• Ellie Atayee-Bennett

Introduction to Copyright

In a previous blog post, I discussed the basics of intellectual property rights. In this blog post, I will cover copyright in more depth, as it is so important for researchers and writers to understand.

Copyright covers any piece of work you create, including literary works, dramatical works, music, artistic works, films and broadcasts, reports, apps, computer code, games, websites, and so on. Two points to note however, your work must be original for copyright to be applied, and copyright does not protect the idea, rather it protects the expression of the idea in a creative format.


Copyright is automatically granted. It is therefore a good idea to keep a record of when the item was created, for example by having a saved copy on a digital device. Although not necessary, it's also a good idea to write "©" followed by your name and the year of production on any work you produce.

Copyrighted works cannot be copied or shared by anyone without the copyright holder's permission. Copyright grants you economic rights and moral rights. Economic rights prevent others from doing the following to your work or copies of your work:

  • Copying

  • Distributing

  • Renting or lending

  • Publicly performing

  • Adapting (e.g. for TV, film, or games)

  • Putting it on the internet

Copyright holders are also granted moral rights. The two most relevant to researchers and writers include:

  • The right to be recognised as the author

  • The right to object to any alteration to the work that the author deems derogatory, either to the work itself or to the reputation of the author


Copyright is held by the creator of the works or the employer if the works were created as part of employment. This is common for university staff. For doctoral researchers, you generally own the copyright of your thesis, but it is worth checking any contracts you have with funding providers to check this is still the case. There may also be times when you produce work with others, and in these circumstances, you would hold joint authorship, so make sure all parties are clear on the copyright terms.

When publishing, you can either self-publish or sell or licence your copyright to a publisher. When you licence your copyright to publishers or broadcasters, you can secure income. Publishers will have rights over things such as the layout of the work, whilst you will retain the copyright of your words or images.

In academic publishing, the level of copyright you retain will depend on how "open" the journal is. Generally, the more "open" the journal, the less copyright you retain. When publishing in open access journals therefore, you will need to select the relevant copyright licence. For this reason, it is commonplace for academic journal articles to have a creative commons licence (there are several to choose from) which makes your research more shareable, thus contributing to better research. These licences assert your copyright, but also allow others to reuse your work, subject to certain conditions. With journal articles, the journal retains copyright over the format of the article as it appears in the PDF, however to allow the researcher to share their work, the researcher is permitted to share the Word file of the final version of the manuscript. It is also worth noting, that even when you do retain the copyright, your educational institution may have a licence to reuse your work. If you are not sure, your Library team should be able to help you.


Copyright lasts for different lengths of time, as the image below shows:

Source: How copyright protects your work: How long copyright lasts - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

There are some exceptions to copyright law however. You may have already heard of the term 'Fair Dealing', which refers to these exceptions. Examples include:

  • Copying extracts of works for the purpose of study

  • Copying extracts of works for the purpose of teaching

  • Including quotes from other works in your own work, providing it's correctly cited and referenced

  • Criticism or review

  • News reporting

Copyright is a very complex topic, but hopefully this has been a useful introduction. Please also visit the resources below for further information.

Further Resources:

How copyright protects your work - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The rights granted by copyright - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Welcome to Copyright Aware - Copyright Aware (bbc.co.uk)

For Researchers:

Joint Guidelines on Copyright and Academic Research - Guidelines for researchers and publishers in the Humanities and Social Sciences | The British Academy

Useful IPO related links — Vitae Website

When we share, everyone wins - Creative Commons

For Authors:

Advice | The Society of Authors

ALCS | Copyright basics for writers