Skip to Main Content

Study Skills

Copyright for Researchers: FAQs

Question marksCopyright FAQs

Copyright can be a complex area where there are often no definitive answers. The following selection of frequently asked questions will help you to navigate some of the common issues. If you require further help you can email the Copyright Helpdesk.

Copyright basics

Plagiarism is submitting someone else's work, ideas, or words as your own, irrespective of your intent to deceive. This means that even unintentional plagiarism through poor note taking or inattentive referencing may be penalised. Understanding what plagiarism is, and learning techniques to avoid it, is an essential part of your academic training.

For more information on plagiarism and how to avoid it please see the Plagiarism LibGuide and the University guidance on plagiarism.

Yes, if the work is an original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, or a film or sound recording, broadcast and typographical arrangement of a published edition.

However you may not be the only copyright holder over the whole work if:

  • the work includes someone else's work or property
  • you have created it in collaboration with someone else
  • you are under a contractual agreement (e.g. with a funder or publisher) which requires that copyright to work you create is transferred to someone else

Please remember:

  • more than one person can have copyright over a work (eg an article, song or film)
  • the author of the work is not always the copyright owner of the work

You can link to material that is lawfully available online as long as you alert viewers that you are redirecting them to external websites where their use of the online material is subject to the terms of the opened site. It would be good if each link opens to a new window and that you acknowledge the source of the link.

Please see the relevant advice on the Legal Services pages (Raven login required)

You could share articles if downloaded versions are freely available for all in the publisher’s website. In general, it is preferable that you share links to the articles that other University of Cambridge students can access either freely or via their Raven ID and password.

The University Legal Services Office makes the risks quite clear:

‘In law, damages, in addition to licence fees, may be imposed regardless of immediate removal of an infringing item after notification from the copyright owner. At the University, for offending material made available by an individual on his or her personal website, publication or otherwise, financial liability devolves to that individual; for material made available by the University, as prescribed by the University’s Financial Regulations, financial liability devolves to the Faculty, Department or School that has incurred the liability. In addition to the above civil proceedings, criminal proceedings may be brought against a person or entity for copyright infringement. A person convicted of offences for copyright infringement is potentially liable for the payment of unlimited fines and/or imprisonment for a maximum term of ten years.’

For more information please visit the Legal Services pages [Raven login required].

What can I copy?

You can copy part of a book/journal under the fair dealing exception for private study and non-commercial research. You can make a single copy to the following limits:


  • one chapter of a book up to a max of 5% of the whole of the book OR
  • one article of a journal issue OR
  • one article from an issue of a newspaper OR
  • one paper of one set of conference proceedings OR
  • one report of one case from a book of law reports

For more information on fair dealing exceptions in the UK please see the relevant pages of the Intellectual Property Office.

You can copy one article from an issue of a newspaper under the fair dealing exception for private study and non-commercial research.

You can make a single copy under the fair dealing exception for private study and non-commercial research. There are some additional areas to be aware of:


  • copyright over photos in books may lie with the photographer; please check the credits/acknowledgements page for the name of the creator/photo supplier if you need to use the photo further.
  • photos of artistic works you may have taken in museums would be subject to the terms of entry to the museum (e.g. you may only be allowed to use them for private study) as well as to the standard restrictions if the artistic work is in copyright. For example if you would like to use a photo of a painting by Francis Bacon you have taken in the Tate you would need to contact Tate Picture Library and the estate of Francis Bacon for permissions.

When dealing with UK Government or Crown Copyright, please check the guidelines on the Open Government Licensing Framework published on the National Archives website and the Open Government Licence

You are not allowed to make a copy of a limited part of a work but if you wish to copy the whole work, you will need to obtain a licence or purchase the work. A short excerpt is usually only allowed in the case of a musical work for study purposes but not performance.

Under the fair dealing exception for private study and non-commercial research you can copy an A4 extract from a printed map or atlas page.

Third party copyright

Before asking for permission you should take the following steps:


  • make sure you have all the information about the material you would like to use (eg accession numbers when the request is about the use of a collection item, publication date when it is about the contents of a book etc)
  • clarify if you would like the copyright owner to supply you with a copy (e.g. high-resolution photo) or only with permission to use
  • make sure you have information of how you plan to use the image e.g. in the case of using a photo in a paper for a journal you will be asked to supply the title of the journal, the issue where it will be published, publication date, print-run, size that the image will be used in the journal etc.
  • establish who is the copyright owner and try to contact them for permission. In the case of publishers, please contact their rights and permissions department. In the case of organisations like galleries and museums try to contact their picture libraries. In the case of individuals, try to find their details via their employer.

