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Durham University

Computing and Information Services


Can I use that?

The learning techology team have partnered with the library to produce this interactive guide to copyright.

Copyright and the reproduction of materials in academic work

When using any material, image or video footage in any kind of academic work including recorded learning objects or assessment care should be taken to ensure you do not infringe on the intellectual property rights or copyright of third parties as you would when producing written academic papers and/or articles, or coursework. Although the law surrounding digital copyright is less clear and well established than the laws surrounding print copyright, they are both based on the same principles, so no less regard should be given to the content of anything taken from the internet than that taken from established printed sources.

Regardless of their source, the following works are all subject to copyright:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works;
  • Images, sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes; and
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions.

The owner of the copyright in a work will always have the exclusive right to:

  • Copy the work;
  • Issue copies of the work to the public;
  • Perform, show or play the work in public;
  • Broadcast the work or include it in a cable programme service; and
  • Make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation.

Even where the author of the material is not the copyright holder of the materials you wish to use, e.g. the employee of a UK University, the author retains the following rights:

  • To be identified as author or director;
  • To object to derogatory treatment of the work; and
  • The right to privacy of certain photographs and films.

For more information on the rights above see the guidance on moral rights including performer’s rights.

Duration of copyright

The duration of copyright is dependent on a number of factors including – the type of work in question, whether the work is published or unpublished, whether the creator is known or unknown, and whether transitional arrangements from previous copyright legislation apply.

In general terms the list in the section below is a useful starting point, for specific advice contact the University’s Legal Support team at

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works:

In general the lifetime of the author plus a period of 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died.

Computer generated works:

50 years from the end of the year in which the work was made. A work is deemed to be computer generated where there is “no human author.”

Video recordings (films):

Copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the death occurs of the last to die of the following persons:

a) the principal director,

b) the author of the screenplay,

c) the author of the dialogue, or

d) the composer of music specially created for and used in the film;

Where the identity of such persons is unknown copyright expires at the end of 70 years from the end of the year in which the film was made, or, if during that period the film is made available to the public, 70 years from the end of the year in which it is first made available.

If there is no person falling within the categories above then copyright expires at the end of 50 years from the end of the year in which the film was made.

Sound recordings:

50 years from the end of the year in which it was made, or, if published or made available to the public during this time, 70 years from the end of the year in which it is first published or made available to the public.


50 years from the end of the year the broadcast was made.

Typographical arrangement of published editions:

25 years from the end of the year of first publication.

Note that where there are joint authors the copyright term is calculated by reference to the last surviving author.

Copyright considerations

Before you include, adapt or reproduce any materials in your work, you should first consider the following questions:


  • Is the content of your work based wholly on your own original material?
  • Are you using material where the original copyright has lapsed?

 ☑ If the answer to these questions is yes, you may use this material as you wish, as you (or the University where it is produced as part of your employment) will either hold the copyright, or the materials will no longer be subject to copyright. Please remember that material written by you while you were previously employed elsewhere, may be copyright to your previous employer and thus you may need the permission of your previous employer before you have the right to reproduce it. You would need to consider the IP terms of your previous employment contract to ensure you have all appropriate permissions.

 ☒If the answer to these questions is no, you should only consider using such material in your work under the following circumstances:

☑ You are doing so in compliance with any applicable creative commons licence (please see section below on Creative Commons Licencing and Licences);

☑ You have the express permission for such use from the copyright holder;

☑ You have a visual impairment;

☑ You are confident that the University holds a licence for the type of copying you want to carry out. Please note, the University holds the following licences:

    • Newspaper Licensing Agency Educational License
    • Ordnance Survey (OS) Map License
    • Education Recording Agency license
    • Open University Worldwide Limited License

The terms of which can be viewed via: You may only reproduce materials under these licences, strictly in accordance with the terms of these licences.

☑ You are using an insubstantial amount* of the whole work within the accepted limits of 'fair dealing' for the purposes of:

    • non-commercial research;
    • non-commercial private study;
    • criticism or review; or
    • reporting of current events

In the event that you intend to use any still or moving image materials in your work:

  • Are the still or moving images wholly your own original material?
  • Where the material contains the image of any individuals who are clearly identifiable therein, have appropriate permissions been granted by the individuals?

 ☑ If the answers to these questions are yes, you may use this material in your lecture.

 ☒ If the answer to this question is no:

☑Where such material is a film, an extract of a film or any material taken from television you may use such material in your work provided it constitutes an insubstantial extract(s), taken from a legitimate source e.g. a commercially available DVD or a broadcast recording;

☑ Where a still or moving image is taken from an internet site and such images are displayed under a creative commons licence, you may use it in your work provided you are doing so in compliance with any applicable creative commons licence (please see section on Creative Commons Licences);

☒ Any digital re-working or editing must not compromise the artistic or professional integrity of the original, unless this is allowed under a creative commons licence or you have the express permission of the copyright holder;

☑ Where such material is a free-standing photograph, not provided under a creative commons licence, you may only use such material in your work provided you have the express permission of the copyright holder. 

