This guide is intended as a document staff can provide to students to inform them about the basics of copyright enabling them to protect their own work and to use other people’s materials lawfully.
Copyright protects authors, film makers, photographers and other creators from having their work used without permission. As a student you are very likely to use books, music, films and other works created by others. These can be resources you have purchased, borrowed from the library or resource centre, or found online. You are also likely to produce your own original work.
As a student you will usually be the copyright owner of original works that you produce, including music, creative arts, literary works and you may want to control further use of your work.
On the other hand, when using works created by others, you will either be relying on some limited exceptions in law (eg for study, research or criticism), but in other cases you must have the permission of the copyright holder, in order to copy, adapt or perform the work or share it with others in order to avoid liability for yourself or your university or college.
What will I learn about copyright here that will be useful in employment?
You will find out how to protect your own creative works from being copied without your permission. You will also learn how to avoid liability for yourself and your employer arising from copyright infringement where you use the works of others.
Other relevant intellectual property rights
As well as copyright, other relevant intellectual property rights might include patents, trade marks and design rights.
Patents may be relevant if you invent something new. Trade marks protect marks such as logos or names like Angry Birds, Coca-Cola and Apple. Design rights might be relevant if you design something as part of your studies or work placement. Further information on this is available on the IPO website.
Students will usually own copyright in works they create in the course of their studies unless otherwise agreed with the college or university. It is likely that, in many cases, claims by institutions to student copyright will fail due to the application of a fairness test in relevant legislation (the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999).
Factors relevant to whether a claim is fair will include whether a real choice was given to the student and the contribution made by the institution.
An example where a student may not own copyright is where their work is funded by an outside business, such as where a business funds a competition for the design students to come up with a new logo. This work may form part of the student’s portfolio, but the basis of the agreement with the business is likely to be that the copyright and other rights in the winning design will be transferred to the business.
The institution might be able to make a fair claim of copyright in a student’s work, for example, where work is being carried out for an external funder, or involves substantial investment by the institution itself.
What you need to do
Copyright arises automatically on the expression of an idea in a tangible form such as when a story is written down or song recorded. You don’t have to do anything else for copyright to apply.
The importance of ownership of copyright
Copyright allows you to prevent others copying, adapting, or performing your original work without your permission.
This might be useful to you in the future - for example, where you have written a blog or magazine article, taken a photograph, or made a video which you want to have recognised as your work and want to stop someone else claiming as theirs or copying without your permission. You may also have found a market for selling your work and so copyright protection will be essential.
At university, whether or not you or the university owns the copyright depends on their policy. The approach to ownership of copyright and other intellectual property rights (IPR) varies between universities. Your university may treat you differently from other students if you undertake a degree by research.
While other students retain their copyright and may enter into voluntary arrangements with their university to help them exploit their IPR, research students are often treated like staff and the university may assert that IPR in work considered to be created in the course of a research project is treated in the same way as work created by staff in the course of employment, i.e. the university owns the IPR.
Research students should always check the position in their university. There may be joint ownership where work is undertaken with a staff member. If an outside business is funding the research they may own copyright. You should check the position with your university for your own circumstances.
Where you have agreed to transfer copyright to your institution then they will own the copyright and so can use the work as they wish. Alternatively, you will retain copyright and the institution might ask you to grant it permission to use your work for specified purposes such as using for promotional activities as a condition of enrolment.
Where an institution uses your work you might want to ensure, as a minimum, you assert your ‘moral right’ to be credited as the author.
Other people’s copyright
Copyright law and agreed licences restrict how much copying a college or university can do for its students. Both place limits on how much of a work can be copied.
Doing your own copying
You can do your own copying but there are limits on what the law allows you to copy. As an individual you can copy for your own non-commercial research and private study but you are limited by ‘fair dealing’ as to how much of a work you can copy.
Fair dealing is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. Fair dealing requires that the amount copied is reasonable and appropriate to the context and that the copying does not adversely affect sales of the work.
Putting materials online
Again, copyright law and licences restrict what materials and how much of an individual work an institution can put online.
Materials in the learning resource centre or library will usually be licensed to the institution for use by students and staff for educational purposes. This does not permit those materials being used for commercial purposes such as a student’s part time employment, or shared with colleagues while on work placement.
There is a risk a copyright owner will contact the institution complaining that material is being used contrary to the licence terms and seeking payment for commercial use, from the institution or the work placement provider/employer. Infringement may also result in disciplinary action taken against you by your college or university and loss of reputation with the work placement provider/employer for both you and your institution.
Sharing or distributing materials
Passing on (without copying) materials (eg a text hand-out, a photograph or a DVD) to another student is likely to be fine. Making further copies or sharing materials online will, in many cases, not be permitted.
You can include what you like but it is subject to fair dealing. You can only copy what is required for the purpose of your coursework, assessments or assignments and is fair to the copyright owner. Remember the works you use should not be from a copyright infringing source. Film clips from file sharing websites are more likely to be copyright infringing than official trailers placed on YouTube by the film producers, for example.
Include materials in projects/portfolios of work
When incorporating third party materials in a project or portfolio if you limit what you include to your own work, or to open licensed materials, you will have more freedom to reuse your portfolio in future for other purposes (such as sharing it via LinkedIn, showing it at an event, or distributing it to potential employers).
If you are relying on an exception (such as the fair dealing exceptions), you may find that you cannot publish, copy or distribute your project or portfolio after your studies end as the new use is not ‘fair’, and therefore not covered by the exception.
Further information on copyright is available in our guide.