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Study Skills

Wolfson College Academic Skills: Copyright

Help with finding, managing and using information from the Wolfson Library Team.

The following information is intended as a guide to copyright and does not constitute legal advice.

Copyright is one of a bundle of rights which help to ensure that a work is not used without permission.  Copyright is automatically granted once the work has been produced in a tangible form, for example written down.  In most cases the first copyright holder is the author of the work.

The rights of the author can be divided into two groups – the moral right to be identified as the author and the economic right to make money from their work. The author retains the moral rights but may choose to give away the economic rights, for example by publishing in a journal. Find out more about the moral and economic rights of the author.

Third party copyright refers to copyright that is owned by someone else. Legislation allows researchers to use short quotations, extracts or excerpts from others work as long as the use meets the requirements of ‘fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review’.  If researchers wish to reuse content they have authored but already published it is important to check if the publisher will permit this.

Why is copyright important?

  • Helps the creator be rewarded for their efforts
  • Encourages creativity
  • Leads to the creation of new material and advances knowledge

Protecting your work

The intellectual work you create is covered by copyright when it appears in the written form. This includes

  • Data
  • Publications, including your thesis
  • Presentations
  • Posters

The University of Cambridge's policy means that copyright remains with the creator unless there are pre-existing conditions or the work has been created for University administration/managerial reasons.

Creative Commons

This provides a way to licence the use of material you create and share. Using a simple formula it allows creators to build a licence which suits their needs and authorise appropriate use of their work. Using a Creative Commons licence allows researchers to get more exposure for their work whilst maintaining control over its use. These are the symbols that are used in licences.

Four creative commons licence symbols. Symbols are black on white, inside black circles. Clockwise from top left:a person, a dollar symbol with a cross through, a backwards letter c with an arrow head and and equals sign

Reusing the work of others

Single copy of a published work can be made for personal use to the following limits BUT you always need to cite anything that you use in your own work:

  • One chapter of a book or extracts from a book to a maximum of 5% of the whole book
  • One article of a journal issue
  • One article from a single newspaper
  • One paper from a set of conference proceedings
  • One report of one case from a book of law reports
  • Up to 5% of an anthology of short stories/poems OR one short story/poem if not more than 10 pages
  • Up to 10% (if not more than 20 pages or 2 pages if brief) of a short book without chapters, report, pamphlet or standard paging
  • Short excerpt from a musical work for study purposes but not performance

Using images

In published works (print and online) remember that you will need to seek permission for images, figures and tables from the rights holder.

Think about why are you using this image; is it for decoration or to illustrate a point? In published works, it is best to limit yourself to the latter. If you took the image yourself, consider what and who are in the image? You may need to permission to reproduce a photograph with identifiable objects and people. In particular, images of artworks may require permission from both the artist, the gallery, and the person who took the photograph.

Start asking early and keep records of all correspondence. You will need to explain exactly what you want to use and why and how it will be reused (especially important if applying for online use).

If granted you need to indicate that permission was given but if permission is not given you cannot make work available. Remember that not hearing back is not being granted permission!

There are several sources of free to use images. They may or may not need a credit and there may be restrictions on what you can do with them. ALWAYS check the licnece (for information about Creative Commons licences, see boxes on the right/below). Sites include:

This image and all the ones on this guide are from Unsplash. You do not have to credit photographers when using images from this site, but it is good practice.

Image credit:


Unless otherwise stated, this work is licenced under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence by Wolfson College Cambridge.

CC licence logo Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

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