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Copyright: Copyright & Publishing

A guide to UK copyright

Help with Copyright

Using third party copyright works

If you want to include other people’s work (for example, extracts from publications, images, maps, photographs, tables, etc.) in a paper/book you plan to publish this can mean you need to seek permission from the copyright holder. Note this may apply to work you authored yourself if you published the work and assigned copyright to a publisher.

Permission may not be necessary if:

  • The law allows an exception to copyright, for example: the ‘Fair Dealing’ exception for quotation, criticism or review – see the Fair Dealing Exception section below
  • You authored the work but assigned copyright to a publisher, the publisher may automatically grant you, as the author, permissions to use the work in particular ways – check their policies
  • Copyright in the item you wish to use has expired or been waived (note a work may be protected by multiple copyrights and all of these would need to have expired). See the Duration of Copyright table below.
  • What you wish to use the work for is granted within the work itself or under its license, for example, a Creative Commons license
  • The STM guidelines apply to what you would like to do and the materials that you would like to use

Fair dealing exception

There are a number of exceptions to copyright that are permitted – see the Government’s Exceptions to copyright information – but two exceptions are particularly relevant if you wish to included copyrighted works in a work you plan to publish:


1. Fair dealing for criticism, review or quotation

You may reproduce limited amounts of material for the purposes of criticism, review or quotation. 

  • use only as much as is needed to make the point - the amount you include should not exceed that which you need for the critique or review
  • acknowledge the source
  • use must be fair to the rights holders
  • applies to all media, not just text


2. Fair dealing for parody, caricature and pastiche

You may reproduce limited amounts of material for the purposes of parody, caricature and pastiche. The use must be fair to the rights holders and this exception cannot be overridden by contract.


How much of a work can you use under Fair Dealing?

There is no statutory definition of fair dealing and the extent of the extract you are permitted to use is not specified. Factors that have been identified by the courts as relevant in determining whether a particular dealing with a work is fair include:

  • Does using the work affect the market for the original work? If a use of a work acts as a substitute for it, causing the owner to lose revenue, then it is not likely to be fair

  • Is the amount of the work taken reasonable and appropriate? Was it necessary to use the amount that was taken? Usually only part of a work may be used

The relative importance of any one factor will vary according to the case in hand and the type of dealing in question.

See the Fair Dealing Fact Sheet produced by the Office of Scholarly Communication, Cambridge University LIbraries

Duration of copyright

Duration of copyright depends upon whether a work is published or unpublished and whether the creator is known or unknown


In general, copyright exists in a work for 70 years following the death of the author for: literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works, films and video recordings. If the work has several authors, the copyright protection lasts for 70 years following the death of the last surviving author. Copyright lasts for 70 years for sound recordings and broadcasts and 25 years for the typographical arrangement of published editions.


Type of material

Duration of copyright

Literary & artistic works

70 years from death of author

If several authors 70 years following death of last surviving author

Dramatic & musical work

70 years from publication if no named author

Sound recordings

70 years from recording & performance rights (from November 2013)


70 years following death of last surviving contributor from the list of: director, producer, author of screenplay, composer of soundtrack


50 years from date of broadcast

Typographical layout

25 years from publication

Crown Copyright

125 years from publication but subject to a waiver

Unpublished works made before 1st August 1989

Copyright expires on 31st December 2039


Getting Permission

Start by identifying the rights holder. If you are not sure who they are or what their contact details are, ask their publisher. Publishers usually have a Rights and Permissions department. It can be difficult if the author has died less than 70 years ago and the Estate or relatives cannot be contacted. Works which fall into this category are known as “Orphan Works”. See advice on locating copyright owners from the Intellectual Property Office at:


Get permission from the rights holder in writing – email is acceptable. Consider carefully what you need permission for and consider future possible uses - if your needs change you would need to contact the copyright owner again to ask for permission to use the item in a different, or additional, way.   


Include the following sections of information

  • Who you are: Name, Job title (or PhD programme), Institution
  • Why you are writing and what you would like permission to do
  • Full details of what you wish to use:
  • E.g., the extract that I wish to use is from the following:
  • Author(s)
  • Book/Journal/Conference title
  • Image title/description
  • Date of publication
  • Pages
  • ISBN
  • URL
  • Details of how you would like to use their work. For example, explain why the extract is particularly useful to your work and the context of the use.

Request that they confirm the following:

  • That they are the rights holder of the work (and ask that if they are not the rights holder whether they can direct you to who is)
  • That you are permitted to use the work in the way that you have specified
  • Whether there are any conditions attached to the permission that has been granted (e.g. how they should be acknowledged)


What to do if permission is granted

If a copyright holder indicates that permission has been granted you should indicate this at the appropriate point in your work or thesis, e.g. "Permission to reproduce this... has been granted by...". You should keep a copy of any letters or e-mails you received from rights holders.

What to do if permission is not granted

If permission is not granted or the cost of permission is too great you may not be able to use the third party material in your publication and have to leave it out. Consider whether there are any suitable alternatives.