☑ Where such material is a photograph which is currently being used with the permission of the copyright holder as part of the supporting, illustrative material in a textbook or journal, then the photograph (or a limited number of photographs therein) can be considered an insubstantial* extract from the book or journal and therefore be used in your work.

☑ Where such material includes photographs or videos of people, either individually or in small groups, who are clearly identifiable therein, you may only use such material in your lecture with the express permission of the individuals concerned, or in the case of any minor child, the permission of an appropriate parent or guardian. 

 *an insubstantial amount of the whole work is generally considered:-

  • For the purposes of non-commercial Research or non-commercial Private Study to mean:
    • up to a complete chapter of a book;
    • up to a whole article from a single issue of a serial publication or in a set of conference proceedings;
    • the entire report of a single case of judicial proceedings;
    • in the case of an anthology of short stories or poems, one short story or poem not exceeding 10 pages in length; OR
    • no more than 5% of any published edition above, whichever is the greater.
  •  For the purposes of criticism or review to mean:
    • one extract of no more than 400 words;
    • several extracts none more than 300 words and totalling no more than 800 words;
    • up to 40 lines from a poem, not exceeding one-quarter of the whole.

ALWAYS provided that you include a proper acknowledgement of the author and the source of the material you are using.

In the absence of any obvious creative commons licencing information (this is sometimes held in a link near to the image/footage you want to use), the only way you can establish whether you have the rights to use the materials you want to copy is by checking the terms of use, as are displayed in a link on most websites.

For example, YouTube’s terms and conditions clearly set out what the videos uploaded can be used for in its terms of service. By uploading material to the site, each user grants each other user an essentially unrestricted licence to use the materials uploaded provided they do so in accordance with the following:

  1. you agree not to distribute any part of or parts of the Website or the Service, including but not limited to any Content, in any medium without YouTube's prior written authorisation, unless YouTube makes available the means for such distribution through functionality offered by the Service (such as the YouTube Player);
  2. you agree not to access Content through any technology or means other than the video playback pages of the Website itself, the YouTube Player, or such other means as YouTube may explicitly designate for this purpose;
  3. you agree not to use the Service (including the YouTube Player) for any of the following commercial uses unless you obtain YouTube's prior written approval:
  4. the sale of access to the Service
  5. the sale of advertising, sponsorships or promotions placed on or within the Service, or Content;
  6. the sale of advertising, sponsorships or promotions on any page of an ad-enabled blog or website containing Content delivered via the Service unless other material not obtained from YouTube appears on the same page and is of sufficient value to be the basis for such sales
  7. prohibited commercial uses shall not include (i) uploading an original video to YouTube, (ii) maintaining an original channel on the Website in order to promote a business or artistic enterprise, (iii) showing YouTube videos through the YouTube Player or otherwise on an ad-enabled blog or website, subject to those advertising restrictions set out in 5.1(E)(iii) above; and (iv) any use that is expressly authorised by YouTube in writing;
  8. you agree not to use the Website or the Services (including the comments and email features in the Website) for the solicitation of business in the course of trade or in connection with a commercial enterprise;
  9. you agree not to solicit, for commercial purposes, any users of the Website with respect to their Content; and
  10. you agree not to access Content or any reason other than your personal, non-commercial use solely as intended through and permitted by the normal functionality of the Service, and solely for Streaming. "Streaming" means a contemporaneous digital transmission of the material by YouTube via the Internet to a user operated Internet enabled device in such a manner that the data is intended for real-time viewing and not intended to be downloaded (either permanently or temporarily), copied, stored, or redistributed by the user.
  11. You shall not copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, or otherwise exploit any Content for any other purposes without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content.

Therefore, if any use you want to make of YouTube content falls outside these provisions, you must contact YouTube directly to seek permission.

Each set of terms may be different depending on the website, so you will have to check each as you want to use materials from them. If you are in doubt as to what the terms of a website allow you to do with an image or video, contact Legal Support for further advice.

Please note, it is not uncommon to have to contact a copyright holder directly to seek express permission for use you wish to make of their copyright materials.

Where you provide a normal link in your work that simply directs a reader/user to content hosted on another third party website, you are completely safe as far as copyright infringement is concerned. In the event that it were to transpire that the material in question (to which your link led) was found to infringe the copyright of a third party, the only party who would be liable as a result, would the site who actually hosted it. This is by far the safest way of referencing such material.

However, in the case of embedding material in your own work, although this issue has been hotly debated, case law in the UK does suggest that where material which infringes the copyrights of a third party is embedded on the University’s website or within your work, said third party would potentially be able to take action directly against the University as a result of such infringement. Embedding content in your work or on a website, has now been determined by UK courts to constitute publishing/distributing such material, and therefore the University would be liable in the event that a third party were to correctly identify material to which they hold the copyright, as being embedded on the University’s website, without first obtaining an appropriate waiver of such rights from the copyright holder.