What do I need to know about copyright?

What is it, what does it protect, what does it mean for lessons and resources, what are the exceptions, what can and cannot be used, plus a list of frequently asked questions, all about copyright.

The information contained within this guidance is not intended to be, and should not be, relied upon as legal advice.

Copyright basics


What is copyright?

  • Copyright protects an author’s ownership rights to their work. It allows the copyright owner to protect against others copying or reproducing their work.
  • It can exist in different types of works, including texts, images, photographs, art, poetry, plays, music and films.
  • Subject to certain exceptions, copyright entitles the copyright owner to control the use and distribution of a protected work by any other persons, whether it is a whole work that is used or just a substantial part.
  • After a certain period of time, copyright expires and works go into the public domain. Any person can use a work in the public domain without obtaining the prior consent of the original owner.
  • Intellectual property gives a person ownership over the things they create, the same way as something physical can be owned. The main legislation dealing with copyright in the United Kingdom is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
  • In general, the author or creator of the work owns the copyright. However, copyright for work created by an employee during the course of their employment is owned by the employer.


What does copyright protect?

  • Copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. This means that if you have an idea for a great teaching plan, it will only become protected by copyright once it is recorded in writing (or otherwise). It would not be protected by copyright if it was simply in your head and you told someone else about it orally.
  • In the case of artistic work, or other written work, the work also has to be original, which (broadly speaking) means that its author spent independent effort to create it and did not copy it from other works.
  • Note: you cannot stop someone who has independently, and without copying your work, created the same or a substantially similar work to yours. In this situation, both those works would be protected by copyright in their own right and each copyright owner could prevent others from copying his/her protected work.
  • Primary copyright infringement occurs when a person carries out any of the following on a substantial part of a copyright-protected work without the consent or authorisation of the copyright owner:

        - Copying it

        - Issuing copies of it to the public

        - Renting or lending it to the public

        - Performing or showing it to the public

         - Communicating it to the public


What does copyright mean for my resources?

  • It means that you must check that you own the copyright to all content in your resources before you share or upload them.
  • If you do not own the copyright, then you must:
  • either obtain the prior consent from the copyright owner to upload them
  • or ensure that you can rely on certain permitted uses under applicable law otherwise you could be liable for infringing the copyright of another person.


What does copyright mean for my lessons?

  • If you are creating a lesson as a form of a private playlist for your own use in the classroom, you should have the same freedoms as you would when making any projects for in-school educational use.
  • However, if you have made your lesson public, please be aware that items within it may be protected by copyright - just as they would be if you included them in a blog or a lesson plan you would share with your department.
  • It must be noted that it is typical for your employer to retain ownership of what you create for use in your school/college as per the terms of your contract. There are some exceptions to this, being;
  • You create work for a publisher as part of a separate contractual arrangement, for example, you have been commissioned to write a text book for a publisher, or
  • You negotiate with your employer that work you create is outside of your contract of employment and you have this permission in writing.


Are there any exceptions to copyright rules?

  • Yes, you can use work created by others without their prior consent in certain circumstances permitted by law.
  • You can always use the work of others in your resources if you obtain their prior consent to such use (e.g. by obtaining a licence from them).
  • If you are employed, your employer will typically have obtained all necessary consents so that you can carry on your duties in the course of your employment. For instance, schools will typically hold licences to photocopy extracts of books or to record television broadcasts, allowing their teachers to carry out those acts for the purposes of teaching their classes.
  • However, such general consents obtained by your school may not cover resources that you create and upload outside of your establishment. This means that you may have to obtain additional consent from the owner of the material you intend to use and upload.


Without prior consent:

  • You can also use the work of others in your resources without obtaining their prior consent if you use the work of others in certain ways permitted by law.
  • However, your use must constitute ‘fair dealing’ and wherever possible, you must acknowledge the owner of the work.



  • You can quote from works to which you do not own copyright without obtaining permission, but only if the extent of the quotation is not more than is required for your specific purposes.
  • As a rule of thumb, this means that you can usually use one or two lines from a poem, or a couple of sentences from a novel, in the resource that you are creating. But you cannot copy the entire poem or the whole (or even a chapter) of the book.
  • The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office has indicated that this exception is unlikely to apply to the use of photographs.



  • You can use extracts from the work of others in order to criticise or review, without obtaining the owner’s permission. For example, if you want to criticise or review someone else’s teaching materials, you could copy an extract of the work in question to prove a point that you want to make, but you cannot copy the whole work of the other person.



What is ‘fair dealing’?

  • ‘Fair dealing’ is a way in which you can use the work of others in your resources without obtaining their prior consent.
  • There is no specific legal definition of ‘fair dealing’. It will be a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case.
  • However, the test commonly used is, ‘How would a fair-minded and honest person deal with the work?’


