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Exceptions to copyright

Copyright protects the creators of tangible creative works by giving them certain rights. These include the right to prevent others from using their work without their permission. However, there are certain exceptions to this. Read this guide to find out more.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 sets out exceptions to copyright that allow limited use of copyright works without the copyright owner’s permission. These exceptions include, but are not limited to:

Non-commercial research and private study

You can copy limited extracts of works when the use is non-commercial research or private study. Such use is only permitted when it is fair dealing (for more information on what this means, see ‘What is fair dealing?’ below). Copying the whole work would not generally be considered fair dealing.

To determine whether you can use the work in this way, you should consider the financial impact of your use on the copyright owner. Your use will typically not be acceptable if the impact is significant.

You must ensure that the work you reproduce is supported by a sufficient acknowledgement of the source. For more information on what this means, see ‘What is a sufficient acknowledgement?’ below.

Criticism, review and reporting of current events

This exception applies if a work has already been made available to the public. A copyrighted work can be used for the purpose of criticism, review, quotation and news reporting provided the work is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement.

Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of reporting current events is allowed for any type of copyright work other than a photograph.

Parody, caricature and pastiche

You can use limited amounts of copyrighted works for the purposes of parody, caricature or pastiche (ie an artistic work that stylistically imitates another work, artist or period). However, the extent of the use must be fair dealing.

Examples of this exception include:

  • a caricature making reference to a well-known artwork

  • a parody sketch using some lines from a movie

  • a larger pastiche artwork incorporating small parts from various films

Text and data mining for non-commercial research

This allows you to copy works for the purpose of analysing text or other data using automated techniques in order to identify patterns, trends or other useful information. This is also known as carrying out a ‘computational analysis’.

To be able to rely on this exception, you must have lawful access to the data source (eg by purchasing a subscription, for example, from an academic publisher) and you must be carrying out the analysis for non-commercial research.

Time-shifting

You can record a broadcast on domestic premises for private use so that you can view or listen to it at a more convenient time. The recording of a broadcast for other purposes (ie for reasons other than to allow you or your family to watch a programme at a later date) is generally not permitted.

Making accessible copies for personal use

You can make accessible copies of lawfully obtained works in order to make them accessible to disabled people (ie people who have a physical or psychological impairment which prevents them from enjoying the work) for personal use. This also applies if you have a disability and require accessible copies of works for personal use. The copies can only be made by:

  • a disabled person

  • an authorised body (ie an educational establishment or a non-profit organisation) acting on their behalf

Further, the copyrighted work must only be changed to the extent that is necessary to change it to an accessible format.

For example, you can buy a book and make a Braille copy to make the book accessible to someone with a visual impairment.

Educational purposes

You can use copyrighted work for a variety of educational purposes, including:

Illustration for instructions

All copyrighted works can be copied if this is: 

  • done only to illustrate a point (including setting and answering exam questions)

  • not done for commercial purposes, and

  • supported by a sufficient acknowledgement of the source 

The use of the work must also be fair dealing.

For example, an extract from a poem can be included in a presentation to pupils on an interactive whiteboard or other presentation, but any use which would undermine the sale of teaching material would not be permitted.

Performing, playing or showing copyrighted works in an educational establishment

You can perform, play or show copyrighted works in educational establishments (eg schools and universities) for educational purposes. This exception applies if the audience is made up of only:

  • teachers

  • students, and

  • other people directly connected with the activities of the establishment

As a result, this exception is unlikely to apply where parents are in the audience.

Examples include showing students a video for drama lessons. 

Copying and use of extracts of works by an educational establishment

You can make copies of works for non-commercial instruction in educational establishments, provided they are supported by a sufficient acknowledgement.

This is only the case where a licensing scheme is not in place as typically a licence will be required from the Copyright Licensing Agency.

For more information on the different copyright exceptions, see the Government’s guidance.

Many of the exceptions to copyright only apply if the use of the work is ‘fair dealing’.

There is no set definition for what ‘fair dealing’ means; instead, it depends on the specifics of a situation. To determine whether a use constitutes fair dealing, you should consider how a fair-minded and honest person would have used the work. Specific factors to consider in determining fair dealing include:

  • how the use of the work will affect the original work - the use of the work should not act as a substitute for the original work. Use that is likely to result in the copyright owner losing revenue is unlikely to be considered fair

  • whether the extent to which the work is used is reasonable and proportionate - generally, only limited parts of the work may be used and care should be taken not to use more than necessary

Generally speaking, for something to be considered fair dealing you should copy as much of a work as is necessary for your purpose and no more.

If you are unsure whether your use of a work constitutes fair dealing, Ask a lawyer.

Some of the exceptions to copyright only apply if the use of the work is accompanied by a ’sufficient acknowledgement of the source material. This means that your use of the work must sufficiently acknowledge the original work and the original author. Generally, such an acknowledgement will include an identification of the author (eg their name) and the work (eg its title or a description).

An acknowledgement is not required where it is impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise.