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During your studies you will want to copy or download third-party materials such as book chapters, journal articles and images. This material is likely to be covered by UK copyright law, which limits the amount of material that you can legally copy. New technologies also facilitate the copying and sharing of content online, making copyright infringement commonplace. Copyright infringement can lead to serious consequences for the individual and the university.  

Fortunately, there are some exceptions under the current law that allow you to make single copies of small amounts of a copyright work for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study under what is known as 'fair dealing'. Fair dealing requires a judgment to be made by whoever is carrying out the copying. Every case is different but generally speaking, the following criteria would need to be met to be considered 'fair':

  • The creator is acknowledged
  • The use would not affect sales of the work
  • The amount of the work copied is deemed reasonable and appropriate.

The Copyright basics page alongside the interactive resource below, will give you a basic introduction to copyright and how it affects you as a student.

Use the 'forward' and 'back' arrows to navigate your way through the resource. At the end there are some quiz questions to test your understanding.

You may find it helpful to refer to the glossary of copyright terms.

If in doubt seek advice from

Please explore the expandable sections below to find out more.

  • Exams and coursework

    The law allows you to include copied material for your assessed work, even if you need to provide more than one copy of your work for your tutors. However, you must always include appropriate acknowledgement and referencing.

    The legal permission to copy for assessed work does not extend to making your work publicly available in any way, such as via publication, display or exhibition. You must obtain written permission from the rights holder before you make the work available to the public.

  • Help for disabled students

    All disabled people are now covered by the legislation where their impairment affects their ability to study or work on an equal basis as someone without impairment.

    All copyright work can now be altered to an appropriate format, as long as suitable accessible copies are not available for purchase.

    This may include:

    • making Braille, audio or large-print copies of books, newspapers or magazines for visually impaired people
    • adding audio description to films or broadcasts for visually impaired people
    • making subtitled films or broadcasts for deaf or hard of hearing people
    • making accessible copies of books, newspapers or magazines for dyslexic people

    Further advice is available from the Assistive Technology web page.

  • Licensed library eresources

    Most electronic resources (databases, ejournals, ebooks) are made available through subscriptions handled by the Library. Access to University of Cumbria staff and students is allowed under the terms of licences drawn up by the supplier. All members of the University of Cumbria are responsible for ensuring that they comply with licences.

    If you are in any doubt at all you must check the specific licence for any given resource.

    As a general rule:

    • you may not make multiple copies of any material
    • you may not share any material with unauthorised users (for example, non-members of the University of Cumbria)
    • all use must be for non-commercial purposes, ie private study, research or teaching. Student placements and work-related projects may well constitute commercial use, so licence terms must be checked in these circumstances.
    • you must never disclose your password(s) for electronic resources
    • you must not modify the text of any copyright material, nor any related copyright statement
    • you should not make licensed material available to others over any kind of network or by e-mail without checking the terms of the licence concerned.
  • The web and social media

    We live in a world where anybody with a computer or mobile device can be a creator, publisher and aggregator of content; this presents new challenges for copyright. The casual nature of social media can promote a relaxed attitude to rights issues. However, the laws regarding copyright and other intellectual property rights still apply. 

    When using any social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, be aware of the following points.

    • When you upload your own content to a social media site, you never lose your copyright. However by doing so, you agree to license your content to be hosted and used in specific ways as set out in the terms of service of that site.
    • You should not upload anything that you do not own the rights to, unless you have permission from the rights holder.
    • Check the terms and conditions carefully of any social media site you sign up to.
    • Check for information on copyright; if there isn't any then do not assume that copyright doesn't exist.
    • Do not email or transfer copyright material that you have legally downloaded to anyone else, particularly via a social media platform or Blackboard. This includes any electronic material that you have downloaded from library resources and databases, e.g. ebooks, journal articles etc.
    • Never share any material downloaded from library resources with anyone outside of the University via email, open web platforms and social media.
    • Only link to legal content or reuse material made available under a Creative Commons licence, unless you have written permission to reuse copyright content.
    • Be aware of any reposting of your own content on other people’s sites. If this does happen without your permission, you are within your rights to ask the infringing owner to remove your material.
  • Using copyright material

    You may use the work of others if:

    1. Copyright has expired.

    2. You have the written permission of the rights owner.

    3. Your use of the work is permitted by an exception as defined under the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act (UK). 

