 'property right' which exists to protect the economic rights of those who create works e.g. authors, artists, publishers. This right prohibits the copying of their works except under certain circumstances. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and subsequent statutory instruments and regulations, set out the circumstances when copying is permitted.

Unless permission has been given or licensed, or covered by an exception in copyright legislation, only the copyright owner may do certain 'restricted acts'; these include:

  • copying the work
  • adapting the work, either in the same or in a different format
  • communicating the work to the public by means of electronic transmission (this includes publishing on an intranet)
  • showing or playing the work in public

Examples of licences include the

Who owns copyright and how long does it last?

Copyright protection begins when a work is created. It is automatic, registration is not required nor is the © statement necessary (e.g. © Sheffield Hallam University, 2017). However, it is good practice to do this because it clearly states who owns the copyright and when the copyright period began. Copyright is generally owned by the 'creator' of the material, however it can be 'assigned' to someone else, e.g. a publisher. If a work is created by an employee in the course of their employment, copyright is owned by the employer, subject to any agreement to the contrary.

Different types of work have different lengths of copyright protection. The following table is a summary of the types of material, their copyright owners and the duration of the protection as stated in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Type of material Copyright owner Length of protection
Literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works Author 70 years from the year end in which the author dies
Anonymous works Not applicable 70 years from the year end when it was first made available
Sound recordings Producer 70 years from the year end in which it was made
Films and videos Producer and principal director are the authors. A film may have many copyright elements and ownership will depend on contractual agreements. 70 years from the year end in which the last of the following die: principal director, author of the screen play, author of the dialogue, composer of the music created for the film
Broadcasts Provider of the transmission 50 years from the year end in which it was made
Typographical arrangements of published editions Publisher 25 years from the year end of publication

When can materials be copied?

It is your responsibility to stay within the law when using photocopiers, printers, scanners, computers and edit suites within the University. In general, you can copy material if one of the following applies:

  • the material is 'out of copyright'
  • you are copying within the acceptable limits of the law
  • you are copying under the terms of any licences held by the University
  • you have the permission of the copyright owner

Copyright, Designs and Patents Act - fair dealing

If what you are copying is less than a substantial part you can go ahead, but be very careful. The Act does not define 'substantial' and case law has determined that 'significance' as well as quantity must be taken into account.

There are 'exceptions' in the Act, which cover copying subject to 'fair dealing'.

Fair dealing requires a judgement to be made.  You need to consider:

  • does using the copyright work affect sales of that work, could it be a substitute causing the copyright owner to lose revenue?
  • was it necessary to use the amount that was copied, was it reasonable and appropriate to the context?

Exceptions in copyright legislation

You may copy from any format of material for research and private study for non-commercial purposes provided that it is fair dealing.  Contractual terms cannot override this exception. The following might be considered 'fair dealing'

  • journals - one article or 10%, whichever is the greater
  • books - one chapter or 10%, whichever is the greater
  • anthologies - a short story or poem, not exceeding 10 pages

Copyright is not infringed by the use of a quotation, whether for criticism or review or otherwise, provided that use complies with 'fair dealing'.  Therefore, the quote must be relevant and necessary, the amount used no more than required for the purpose, and the original work acknowledged.  This applies to all formats of material.

This exception permits limited reasonable use for caricature, parody or pastiche.  The copyright owner could, however, still object to derogatory treatment under their moral rights.

This applies to copying done for the purposes of giving or receiving instruction, including setting and answering exam questions.  It applies to all formats of material.  The amount must comply with 'fair dealing' and accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement.  Use must be for non-commercial purposes.

Request permission

If you wish to use content created by another person and re-use is not covered by a licence or legislation, you need to obtain permission from the copyright owner.  A signature from them is preferable but consent by email is generally acceptable.  Keep a record of this permission for as long as your work containing the re-used content is made available.  If you do not get permission, you cannot use the material; a lack of response to your request does not constitute a go-ahead.

Sample permissions letters and emails can be found in the JISC Intellectual Property Rights Toolkit.


These pages are intended to provide guidance to members of Sheffield Hallam University on matters of copyright and the copying of materials for learning, teaching and research at the University.  Whilst we have endeavoured to ensure the accuracy of these guidelines, they should not be construed as definitive legal opinion on such matters and should not be taken as legal advice.

Further guidance

Contact us

If you have any questions about copyright, please email

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