Relevant factors to consider are:  

  • Does your use of the work of another cause the owner of the copyright to lose revenue? If it does, your use is unlikely to be ‘fair dealing’.
  • Similarly, will you obtain a substantial financial benefit from using the work of another? If so, your use is again unlikely to be ‘fair dealing’.
  • Is the amount of the work that you have taken from others necessary, reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances? If you took all of the work of another, your use is unlikely to be ‘fair dealing’. But if you have only taken a small extract that was reasonable to fulfil the permitted purposes, then your use is likely to be ‘fair dealing’.
  • This means you may not use so much of the original material that someone would not need to buy the original.



How do I need to acknowledge the owner of the copyright in another work?

  • If you use a work protected by someone else’s copyright under the ‘fair dealing’ exceptions, you need to sufficiently acknowledge the owner of the copyright work.
  • This typically means identifying (wherever possible):
  • the name of the owner; and
  • the title of the work that has been copied or a short description of the work so that it can be identified.



Can I use images, photographs, audio or video under the ‘fair dealing’ exception?

  • Images, especially famous logos or characters, are protected by copyright and, possibly, other intellectual property rights, such as trade mark protection.
  • As a general rule, it is permissible to use an image, a photograph, audio or video without obtaining the prior consent of its owner under the ‘fair dealing’ exception, and whether ‘fair dealing’ exists will be assessed on an individual basis.
  • However, the rule of thumb is that the use of a full image or a full photograph will typically not constitute ‘fair dealing’. So, in practice, this means that you are unlikely to be able to use registered images unless you have obtained permission to use the images from the copyright/trade mark owner or unless you have bought the right to use the images in question (eg by paying for a licence from a website).
  • If you are planning to put your content up for sale, then you will also need a licence or other permission that allows use for a commercial purpose. So, if you wish to use someone else's material, check that the licence under which the materials are offered allow you to do what you intend to do.
  • The use of short clips of audio and video is more likely to be permitted under the ‘fair dealing’ exception. Providing links to content on a video-hosting site, such as YouTube, is also typically permitted as this content has been, or at least claims to be, made available to be used in this way by its author.



How can I find images or other content that is safe to use?

  • Many images that you find online cannot be used without obtaining the prior consent of their owner due to copyright protection.
  • However, some are available for use with a licence from the copyright owner.
  • Before you use any image you should carefully check the licence terms and conditions under which the images are offered to make sure that it is suitable for your purposes.



Does copyright last forever?

No. A good rule of thumb is that most copyright expires 70 years after the author's death. 

This means that there will be images or writing published before the 20th century should be in the public domain and therefore free to use. However, it is always best to check this before using anything that doesn't belong to you. 


What can happen if someone infringes copyright?

  • Infringing copyright is illegal for companies and individuals.
  • A person commits an offence if they knew or had reason to believe they were conducting any of these acts or their actions would constitute infringement.
  • A copyright owner can obtain these remedies in a civil action for infringement:
  • An injunction to prohibit further infringement
  • Damages for loss
  • An account of the infringer’s profit
  • An order requiring the infringer to deliver all offending articles, or the right to seize such copies
  • Certain acts committed without a copyright owner’s consent may be classed as criminal offences and may result in fines and/or imprisonment.


Are there any exceptions to copyright?

  • There are a number of specified exceptions in UK law which permit copying in certain circumstances (for instance, use in judicial proceedings) or for certain categories of people (for example, the visually impaired).
  • Another group of exceptions falls into the scope of ‘fair dealing’. This includes material reproduced for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study, for criticism or review or for the reporting of current events.
  • This material must be genuinely and fairly used for these purposes and accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement.


When can you use the copyright symbol?

  • You can use the copyright symbol if you’ve created protected work. This is particularly important if you have made it available to the public.
  • Your copyright symbol might be accompanied by the date the work was first published and include the current year (e.g. 2019 – 2021) and your details, so people can identify you and contact you if they would like your permission to use your copyright material.
  • You should remember to update your copyright notice annually to reflect the then current year.


How do you use a copyright disclaimer?

  • A copyright disclaimer (also known as a ‘copyright notice and disclaimer’) consists of:
  • A copyright notice which sets out the copyright position of the material: for example, what people can use the material for, who owns the copyright, and confirms the content is legally copyrighted (if this is the case).
  • A disclaimer against information or claims made within the content so you are not liable for reliance on the claims contained.
  • If you wish to include a copyright disclaimer on a website, you can include a special ‘copyright and disclaimer’ page or place the statements at the bottom of the website.
  • For other types of work, the statements should be placed anywhere they are visible. For example, place the notice on the inside page of a book, or the corner of an image.


Where can I find additional information about copyright?



Copyright FAQ’s


Q: As a teacher, tutor or lecturer, who owns copyright of teaching materials I create?

