Copyright principles

Copyright is relevant whenever you are copying or sharing creative work. These guidelines help you to understand copyright and its relevance to your work and study at the University of Portsmouth.

The University’s Copyright Policy and ICT Acceptable Use Policy both require you to abide by copyright legislation.

The contents of these guidelines are for general advice and best practice purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

What is copyright?

The law governing copyright in the UK is the 1988 Copyright, Design and Patents Act (CDPA).

Copyright gives legal rights to the creators of certain kinds of material, in order that they can control the ways in which their work may be exploited.

Copyright protection is automatic and there is no registration or other procedure to follow (in the UK). Copyright automatically comes into existence as soon as an original work is recorded in some material form. Copyright exists whether or not it is asserted using the © symbol or otherwise.

Copyright is a property right. This means that it can be exploited, bought, sold, bequeathed, rented or licensed just like any other property.

What works are protected?

Copyright only protects those categories of work as specified in the CDPA:

  1. Literary works for example, books, journals, newspaper articles, poems, emails, blogs, software, lyrics for songs and instruction manuals
  2. Artistic works for example, paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, photographs, diagrams, maps, works of architecture and works of artistic craftsmanship such as jewellery and pottery
  3. Musical works this refers to the musical notes and not the words (which are literary works)
  4. Dramatic works the non-spoken part of a presentation, including dance and mime
  5. Broadcasts which may be transmitted by cable or wireless means and including satellite broadcasts, but excluding most transmissions on the internet
  6. Sound recordings not limited by format, they can be recordings of other copyright works such as music, TV soundtracks or literature, or other sounds such as birdsong and transport
  7. Film including TV programmes, movies (e.g. on Blu-ray or DVD) and home video
  8. Typography this protects the typographical layout of a publication

In general, if material has been recorded in any way it is covered by copyright law and permission must be sought for its use.

Who owns copyright?

In general, the author or creator is the first owner of copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work. The main exception is where work is made in the course of employment, in which case the employer owns the copyright. The employer owns copyright unless specialist contractual arrangements have been made. For instance, the University’s academic contract states that scholarly works and teaching aids belong to the individual member of academic staff whereas course materials’ belong to the University.

Scholarly works may be defined as publications, books, book chapters, journal articles etc. Teaching aids are those materials used by academic staff to support course delivery, such as their own personal notes, but which are not published or delivered to the students. Course materials, on the other hand, are directly used for teaching and education and may include presentations, lecture notes, handouts, and materials used for examination and assessment.

The copyright of students’ coursework resides with the student as the creator. Should the University wish to use students’ work for, say, promotional material or examples of good practice, it can only do so with the written permission of students and with due acknowledgement in any published materials.

How long does copyright last?

In the UK (under EU law) the following periods of copyright ownership apply:

Copyright in literary, dramatic, musical and most artistic works (including photographs) lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.

For example, the author H.G. Wells died on 13th August 1946. Copyright in his work therefore expired on 31 December 2016.

Duration of copyright for a film is for the period of 70 years after the death of the last to survive of the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue, and the composer of any music composed specifically for the film.

The length of term of copyright in a sound recording depends on whether or not it has been published (released) or has been communicated to the public (for example, played on the radio)

The typographical arrangement in published editions is protected for 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.

Some of the information here has been adapted from public sector information provided by the Intellectual Property Office and licensed under an Open Government Licence.

Activities covered by copyright

Copyright law gives the copyright owner certain "exclusive rights". This means that:

The following activities are all defined in copyright law as “restricted acts” which only the copyright owner or their representative has the right to authorise:

If you're doing any of the above with a copyright work, you need to make sure that you either have a licence or that a copyright exception applies.

Copyright licences

If you own the copyright in a work you'll probably want others to use it according to certain conditions. The permissions you give to others will come in the form of a copyright licence. Similarly, if you want to make use of copyright material created by others you will find that much of it comes with licences attached.

Digital content

The terms of use you accept when you access digital resources such as websites, social media services, databases and electronic library resources all contain copyright licensing terms.

Collective licences

Other types of "collective licence" are available to Portsmouth staff and students which cover entire classes of copyright work.

For example, the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) licences covers the majority of published books and journal articles. This licence allows us to copy up to 10% or a chapter/article from a qualifying book or journal, whichever is the greater.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons licences are also widely used in research and education. These licences are designed to promote sharing of copyright material with as few barriers to use and reuse as possible. They allow use of the copyright works without payment and may also allow others to create new works based on the original work.

Summary of different licences

There are links to information about the most commonly encountered licences at the University on the Licences page.


We provide advice and specific guidance on copyright law to support you in your work and study. If you have any questions about copyright, email:


The content of this page has been adapted from the University of Kent copyright guidance that is licensed under CC-BY.