Please contact the copyright holder with the above information and ask for the best way to apply for permission for the suggested use. They will be able to point you to the right direction.

You can also find detailed advice on clearing third-party copyright on the pages of the Office of Scholarly Communication.

If you are unable to establish who is the copyright owner or author, please contact us on

It is also useful to see what IPO advises about due diligence searches in the case of Orphan Works (works whose author cannot be determined or contacted).

Please note: you will only be able to have most of the title information after the article has been accepted. In this case, you could try to get permission for use in principle before getting the licence in writing.


Yes, as long as you credit all authors/creators of all third-party materials. If you plan to deposit your thesis under Controlled Access, you don’t need to clear any permissions with other rights holders. If you would like to publish your thesis under Open Access on the University’s Repository, you need to clear permissions from all copyright holders.

For more information on third-party copyright and your thesis please see the pages of the Office of Scholarly Communication.

Authorship and Intellectual Property

Yes, under certain conditions:


  • if you are a student in the University of Cambridge
  • if your coursework does not include the work of anyone else, including quotations and photographs. In this case you only hold copyright over the original part of the work you have created yourself) and
  • if it is not in collaboration with fellow students (in which case you would share the copyright with them) and
  • if you are not under a contract (e.g. a funding agreement) that requires that all copyright on work you create is transferred to someone else

You own the copyright over an original literary work you have written. However, other people may claim rights over parts or the whole work it:


  • you are not the only person who did the work and written the text, or
  • you have published it (in this case, check the agreement with your publisher to establish if you have signed off copyright to them), or
  • you are under a contract (e.g. under an employment/sponsorship/funding agreement) that requires that all copyright on work you create is transferred to someone else

Please note: if you would like to include someone else's work as part of your paper (e.g. visuals, photos, quotes etc. created by someone else), you need to seek their permission before publishing it and you need to acknowledge them with a credit.

Please check the agreement you have with your publisher.

Image copyright

Please check the terms and conditions of each website and if an image is released under a Creative Commons licence or any other open licence. If the item is in copyright, you can copy it only under the Fair Dealing exceptions. There are some additional areas to be aware of:


  • all material that appears online is subject to the same conditions as if published in other formats.
  • the fact that something has been published online does not mean that it has entered the public domain when it comes to copyright. When we say that a work is in the public domain in terms of copyright, we mean that copyright no longer subsists in the work that has been reproduced.
  • the fact that something has been published online does not mean that the copyright owner has given permission for this use.

Some libraries allow photography of original unpublished works by readers for their own private study and non-commercial research. However, under UK legislation original literary documents, photographs and engravings that were unpublished by 31 December 1989, whose authors died before 1 January 1969, are still in copyright until 31st December 2039.

If you would like to use a copy of the document you would need to get permission from the copyright holder before you can legally use the photo. As the photo was taken in a library, you would also need to check with them about any further use.

Please Note:

The fair dealing exception for quotation in the UK, only applies to published works (you are only allowed to quote from works that have been published under the conditions of this exception). You are not allowed to quote from original unpublished works without permission from the copyright holder.

You can use it only under the fair dealing exceptions. If you would like to publish the work, you will need a good quality photograph of the original and all the relevant permissions from all copyright holders/rights owners for the suggested purpose.

Please note:

If you would like to use a photo of an artwork, you may need to get permission not only from the artist but also from the photographer and the owner of the original.


Creative Commons licences

Creative Commons licences provide a way to licence the use of material you create and share. They enable creators to use a simple formula to build a licence which suits their needs and authorise the appropriate use of their work. For more information on Creative Commons licences visit the dedicated LibGuide page.

Yes, if you are the only person who has created it and your work doesn't include anyone else's work (e.g. visuals, photos, quotes etc. created by someone else) or property (e.g. your photos of someone else's property).

This choice depends on what you want others to be able to do with your work. You can see a summary of considerations and helpful links on the pages of the Legal Services Division pages [Raven login required] and the guidance offered on the relevant LibGuide pages.

© Cambridge University Libraries | Accessibility | Privacy policy | Log into LibApps