A: The principle questions determining copyright ownership of material created by an employee in the course of an employer-employee relationship are:

  • was the copyright work created by the employee in the course of his/her employment?
  • are there any agreements governing the copyright ownership of any employee created copyright materials?


Where a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employeein the course of their employmentthe employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

If the material was developed by the employee in the employee's own time and was not a part ofthe job duty/responsibility of the employee, the employee would own copyright in it.

With regard to protection of the material in countries outside the UK, the basic principle of UK copyright law is that copyright protection is automatic and that there is no need to register a work in order to copyright it. Therefore, the teaching programme would be copyright protected once it was expressed in a material form (in writing/printed format).

However, it is advisable to mark the teaching programme with the '©' symbol, and with the name of the copyright owner and the month and year of its creation/publication. This would serve as a note to others regarding the year in which the term of protection began and would indicate to them the person to be approached in case they need permission to use the work.


Q: Can I copy whatever I wish to use as long as it is no more than 10% of the resource?

A: It is a common misconception that there is an “exception” to copyright for educational purposes. In fact “fair dealing” only covers non-commercial research or study, criticism or review, or for the reporting of current events, but this does not extend to making copies of texts for students to use in the classroom, for example.


Q: Can I use artwork or materials produced by my students without their permission?

A: No. Students have full ownership and copyright over their own work. If staff wish to re-use material produced by their students then permission must be sought and granted.


Q: Who owns the copyright to Examination Board materials and artwork? 

Materials produced by the Examination Board are protected by copyright and are owned by the Examination Board (or are used under an agreed licence). 

The school/college where artwork is produced has no claim to the student's work unless explicit permission from the child/child’s parents is granted. 

The principle and overriding legislation relating to copyright is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The Act says nothing that relates specifically to ownership of copyright in works created by students. Therefore, the normal rules of ownership apply meaning that the creator of the work is the owner of the copyright to this work, i.e. – the student.

Students and centres are required to retain work so that the awarding body can access it until it is no longer needed for assessment, exhibition or retention. If in any doubt about when this is and ownership of the work please contact your own awarding body.


Q: Can copyright be registered in the UK? 

A: Yes – you can choose to register your copyright with the UK Copyright Service (the UK©CS). This is a registration facility which enables you to easily evidence your ownership of the work, so if you do take copyright infringement action, it is easier to prove.

However, copyright is an automatic right, so you don’t need to register the right. Instead, you can evidence your copyright by using a © with your name and year of creation on the work, but it isn’t necessary to include this symbol to benefit from copyright protection.


Q: How much does it cost to obtain copyright? 

A: Since copyright is an automatic right under English law, it doesn’t cost anything unless you wish to register the copyright with the UK©CS.

If you seek to register copyright, the charges are calculated for each piece of work you are seeking to protect. These are:

  • £42.50 per work for registration for 5 years
  • £72.50 per work for registration for 10 years
  • £19.50 per work for updates to an existing registration
  • £33.00 per work to extend/renew an existing registration for 5 years or £58.00 for 10 years


If someone infringes your copyright, you will need to take legal action against the infringing party. If the other party doesn’t cease the infringing activity or disputes that the copyright belongs to you, for example, you will need to initiate proceedings through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) or the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC). This will be a costly process, but it’s necessary to prevent continued infringement of your copyright, particularly if mediation fails to resolve the dispute.


Q: Who owns the copyright in a work?

A: The author/creator of the work is usually the first owner of copyright. This means the person who created the work will be the copyright holder.

However, an exception to this is if the work is created by an employee, in the course of employment. In this instance, the employer will be the first owner of the work (provided there is no agreement to indicate otherwise).

Similarly, if you commission work to be created for you, the copyright holder will be the person or organisation that creates the work for you. An exception applies if you enter an agreement with that person/organisation that agrees you’ll be the copyright owner once the work has been created. It is important to ensure the contract reflects what has been agreed between the parties regarding ownership.


Q: What are my economic rights with my copyrighted work?

A: Economic rights allow you the opportunity to exploit your creative work for financial reward, usually by selling or licensing your work.

You can charge a fee to anyone who:

  • Copies your work
  • Distributes your work
  • Rents or lends your work
  • Shows, plays, or performs your work in public
  • Communicates your work to the public (including through the internet)
  • Makes an adaptation of your work (including a translation of your work)


You can also take action to prevent someone from doing any of the above.

To gain a financial reward from your work, you may charge an initial cost or enter a licensing arrangement under which you receive periodic payment.


This guidance has been sourced and adapted from:

Copyright and Resource Licences | Tes

What Is the Meaning of Copyright & Copyright Infringement? - CLA

Copyright Law FAQs | Copyright Legal Advice | Harper James Solicitors