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IT Services Guides

Copyright Matters: Guidelines for Computer Users

Author: Peter Christian.
Version: 2.5, January 2007


The College, like all HE institutions, takes copyright issues very seriously, and College Regulations specify that students and staff will face disciplinary action from the College and/or legal action from a copyright owner if they "make, or cause to be made, or allow to be made" unlawful copies.

A comprehensive guide to copyright as it affects College members will be found in the College's Copyright Handbook [465kb].

The purpose of this guide is to alert you to the main copyright issues that arise in the use of computers. This is an informal guide - it should not be regarded as an authoritative interpretation of the relevant College Regulations, nor as legal advice.

The use of copyright material in teaching is beyond the scope of this guide - tutors should consult the Copyright Handbook [465kb].

1. What you may do

In an educational context, there are three circumstances in which you may make copies of material created by others:

    1. The material is copyright free. But bear in mind that no one who has created a digital resource can possibly have been dead for the requisite 70 years, so you will need to look for explicit indication that electronic material is copyright free.
    2. You have the explicit permission of the copyright holder either directly or via some sort of licence. The College Copyright Handbook [465kb] has details of a number of licences relevant to the use of copyright material in Higher Education. All computer software is covered by a licence. A recent innovation is the concept of the "Creative Commons" licence, which may grant permission to create derivative works - this is particularly relevant to those working in digital media.
    3. Your use is covered by one of three exemptions:
      1. You are making a copy as part of submitted coursework counting towards a final assessment, or setting or answering an examination question.
      2. You are copying a small part of a copyright work for the purposes of private study or research.
      3. You are copying a small part for the purposes of criticism or review.

Exemptions b) and c) are described as "fair dealing". Only exemption a) permits you to copy a whole copyright work, e.g. a picture or a whole poem.

2. Software

All software not explicitly marked as "freeware", or "public domain" is copyright. (Note that Open Source software is not necessarily copyright-free.) If you install software on any computer without a valid software licence, you are committing an offence. Heads of Department are responsible for ensuring that all software used on departmental computers is properly licensed, as detailed in the College's Software Copyright Policy [60kb].

Software marked as "shareware" is copyright, but may be freely installed (subject to the licence conditions) and freely distributed to others.

Copying any software, other than freeware or shareware, from College computers is a breach of copyright, unless you are given explicit information by IT Services that the College has a licence which permits copying. The exemptions listed in 1.iii above are not relevant to software.

Please note that, regardless of the licensing situation, installing software on computers in the Rutherford Building is a breach of College Regulations, unless done under the direction of IT Services.

Details of College-wide software licences, and software licence purchase arrangements for students, staff, and departments will be found in the IT Services Handbook [550kb]. In case of queries, enquire at the Computer Help Desk.

The Statutory Instrument Copyright (Computer Programs) Regulations 1992 permits the making of backup copies of computer software for which you have a licence.

3. E-mail

E-mail messages are copyright. Forwarding an e-mail message without permission is in principle a copyright infringement, and it is therefore best to ask before doing so unless:

  • The content of the message indicates that it is intended for wider circulation, e.g. the announcement of a public event.
  • It is posted to a publicly accessible mailing list or newsgroup, which implies that the writer assents to unlimited dissemination and readership.

The College's E-mail Policy makes it a disciplinary offence "to include copyright material in an e-mail message without the permission of the copyright holder."

4. Commercial Music & Film

Copying commercial CDs and DVDs, or downloading files of copyright music or film via the web will almost always be infringements - there is no education defence for such activity. The only exception is where a commercial site allows the free download of a small sample or a promotional item without charge.

Note that film and record companies have been particularly assiduous in prosecuting copyright infringement, and have even taken individual university students to court.

IT Services will take disciplinary action against any user who uses the facilities in the Rutherford Building to duplicate copyright commercial recordings.

In any case, regardless of the copyright situation, you must not use IT Services facilities to download such material unless it is strictly related to your coursework.