    4. Your use of the work is covered under a licence. It is your responsibility to find and understand licence terms.

    To use copyright materials for commercial purposes the permission of the creator or rights owner must be sought and agreement in writing obtained. Users can expect to pay a fee determined by the rights holder.

    Copyright infringement is illegal. Seek advice if you are unsure:

  • Applying for copyright permission

    If you need to obtain permission to reuse materials then this should be sought as soon as possible. You should seek written (this can be in an email) explicit permission.

    Copyright owners can be difficult to trace and slow to respond to requests. You should be prepared to chase them up and try alternative methods of contacting copyright owners if necessary.

    It is helpful if your initial request gives as much detail as possible regarding the reuse. You should include a description of how you wish to reuse the material and why it is important for your course.

    You can adapt this Copyright permissions Request Template to suit your needs.

    You should always maintain a complete record of any requests sent and responses until such time as the material is no longer required. If a copyright owner does not respond it is risky to assume that they will not object to your proposed reuse of their work.

    Guidance on locating a copyright owner is available at the Intellectual Property Office’s website, or see the 'Obtaining permission to use copyright material' factsheet from the UK Copyright Service, or contact for advice.

    Where one or more of the rights holders is either unknown or cannot be found the copyright work is known as an orphan work. As it is not normally possible to reproduce the work if the rights holder cannot be found the UK Government has introduced a scheme to licence orphan works in the UK.

  • Using images

    Whether you can copy an image depends upon how you will use the image.

    Non-commercial research or private study: provided your use does not harm the economic interests of the copyright holder and the amount copied is reasonable you can make one copy. You must include an attribution statement (reference) and must not share the copy with others.

    Examination or Formal Assessment: use is permitted. You must include an attribution statement (reference).

    Criticism, Review or Quotation and Parody, Caricature and Pastiche: for both forms of use provided your use does not harm the economic interests of the copyright holder and the amount copied is reasonable you can include a copy in your work. You must include an attribution statement (reference).

    Reporting Current Events: use of a photograph without the copyright holder's permission is not allowed.

    Illustration for Learning: you can include an image in a presentation provided your use does not harm the economic interests of the copyright holder and the amount copied is reasonable. You must include an attribution statement (reference).

    How to find Images for re-use

    Images found on the web are more than likely not copyright free. Google Images advanced search option does allow users to tailor searches to limit the ‘types' of images that are returned including ‘labelled for reuse’. However, it is possible that people who have assigned a filter option to a particular image or set of images are not necessarily the owners of copyright.

    A large number of images are also made available online using Creative Commons licences which allows the owner of a copyrighted image to specify how others might use their image.

    Below is a list of sites (in alphabetical order) where you can find images that you can freely use for educational purposes. Although many images on these sites are free to use, normally you need to credit the creator in the way they specify - always check how the images have been licenced for re-use.

