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Did you know that whenever you write a poem or story or even a paper for your class, or a drawing or other artwork, you automatically own the copyright to it.  Copyright is a form of protection given to the authors or creators of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works.  What that means is that, as the author of the work, you alone have the right to do any of the following or to let others do any of the following:

  • make copies of your work
  • distribute copies of your work
  • perform your work publicly (such as for plays, film, dances or music)
  • display your work publicly (such as for artwork, or stills from audiovisual works, or any material used on the Internet or television) and
  • make “derivative works” (including making modifications, adaptations or other new uses of a work, or translating the work to another media)

 In general, it is illegal for anyone to do any of the things listed above with a work created by you without your permission, but there are some exceptions and limitations to your rights.  One major limitation is the doctrine of “Fair Use.”

Copyright law grants to copyright holders certain exclusive rights in relation to their works. They have the right to: copy a work, issue copies to the public, perform show or play it, make adaptations or translations. They also have the right to prevent: 

  • others communicating a work to the public by electronic transmission, e.g. broadcasting it or putting it on a website.
  • others making available to the public a recording of a performance by electronic transmission, e.g. putting it on a website.     

Copyright holder(s) may grant permission or license anyone else to do these things, without affecting their ownership of the actual copyright in their work, e.g. an author may permit a television adaptation of their book to be made and broadcast - the copyright in the original book remains with the author and they may grant other such rights to other people.
The law provides certain ways in which copyright works may be used without the need to first obtain permission from the copyright holder(s) - these include, fair dealing, library privilege, copying for examinations and copying for instruction. The University also holds a number of licences, e.g. CLA, NLA, ERA, which permit copyright works to be copied and used in various ways. Otherwise, written permission must first be obtained from a copyright holder before their work is used or copied. Infringing the rights of copyright holders may be a criminal offence and/or cause them to sue for damages.
As a result of certain international treaties and conventions, works produced in other countries have the same copyright protection in the UK as those created here.

Moral rights

Moral rights are a series of rights which protect an author’s / creator’s / film director’s personality as expressed in his or her work. They apply to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and also to films. Unlike copyright, they cannot be sold or assigned, though they may be waived. On the death of the author / creator / director, moral rights in a work pass to his or her estate and may be enforced by it.
The rights are as follows.

  • The right of attribution
    The author / creator / director of a work has the right to be identified as such. Before this right can be enforced, it must have been previously asserted or claimed, e.g. a statement to this effect can often be found on the reverse of a book’s title page. However, for staff and students, it is good practice always to appropriately acknowledge the author / creator / director of a work, regardless of whether this right has been claimed. 
    This right does not apply where an employer of an author / creator / director is the first owner of the copyright and approved the publication or use of the work. 
  • The right of integrity 
    The author / creator / director has a right to object to derogatory treatment of their work, e.g. alterations, additions, deletions etc. which might be judged distort or mutilate it. 
    Staff and students should take great care, particularly when working with digitized material such as images, not to do anything which might contravene this right: clipping, colour changing and other alterations could amount to derogatory treatment. 
    This right does not apply where an employer of an author / creator / director is the first owner of the copyright and approved the treatment of the work. 
    This right and the right of attribution described above last for the same period as copyright – usually 70 years after the author’s / creator’s /director’s death. 
  • False attribution 
    Any person has the right not to have not to have work knowingly falsely attributed to them as author / creator / director. 

Copyright exceptions for educational purposes

Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works

Unlimited manual copies of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works may be made for the purposes of instruction. This means, for example, that a diagram may be re-drawn on a whiteboard and hand copied by students. This exception does not cover any sort of reprographic copying, e.g. photocopying, although this may be possible under licenses held by the University.

Any work, save printed music for performance, may be copied for the purposes of setting and answering questions for an examination or equivalent assessed work. An appropriate acknowledgement of the material copied must be included unless this is impractical, e.g. the student is required to identify the source of the material.

Performances and broadcasts

Literary, dramatic and musical works may be performed and sound recordings, films and broadcasts may be played or shown to staff and students on University premises for educational purposes only. This exception would not extend to a performance open to members of the public, even if they were simply the parents of students.
Recordings of broadcasts not covered by the ERA (Educational Recording Agency) License, or the OU (Open University) Broadcast Licence, may be made for non-commercial educational purposes and shown to staff and students on University premises only.
Sound and video recordings and broadcasts may be copied for the making of a film or film sound-track by students and/or academic staff involved in the course of instruction, or of preparation for instruction, in the making of films or film sound-tracks. Note, this copying may only be done by the tutor(s) or the student(s) involved in the course.


A copyright owner has five rights to his or her copyrighted work:

  • Reproduction Right—The reproduction right is the right to copy, duplicate, transcribe, or imitate the work in fixed form.
  • Modification Right—The modification right (also known as the derivative works right) is the right to modify the work to create a new work. A new work that is based on preexisting work is known as a "derivative work."
  • Distribution Right—The distribution right is the right to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending.
  • Public Performance Right—The public performance right is the right to recite, play, dance, act, or show the work at public place or to transmit it to the public. In the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, showing the work's images out of sequence is considered "performance." Sound recordings—recorded versions of music or other sounds—do not have a public performance right.
  • Public Display Right—The public display right is the right to show a copy of the work directly or by means of film, slide, or television image at a public place or to transmit it to the public. In the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, showing the work's images out of sequence is considered "display."

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