5. Scanning and Sampling

Creating digital images and digital audio files from analog materials by scanning or digitisation is like any other copying. Both are permitted as part of coursework, but there are strict limits on other uses: since an image is treated as an indivisible unit, there are no "fair dealing" exemptions; audio sampling, even of a few seconds, for performance is regarded by the recording industry as requiring a licence. Using a digital image or audio file created by someone else in order to create what is termed a "derivative work" will require the permission of the copyright holder, unless it is copyright free or covered by a Creative Commons licence.

The coursework exemption, iii.a) above, covers only the copying, derivative creation, submission and examination of digital media, and does not constitute permission for public display or performance. Any student intending to create, for example, a web site relating to their coursework which includes derived works or scans of printed images should assume that copyright clearance is required and seek guidance before making material public. If such material is displayed on a College web site without appropriate clearance, it will be removed by the Web Team, and the user would be liable to disciplinary action from the College and legal action from the copyright owner.

Though not strictly provided for in UK copyright legislation, a photograph of a work of art or historical document is generally regarded in the UK as having its own separate copyright, even if the original artefact is out of copyright. Art galleries, museums and archives claim copyright on all photographic reproductions of items in their collections. However, this is not the case in all countries - the USA or Germany, for example - and consequently you will find many such images, quite legally, online. Nonetheless, if you intend to use such an image in published, exhibited or performed work and it derives from an artefact held in a UK collection, you are strongly advised to make sure that this will not be regarded as an infringement by the owner of the original material.

Information on scanning materials from the Library's Slide Collection

6. Optical Character Recognition

Using a scanner to create an electronic text of a printed source will be a copyright infringement if it does not meet one of the exemptions. Even if a textual work itself is out of copyright, a particular edition will be protected if it represents the original creative work of an editor who was alive during the last 70 years. This is particularly the case with early or problematic literary texts, such as the works of Shakespeare. However, for important early texts you may well be able to find a copyright free electronic edition on-line (for example at Project Gutenberg or Wikisource), though because they are based on quite old editions and are of unproven accuracy these are not always suitable for academic work.

7. Web Pages

The Web is a publishing medium, and everything published on it is copyright. Even where the source material of a web page is itself is out of copyright (e.g. an on-line Bible), the files constituting a Web site are not. Web site designs are also protected, so you cannot simply copy the look of an existing site.

Exemptions iii.a) and iii.b), above, are not relevant to web publishing, though the use of small extracts would be permissible for the purposes of criticism, review and news reporting under exemption iii.c). This allows blogs, for example, to use excerpts from other sites. Images, being indivisible, are not covered by this exemption.

It is possible to make an image appear on a page of your own web site without copying, simply by linking to an image on another web site. This is not an issue specifically covered by existing legislation, but it is a breach of the College's Web Publishing Policy and would almost certainly infringe against the moral rights of the image's creator. It is also a practice which has led to legal actions.

An exception is usually allowed where a link to a site uses the site's own logo as a hotspot. This is generally regarded as acceptable, as it promotes the original site and reinforces its branding. However, it is still good practice to ask permission, and you should always check to see if the original site has a policy about use of its logo on other sites.

8. Databases

Electronic data, when on CD-ROM or an on-line database, is not subject to copyright in quite the same way as literary and artistic material, since facts themselves are not covered by copyright. However, the EU Database Directive protects databases as "collections" for 15 years from the date of creation or publication.

The same "fair dealing" exemption applies as with copyright, and your legitimate coursework needs are covered by this. Downloading bibliographical data from an online database into Endnote, for example, is obviously not a copyright infringement. However, republishing a significant proportion of someone else's data on your own web site, for example, would need permission.

Academic data archives such as the UK Data Archive have terms and conditions which you will have to assent to before using an individual database.

The Copyright Handbook [465kb] gives more detailed advice on this subject.

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