Useful copyright law changes for teaching and learning

On the 1st October, new laws surrounding copyright were finalised that aim to provide a more balanced approach to copyright in education to better fit our practices in the digital age. The agreed ‘exceptions’ that have always allowed us to use some copyrighted materials in teaching have now been widened to allow more extensive and easier use in different ways for both teaching and research purposes in conjunction with existing educational licensing schemes.


The law now allows copying works of ‘any medium’ which specifically includes all forms of online learning as long as they are restricted to secure online environments, such as the DLE. The following conditions apply:
1. The work must be used solely to illustrate a point
2. The use of the work must not be for commercial purposes
3. The work is used in a ‘fair and reasonable’ way
4. You give credit to the author/owner

Research and Private Study

The law now allows you to copy parts of sound recordings, films, or broadcasts, as well as more freedom to quote from works of others for non-commercial research or private study. This is restricted by fair dealing and any use of work must be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement. Once your project is over, you are not required by law to delete any copied materials, but you cannot use them for any purpose other than research or private study.

Copyright sign made of jigsaw puzzle pieces separated

CC image courtesy of Horia Varlan on Flickr

“Fair Dealing” is a legal term used to establish whether a use of copyright material is lawful. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing, it depends on each individual case. For instance, using a short section of a film to illustrate a teaching point is likely to be considered ‘fair’, but showing the whole film would certainly not. You can find out more about the new laws on the website.

So, whilst these new laws make using copyright materials much easier for teaching and research, it is by no means a carte blanche to do what you like. You will still need to take care when using any materials that are considered to have an active commercial value, without some licence to do so. Best practice when looking for images and music remains to find materials that have already been clearly released with open educational licences such as Creative Commons.

To find out more about finding and using material under open licences such as creative commons, you may find our copyright information zone helpful, or there is a centrally delivered course entitled Finding Open Media Online.

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