Copyright exceptions

The information in this page is adapted from information provided by the Intellectual Property Office under an Open Government Licence

As well as owning copyright works yourself, you may wish to make use of someone else’s copyright protected works. There are certain very specific situations where you may be permitted to do so without seeking permission from the owner. These can be found in the copyright sections of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended).

Fair dealing

‘Fair dealing’ is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing - it will always be a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case. The question to be asked is: how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

Factors that have been identified by the courts as relevant in determining whether a particular dealing with a work is fair, include:

 The relative importance of any one factor will vary according to the case in hand and the type of dealing in question.

 How much can I copy from books or journals?

 The following upper limits are interpreted as reasonable for private study or non-commercial research by a number of organisations, including the British Library:

Non-commercial research and private study

You are allowed to copy limited extracts of works when the use is non-commercial research or private study, but you must be genuinely studying (like you would if you were taking a college course). Such use is only permitted when it is ‘fair dealing’ and copying the whole work would not generally be considered fair dealing.

The purpose of this exception is to allow students and researchers to make limited copies of all types of copyright works for non-commercial research or private study. In assessing whether your use of the work is permitted or not you must assess if there is any financial impact on the copyright owner because of your use. Where the impact is not significant, the use may be acceptable.

If your use is for non-commercial research you must ensure that the work you reproduce is supported by a sufficient acknowledgment.

Text and data mining for non-commercial research 

Text and data mining is the use of automated analytical techniques to analyse text and data for patterns, trends and other useful information. Text and data mining usually requires copying of the work to be analysed.

An exception to copyright exists which allows researchers to make copies of any copyright material for the purpose of computational analysis if they already have the right to read the work (that is, they have ‘lawful access’ to the work). This exception only permits the making of copies for the purpose of text and data mining for non-commercial research. Researchers will still have to buy subscriptions to access material; this could be from many sources including academic publishers.

Publishers and content providers will be able to apply reasonable measures to maintain their network security or stability but these measures should not prevent or unreasonably restrict researcher’s ability to text and data mine. Contract terms that stop researchers making copies to carry out text and data mining will be unenforceable.

Criticism, review and reporting current events

Fair dealing for criticism, review or quotation is allowed for any type of copyright work. Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of reporting current events is allowed for any type of copyright work other than a photograph. In each of these cases, a sufficient acknowledgment will be required.

As stated, a photograph cannot be reproduced for the purpose of reporting current events. The intention of the law is to prevent newspapers or magazines reproducing photographs for reporting current events which have appeared in competitor’s publications.


Several exceptions allow copyright works to be used for educational purposes, such as:

Helping disabled people

There are two exceptions to copyright for the benefit of disabled people. These exceptions cover you if you have a physical or mental impairment which prevents you from accessing copyright protected materials.

One exception allows you, or someone acting on your behalf, to make a copy of a lawfully obtained copyright work if you make it in a format that helps you access the material. For example, if you buy a book from a shop then make a Braille copy to help with a visual impairment then you are not infringing the copyright in the book.

You are entitled to make an accessible copy, or have someone else make one for you, if:

The second exception permits educational establishments and charity organisations to make accessible format-copies of protected works on behalf of disabled people. The exception permits acts such as:

However, this exception does not apply when suitable accessible copies are commercially available.

Please note that no-one can make a profit out of helping you make an accessible copy, but they are able to charge a fee covering any they costs incur in making and supplying such a copy.

Personal copying for private use

The government introduced a new copyright exception in October 2014 that permitted you to make copies of media (CDs, ebooks etc) you have bought, for private purposes such as format shifting or backup without infringing copyright. For example the exception would allow you to copy content that you have bought on a CD onto your MP3 player, provided it was for your own private use. A judicial review overturned this new law and the exception introduced in October 2014 is no longer in force.

Parody, caricature and pastiche

There is an exception to copyright that permits people to use limited amounts of copyright material without the owner’s permission for the purpose of parody, caricature or pastiche.

For example a comedian may use a few lines from a film or song for a parody sketch; a cartoonist may reference a well-known artwork or illustration for a caricature; an artist may use small fragments from a range of films to compose a larger pastiche artwork.

It is important to understand, however, that this exception only permits use for the purposes of caricature, parody, or pastiche to the extent that it is fair dealing.