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Copyright : a practical guide

Copying for private study

UK copyright law permits anyone to copy from a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for your own private study, providing you are accessing the original legally, and your use is "fair dealing" (see below).

Printing, photocopying or scanning, ripping or downloading, screen capture, photography or filming, audio recording and transcribing are all regulated by copyright law.

It is your responsibility to avoid infringing copyright when using University of Dundee equipment to print, photocopy or scan.

If you have a disability which makes it difficult for you to work with material in its original format, and there's no accessible version available, you are entitled to copy the whole work into a different format which you can access more easily, or ask someone else to copy it for you.

Contact the Alternative Formats Service if you need assistance.


How much copying is "fair"?


Start from the principle that your copying shouldn't undermine the rights-holder's market for their work, i.e. it doesn't substitute for purchasing/paying to view the original.

Just because you have accessed the original free-of-charge, don't conclude that copyright doesn't apply: if someone could make money from your reproduction (such as a publisher, or a web host selling advertising), then arguably the creator deserves a share of that revenue.

Even when you can't find a © symbol, a licence statement or 'terms and conditions', it's likely that someone still owns the copyright in the work. The only exception would be if  the creator of the work died more than 70 years ago.

Probably fair Probably not fair

Photocopying a few pages from a library book

Working with classmates to reconstruct the whole book by collating copied chapters

Downloading an article from an e-journal to read at home

Sharing your copy on social media (even with a small group of friends)

Taking a screenshot from a manufacturer's help manual, to keep for reference

Reviewing the product in an online forum, using photos from the manual

Always check the terms of use for any e-resource you're using for academic work, to note any restrictions on printing or downloading.

Assessment and learning portfolios

In the UK, it's legal for students to embed a "fair" amount of copyright material in coursework to share with classmates, tutors, and examiners, but don't forget to attribute your source!

Top Tips

  • Provide references or links to published works you've read (books, journal articles, working papers etc) instead of sharing your own copy.
  • Pasting in a small extract from somebody else's work in the form of a fully referenced "quote" does not infringe their copyright.  You may "quote" from an artwork or audio-visual material as well as text.
  • If you want to incorporate a more substantial extract, such as a poem, artwork or photo in its entirety, try to contact the creator to ask for their permission.  Explain that your work will only be viewed by a small number of people, for a limited time.
  • If you are unable to identify the creator, or don't get a reply to your request,  consider providing a link to their material rather than copying it.

Advice on staff/student copyright ownership at the University of Dundee

Schools should be cautious about publishing assessed work for a wider audience, as this may breach the student's copyright, as well as the authors of any material quoted or appended.

Your thesis or dissertation

Reproducing other people's copyright material for an exam (including submitting a thesis or dissertation) is permitted under UK law.

However, once your degree has been awarded, your work may in due course be released to a wider audience, not just your fellow students and tutors.  Every University of Dundee PhD student is required to deposit a digital copy of their thesis in the University's Institutional Repository Discovery.

Any material you have included which is not your own work may be in breach of copyright, unless you can defend your use as "Quotation", i.e:

  • your source is fully acknowledged

  • you are quoting selectively from material which has already been made public

  • you can justify your selection for its relevance to your argument (in support or oppositional!)

Be especially careful when reproducing a photo or illustration - could you be undermining the creator's market for their work by distributing it free-to-view?  Or has it been released with a Creative Commons licence for re-use?

If you need to do more than "quote" someone else's work, you should ask the rights-holder for permission to reproduce their material.  You are best advised to undertake this before you submit, in case the rights-holder cannot be traced or is unwilling to allow you to use their work in the way you had intended.

If necessary, it may be possible to temporarily embargo your thesis until permission is granted, or redact the third party material.  University of Dundee students should contact the Discovery team.

You hold the copyright to your own work in your thesis, as identified on the University of Dundee's Guidance on Copyright unless you have made a formal arrangement to transfer it to an external organization (e.g. a funder or sponsor).  By submitting your thesis for examination, you have agreed that it will be available for consultation and reproduction as permitted in law.  

Sharing Copies

Sharing a personal copy with friends, colleagues or contacts is a potential breach of copyright, unless you are a tutor distributing course reading to students under the terms of the University's CLA licence,  or you are using a modest amount of someone else's material (fully attributed) for a classroom activity or assessment.  

Users of academic profiling services (e.g. ResearchGate or Academia)  and collaborative reference management tools (e.g. EndNote Online or Mendeley) should note that the terms and conditions of these services commit you to respect copyright when creating and sharing your reference library.

University of Dundee staff and students should know that sharing your account details to allow people who are not members of this university to read and copy journal articles and other e-resources is a breach of our licence agreement with the publisher, and may be subject to disciplinary action if discovered.

Be aware that publishers and web hosts remotely monitor patterns of downloading, and may ask the University to block an account or IP address if copyright infringement is suspected.

Further help

UK higher education IT specialists JISC have produced a concise and comprehensive Copyright Guide for Students (Dec 2014) 

The UK Intellectual Property Office released updated guidance (original version 2014 on 'Exceptions to copyright ' in 2019, to help researchers and students stay within the law when using copyright material.  Researchers may also find the section on Text and data mining helpful