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What is copyright?

Copyright is one of the Intellectual Property Rights, and protects the rights of the creators of original work to be associated with and profit from that work. These rights are defined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 (CDPA) and subsequent Statutory Instruments. All original work is automatically protected, and need not be registered. The absence of a copyright symbol or statement claiming copyright does not mean that copyright does not apply.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright subsists in:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (including photographs and graphic works).
  • Sound recordings, films, broadcasts and webcasts.
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions.

Works in electronic format are also protected, and include:

  • Databases
  • Tables or compilations
  • Computer programs
  • Preparatory design material for a computer program

How long does copyright last?

  • Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works: the lifetime of the author plus 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author died.
  • Computer-generated works: 50 years from the end of the year in which the work was made. A work is deemed to be computer-generated where there is no human author.
  • Films: 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the death occurs of the last to die of: the principal director; the author of the screenplay; the author of the dialogue; the composer of the film music.  Where the identity of such persons is unknown, copyright expires at the end of 70 years from the end of the year in which the film was created or first made available to the public.
  • Sound recordings: 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made, or, if published or made available to the public during this time, 70 years from the end of the year in which it was first published or made available to the public.
  • Broadcasts: 50 years from the end of the year of broadcast.
  • Typographical arrangement of published editions: 25 years from the year of first publication.

When can I copy or re-use a work?

You may be legally able to use the whole or a substantial part of a work if:

  • You are the rightsholder (note: if you created the work as part of your employment elsewhere, the former employer is likely to be the rightsholder unless you have written agreement to the contrary).
  • You have written permission from the rightsholder.
  • Copyright has expired and so the work is said to be in the public domain.
  • Copying or re-use is permitted under the terms of a current copyright licence held by your School or Unit, or by the University.
  • Your use would be considered to be Fair Dealing.
  • Your use would be covered by any of the following Exceptions to Copyright Infringement:
    • Research and Private Study (CDPA s.29)
    • Quotation for Criticism or  Review (CDPA s.30)
    • Accessible Copies for Disabled Users (CDPA s.31A-s.31F)
    • Illustration for Instruction (CDPA s. 32) (Includes copying for the purpose of examination)
    • Copying and Use of Extracts by Educational Establishments.(CDPA s.36)
    • Exceptions for Libraries and Archives (CDPA ss.40B-43)
    • Text and Data Mining (CDPA s.29A)

What is copyright infringement?

Any use of a work for which you do not hold the rights, and where the above do not apply, may be copyright infringement and you should obtain permission from the rightsholder.

Infringing activities may include photocopying, scanning, copying to a computer or electronic storage device, publishing, broadcasting and performing. Unauthorised adaptations of literary, musical or dramatic works would also be an infringement.

Copyright also assigns certain moral rights to the author. Plagiarism, or passing off the work of somebody else as your own, infringes the moral right of the author to be recognised as such. Derogatory treatment of a work infringes another moral right, as does the publishing of photographs or films that the person who commissioned the work wished to remain private.

Copyright and the University's ownership of Intellectual Property (IP)

The University's External Work Policy states (Section B):

"The University asserts its de facto ownership rights over all intellectual property (IP) produced by its employees.  Only in limited and very specific circumstances does the University waive any such rights of ownership."

A summary is provided in the explanatory schematic of the University's position with regard to IP, found within the External Work Policy.'

This schematic confirms that the University formally waives its rights to the copyright of scholarly and learned works (defined as books, articles and conference papers) created by University employees.  Please consult the schematic carefully for details of other categories of IP.

A separate Policy on Intellectual Property Rights (February 2016) covers copyright held by undergraduate, taught and research postgraduate students.

For more information on copyright and scholarly publishing, including open access, please contact the Open Access team in the Library on

Copyright Contacts

Please note that information on these pages is intended as general advice for staff and students of the University of St Andrews, and should not be interpreted as legal advice or relied upon as such. Copyright can be a complex issue and, if in doubt, you should get in touch with the University's copyright contacts.

For general advice on copyright issues please contact the University's Copyright Officer: email or telephone Ext 1729.

Please direct any questions regarding copyright concerns relating to your electronic thesis to:

Regulations governing the use of University information and communications technology (ICT) facilities are also relevant.  See especially Paragraph 6.3 Non-acceptable use, Paragraph 6.5.5 Intellectual Property and Paragraph 15 Sanctions.



See also:
Copyright and Fair Dealing
Copyright exceptions to infringement
Copyright and images
Copyright for electronic theses
Photocopying and scanning under the CLA Licence
Copyright and lecture capture



Updated September 2019.