Introduction to Copyright
Copyright law primarily comes from the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It is designed to protect the use of copyrighted material if it is used by anyone other than the author or copyright holder (including, for example, the author has sold their rights).
For these purposes the word “use” of copyrighted material would include, as relevant to the type of material:
- copying the material (either as a whole or in part)
- performing (such as reading or playing) or communicating the material in public
- making copies of the material
- renting or lending the material
- adapting the material
You can generally only use copyrighted material if
– your use is a permitted exception or
– you get permission from the copyright owner
There are 4 simple steps which you can follow to check your position:
Step 1 – is the material copyrighted?
Check that the material you want to use is copyrighted – it should have the © symbol. If it is copyrighted then the copyright will usually last for the author/copyright holder’s lifetime, PLUS 50 years. This means that some older material may no longer be subject to copyright but watch out for extended publisher’s rights which should appear at the front of the works. Some older works have ‘given’ their rights to the publishers which continue beyond the time scales mentioned above.
Step 2 – is there a permitted exception I can rely on?
Assuming that the material is copyrighted there are some exceptions which mean you can use it for very specific reasons without asking for permission from the author/copyright holder. These include:
- Making of temporary copies
- Research and private study
- Copies for text and data analysis for non-commercial research
- Criticism, review, quotation and news reporting
- Connected to use by a disabled person
Step 3 – Exception limitations
Each of the exceptions in step 2 have limitations. So, for example, to rely on the education exception you need to be sure that your intended use meets all the relevant criteria (for example, you can copy material for “the sole purpose” of “instruction”). In addition, many of the exceptions, particularly in relation to education, mean that you can use material for wholly “non-commercial” activity. So, if you are charging for the services connected with your use of copyrighted material you would not fall into this exception.
Step 4 – Can I get permission?
Authors can give you permission to “use” text and this is usually obtained via the publisher. Whether an author will make a charge for that use and, if so, how much the charge will be depends on the author’s discretion which is usually based on your intended use.
If you use copyrighted material and
- your use does not comply with one (or more) of the permitted exceptions and
- you do not have permission from the author/copyright holders
then your use would most likely be a breach of copyright and you would be liable to pay the author/copyright holder compensation (damages). This would be based on a number of factors but would include things like the length of time you have been using the works without permission and the nature of the use.