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Copyright Guide: Personal Use

A practical guide on copyright and licensing issues aimed at staff, students and researchers at the University of Sussex

What can I copy?

What can I copy?

You can copy a work if one of the following conditions applies:
  • copyright has expired
  • you own the copyright (and have not assigned that copyright to a publisher or other)
  • the copyright holder has given permission for the work to be copied
  • use of the work is governed by a licence granted by the copyright holder
  • your copy, or copies, is/are permitted by an exception in the Act.
Limited copying of certain works is possible under an exception known as 'fair dealing' for:
  • the purpose of research for a non-commercial purpose
  • the purpose of private study ('private study' does not include any study which is directly or indirectly for a commercial purpose)
  • quotation, including criticism or review
  • reporting of current events 
Fair dealing is not a legal right but it can be used as a defence.
You can make one copy of part of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work (this includes books and journals but not films, broadcasts or videos) for research for a non-commercial purpose or private study. The amount that you can copy is not defined by the Act but the extent of copying must not harm the economic interests of the copyright owner. Commonly accepted practice is that copying should not exceed:
  • a chapter of a book or 5 per cent of a book, whichever is longer.
  • one complete article from a journal issue.
  • a maximum of ten pages of a poem, short story, or other short literary work, taken from a volume of short stories or poems.
  • up to 10% (maximum 20 pages) per short book (without chapters), report, pamphlet, or standard specification.
  • one separate illustration, diagram, photograph or map up to A4 size (but, if this is an integral part of an article or chapter, it may be included in the extracts identified above).
Multiple copying of the same item is not permitted under fair dealing but is permitted under the University's licence with the Copyright Licensing Agency within certain limits. See Copying for Teaching for further guidance.
A number of exceptions apply to schools, universities and other educational establishments:
  • Illustration for instruction: Fair dealing with a work for the sole purpose of Illustration for instruction does not infringe copyright in the work provided that the use is: for a non-commercial purpose;  by a person giving or receiving instruction (or preparing for giving or receiving instruction) and is accompanied by a sufficent acknowledgement, where it is reasonably possible to do so.  Multiple copying for teaching is covered under the University's CLA HE Licence.  For example, photocopying or scanning a whole chapter from a book or an article from a journal.  
  • Illustration for instruction also includes setting examination questions, communicating the questions to pupils and answering the questions.
  • Performing, playing or showing copyright works in a school, university or other educational establishment for educational purposes. However, this exception only applies if the audience is limited to teachers, pupils and others directly connected with the activities of the establishment.
  • Recording a TV programme or radio broadcast for non-commercial educational purposes in an educational establishment where there is no licensing scheme in existence. Generally a licence will be required from the Educational Recording Agency.

Electronic journals, eBooks and databases

The Library subscribes to many electronic resources, such as electronic journals, databases  and ebooks, on behalf of the University.  In addition to copyright law, the use of these resources is governed by licences which the University has signed with the relevant publishers and information providers. 

The conditions of licences with individual publishers and information providers vary. In the vast majority of cases, a current University of Sussex staff or student member can:

  • search and retrieve items.
  • print and/or download individual items for personal use for teaching, learning and research.

In the vast majority of cases, licences do not permit:

  • downloading of the substantial part of a database or the entire contents of a publication (this would include an entire journal issue).
  • distributing copies to others.
  • removing any proprietary marking or copyright statement from any copy made.
  • using electronic resources for commercial purposes.

If you are adding an electronic journal article to a module website in Study Direct, it is good practice to link through to the article rather than downloading the pdf and uploading the file to Study Direct,  as not all licences cover this option.

Using social media

JISC Legal have produced guidance  and a short video on the legal consideration in using image sharing social networks in the context of Higher Education.  They use Pinterest, a virtual pinboard for sharing images, as an example, although much of what they say is applicable to most forms of Web 2.0 social media.

Pinterest, image sharing websites and the law: A guide to the legal considerations of using image sharing social networks for teaching and learning (updated 6 September 2015)




The information contained within these pages is intended as a general guide and an interpretation of current copyright issues. It is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Further guidance

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the official Government body responsible for Intellectual Property (IP) rights in the United Kingdom.  This includes, Patents, Designs, Trademarks and Copyright.  

The SHERPA/RoMEO database can help authors determine the policy of their publishers regarding self-archiving of research articles in the University's institutional repository, Sussex Research Online.

Finding free to use images

Using images?

This handy flowchart style poster should help you decide whether or not you can use an image.  Poster credit:  Pia Jane Bijkerk & Erin Loechner for Street Cred 2011.  Fonts by Yvette van Boven.

Getting help

 For help with general queries about copying  from print, audiovisual or electronic publications, please email