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Study Skills

Research skills

Online course for Cambridge researchers about publishing, managing data, finding and disseminating research.

Copyright and licenses 

Welcome to this module on copyright and licenses. Image of two pieces of paper - one reading illegal and one reading legal

Copyright law is a complex field so we will focus on the aspects that are most relevant for researchers who need to protect their own intellectual work and use work written by others, and most importantly must avoid accidentally infringing copyright. Please bear in mind that the information in this module is intended for information only and does not constitute legal advice.

We’ll cover: 

  • The basics of what copyright is and why it’s important 
  • What to do if you want to use someone else’s work 
  • How to protect and share your own work 
  • How licenses can be used to make it easier to reuse works 
To complete this section, you will need:


  • Approximately 30-60 minutes.
  • Access to the internet. All the resources used here are available freely.
  • Some equipment for jotting down your thoughts, a pen and paper will do, or your phone or another electronic device.

What is copyright and why does it matter?

Copyright often seems to be a hindrance to researchers but it is actually there to offer valuable protection for your work. It offers a system which offers guidance on what you can use in your work and how you can share the results of your own research whilst helping creators to get the recognition they deserve. 

Copyright does not have to be complicated as long as you remember some key principles:

  • Copyright covers any intellectual works (such as text, images, sound, etc) from the moment it is produced in a fixed form (written down, recorded, etc).
  • It includes economic rights, such as copying, renting, performing and adapting the work; these can be transferred to someone else.
  • It also includes moral rights such as the right to object to derogatory treatment and the right to be cited as the author; these cannot be transferred.
  • Copyright in a work expires at some point but this varies by item type. For example, in the UK the copyright of literary works usually expires 70 years after the death of the author.

If you would like more detail, read this blog by Chris Morrison and Jane Secker about the 9 things you need to know about copyright.  

Using someone else's work

To begin with, we'll look at what you can and can't do with work authored by other people. You know that you need to cite them, but is that enough? Can you copy an extended quotation? Can you show a graph in your webinar? Watch this video to find out more.



Fair dealing Moore Minute video

Third party copyright resources on the Office of Scholarly Communication website

Guide to redacting your thesis

'How to' tips for reusing images from the Engineering Library

Who owns your work? 

What about work that you created: surely you can do whatever you like with it, right..? It's not so simple. In this video you'll learn more about copyright transfer agreements and what they mean for you as an author. 



University of Cambridge Intellectual Property advice 

Discussion of the process of negotiating a copyright transfer agreement 

Example of an Author’s addendum (USA)

Creative Commons licenses

A Creative Commons (CC) license allows authors to retain copyright but offer everyone permission to reuse their work under specified conditions. This video explains how they work.


Test your knowledge of CC licenses by considering the scenarios in the tabs below. Which license would you select in each case? Remember that you can select individual elements of the license or combine multiple ones. You'll find the answers at the bottom of this page.

BY - Attribution symbol

BY: Attribution

Must acknowledge the creator of the work.

ND - No-Derivatives

ND: No-Derivatives

Cannot change/remix the work.

NC - Non-commercial

NC: Non-Commercial

Only the original author can make money.

SA - Share-Alike

SA: Share-Alike

New creations must be shared under the same rules.

Each element can be combined into one of the six main licences. The combination of elements you choose will depend on what you will allow others to do with your work.

CC-BY-ND - Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives licenseFor example, the licence on the left is made up of a combination of two elements (BY and ND). These produce a CC-BY-ND licences which stipulates that the creator is willing to let other people use it as long as the original creator is credited and the work is not changed in any way. Different combinations of elements will produce licences which are more or less restrictive depending on what the creator wants. 

CC0 indicates that content can be used freely, without any restriction, including the need for attribution. By applying CC0 to their works the creator waives all their rights to be associated with it. Users can give attribution to CC0 works if they wish, but are under no obligation to do so.

When assigning a licence it is important to remember that these are legally binding and cannot be revoked. It is worth spending some time considering the various licences to ensure the one you select is appropriate. You can visit the Creative Commons website if you would like to find out more about Creative Commons

Quick Quiz - Creative Commons

You might want to put your grasp of Creative Commons to the test in our Quick Quiz Take a look at the resources and the information on what the creator wants to allow others to do with their work. Then use the Creative Commons elements to construct an appropriate licence.

Further resources

As we said at the start copyright is a complex topic. It is important that you think carefully about what you can use in your own work and how you can share this with others but perhaps the most important thing is knowing that it is OK to ask for help or clarification. There are many sources of copyright help available to you across the University:

The University Libraries run a dedicated Copyright Helpdesk which you can email with queries or for one-to-one advice.

Did you know that the University also has a Legal Services Office? They provide guidance on a range of issues including copyright (you will need to sign in with your Raven password).

If you want to explore copyright in more detail you can read the Copyright for Researchers guide which contains information and links relevant to copyright in research.

Did you know?

You can self-report that you have completed this module to have it added to your training record. Simply visit the booking page and register.

How did you find this Research Skills module

We'd love to hear about your experience of this module to keep improving our offer. Please take the feedback survey, it should only take around 2 minutes to complete. 

Image Credits: Image by Fathromi Ramdlon from Pixabay

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