As more and more content is published on the web, it is important University web publishers understand and appreciate copyright laws and how they apply to the web.

Remember that your webpages may be visible worldwide. When using material that has been written, designed or recorded by someone else, it is important to make sure you are not violating copyright law.

These guidelines aim to give you a broad understanding of some of the issues involved. If you are unsure about any particular aspect or have a specific query, please contact the University Secretary’s office.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs)

IPRs vary from country to country. Do not assume that the UK has the same copyright laws as the US – it doesn’t. There are international agreements but they allow broad variations.

The primary legislation in the UK is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended). This act has been expanded to cover new types of works:

  • computer programs
  • databases

The Division of Research and Enterprise has more information about intellectual property.


Copyright is an automatic right; no registration is needed (and you do not have to use the © symbol). The original owner of copyright in a given work is usually the person who created it but there are exceptions:

  • copyright in works created in the course of employment – when it is owned by the employer, eg the University;
  • copyright in a sound recording or film – the person who made the arrangements for its creation;
  • copyright in a computer-generated literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work – the person who made the arrangements for its creation.

This means that several copyrights may subsist simultaneously in a single item. Webpages are often comprised of numerous works – literary and artistic works, video, sound recordings etc.

A rightsholder has the exclusive right to do certain things with their work. Copyright infringement occurs when you copy a work (or a substantial part of it) without the authority of the copyright holder.

Licensing of copyright is common. Under this type of arrangement, the rightsholder grants permission to others to do certain things with their work, but retains overall control of it. There are things that you can do with a copyright work without the rightsholder’s permission but most are not applicable to publishing on the internet.

It is not currently a breach of UK copyright to:

  • make an incidental copy of a webpage while accessing it, ie via your web browser's cache;
  • link to another’s public webpage without permission;
  • link to pdf files on public webpages;
  • provide a link to a page that contains infringing works;
  • download/print a webpage for personal study.

It may be a breach of UK copyright to:

  • link to image files so as to make them appear on your webpage;
  • frame webpages in such a way as to make them appear part of your website;
  • use another’s copyrighted text as a hyperlink, eg headlines.

It is a breach of UK copyright to:

  • copy and paste material from another’s website to put it on your own;
  • copy, print or download part or all of a webpage for non-fair dealing purposes unless permission is granted.

Fair dealing - what does it mean?

Fair dealing means that under UK copyright law the reproduction of limited portions of copyrighted works can occur without there being an infringement of the legitimate interest of the authors or copyright owners.

Strictly speaking, fair dealing is not so much a right as a defence in law.

The principal purposes for which the fair dealing defence may be utilised are:

  • research for a non-commercial purpose - this excludes sound recordings and films. Multiple copies are not considered fair dealing.
  • private study - this excludes sound recordings and films. Multiple copies are not considered fair dealing.
  • criticism and review - fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review can only occur where the copyright work has been previously published; the material is accompanied by, or forms part of, some discussion or assessment of its value, significance, importance etc; and no more of the item is used than is necessary for the purposes of criticism or review.
  • news reporting (photographs are excluded from this).

It is a condition of the fair dealing defence that the source of the work is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, usually bibliographical details, in all cases.

Copying for a commercial purpose, whether by photocopying, scanning, or downloading and copying from the internet, is not fair dealing.

Systematic or simultaneous copying of the same material by, or on behalf of, a group of students is not fair dealing.

What you can do

Create a register of material you publish on your website so that subsequent site publishers/site managers can clearly determine that all material has been copyright-approved. This should include the following information:

  • type of material
  • source
  • if owned by external copyright holder either:
    • written confirmation of agreed use, including specific terms, eg period of time, only on specific webpages, visible credit etc
    • or if purchased material, eg image from commercial photo archive, copy of terms and conditions
    • or details of any other blanket licence under which the material is used, eg via a licensing agency
  • date published on internet
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