    • ClipSafari  - a free clipart gallery
    • Openverse website has a facility to search across multiple sources for material labelled for re-use under a CC licence.
    • Everystockphoto – searches across several ‘free-to-use’ image libraries
    • Flickr – The Commons – a large number ‘free-to-use’ images submitted to Flickr by institutions around the world.
    • – Free to use images for both commercial and personal use under an attribution license, sites including Flickr’s Creative Commons images
    • Iconmonstr - Discover nearly 4,000 free simple icons in 267 collections
    • MorgueFile – high-resolution images are free to use without attribution
    • Noun Project - Over a million curated icons, created by a global community.
    • OpenPhoto – Creative Commons-licensed images
    • Pexels - All photos and videos on Pexels can be downloaded and used for free under the terms of the Pexels licence
    • PicFindr – searches across various ‘free-to-use’ image sites simultaneously
    • Pixabay - All photos, videos and music on Pixabay can be downloaded and used for free under the terms of the Pixabay license
    • ​​​​​​​ is a repository for free public domain images, though some terms of use still apply so be sure to check
    • TinEye Labs search for Creative Commons images by colour.
    •  - Unsplash has over a million free high-resolution photos. Explore these popular photo categories on Unsplash. All photos here are free to download and use under the Unsplash License.
    • VADS – a selection of visual art collections comprising over 100,000 images freely available and copyright cleared for use in learning, teaching and research in the UK
    • Wikimedia Commons images is a large collection of ‘free-to-use’ images.
  • FAQs

    How much can I copy?

    There is no exact percentage of the 'limited' amount you can copy under fair dealing exceptions such as non-commercial research and private study, however below is some guidance on what would be considered fair:

    • one article in a single issue of a journal or set of conference proceedings, or a single law report
    • up to 10% of a book or a complete chapter, whichever is greater
    • a whole poem or short story from a collection, provided the item is not more than 10 pages
    • up to 10% (maximum of 20 pages) per short book (without chapters), report or pamphlet
    • one separate illustration or map up to A4 size
    • short excerpts from musical works (not whole works or movements). No copying is allowed for performance purposes

    Is it ok to photograph a chapter of a book on my smartphone or iPad as opposed to photocopying?

    Yes, as long as it is for your own non-commercial research or private study. There are no restrictions on changing the format of the copyright work provided the copying is fair. You must not make a copy and then send to other individuals.

    Does copyright apply to work I have created?

    Yes. Your essays, emails, exam scripts, dissertations and other original material you create in the form of projects or assignments all constitute copyright material. You are the rights holder, but the University requires you to submit copies for the purpose of marking and assessment, and may require you to deposit copies of material in a departmental collection or the University Library.

    Do I own the copyright in my coursework?

    Yes. The University’s IP policy states that students own their own IP (this includes copyright) unless the University has contracted with an outside body (eg an industrial sponsor) where the outside body has a claim on the IP and the student is required to assign the IP to the University.

    The policy also states that students grant the University a continuing licence to use students’ work created in the course of their studies with the University for the administrative, promotional, educational and teaching purposes of the University.

    Can I copy images I find on the web?

    Maybe, remember unless otherwise stated, ALL material on the internet is protected by copyright; this includes images.

    However, it may be possible to copy images without infringing copyright if they are being used for one of the following safe purposes:

    • non-commercial research and private study
    • criticism and review

    Where can I find free images to use in my work?

    There are loads of free image sites you can use. Most are free to use for non-commercial purposes, so you just need to attribute the image correctly. We provide a comprehensive list of free images sites on the Finding free-to-use images page.

    Can I use third-party materials within my dissertation or thesis?

    Yes, but only if the use is fair. The use must be limited to what is necessary for the purpose of your work, and it must not negatively impact on the market for the original work. This may mean limiting copying to shorter extracts of a work. For further advice on this contact 

    How should I go about getting permission from a rights holder to use their material?

    If you know who to contact to request permission, you can adapt this permission request form to suit your needs. Contact if you need any advice on seeking permission.

  • Copyright for staff and research

    Copyright guidance for teaching staff is available on StaffHub:

    Copyright Staffhub image,

    Copyright guidance for research is available on the Copyright and research page

    Copyright for research image,

  • Disclaimer

    The information contained within these pages is intended as a general guideline, and an interpretation of current copyright issues. It is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

    University of Cumbria Library Services gratefully acknowledge the work of Neil Sprunt, University of Manchester, whose copyright guidance is made available for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 International licence.

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