The Copyright Explainer

Fast, factual advice to help you stay within the rules



Why should I seek guidance?

Creating teaching materials raises many legal issues, including staff and student rights, third party rights, access, and publication. All of these issues are important whether you are creating content for a lecture, putting content in the VLE, publishing open educational resources (OERs) or creating content for YouTube or iTunes U.

Did you create the content as part of your employment at Leeds?

Using materials you created:

All content you produce as part of your employment at the University normally belongs to the University of Leeds. This includes teaching materials, audio and video recordings.

The University Intellectual Property Rights policy

Are there any other authors or creators?


Using your own materials:

All digital content belongs to someone: If you use it and do not own it you may be in breach of copyright law. Both yourself and the University could be liable for copyright infringement.

  • Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it is free to use.
  • The absence of a copyright statement does not mean the resource is copyright free.
  • You can't put anything you want in your teaching materials just because it is for educational purposes.
  • If the University doesn't own the resource you are uploading, you need to understand the copyrights of each text, diagram, image, audio recording, video, music and webpage.

Have you asked the other authors for permission?


Using materials someone else created:

Someone created the content and holds the copyright in it. If this is not clear, you need to find out who the copyright holder is. For support in finding the copyright holder see our guidance and advice on locating copyright holders:

Copyright clearance

Did you sign away the copyright to publishers?


Using material you've published:

You may have reached an agreement as part of a funding arrangement or with a publisher or former employer that they own the copyright.

You'll need to check you can still publish the material. In some circumstances, such as unpublished pre-prints, you might still retain permission to use the material.

Is it open published, public domain or licenced for re-use?


Use of other people's material:

Some material may be out in the public domain as copyright has expired or the copyright owner has given up their rights. Copyright owners are also able to license their material for reuse either as open access, or under different licence terms.

Note that if you are using licenced content you may be required to republish under certain licence terms as a condition of using the content. E.g. content shared under a Creative Commons sharealike licence).

More information on using Creative Commons licenced materials.

Is it covered by fair dealing?


Use of other people's material:

You are able to reproduce limited amounts of material without permission and without infringing the rights of the copyright owners. This use is only permitted for specific purposes and it is your responsibility to ensure the use is fair to the rights owners.

Find out more on what constitutes fair dealing.

Are you critiquing or reviewing the content?


Use of other people's material:

If you need to reproduce material for the purposes of critique or review, you may be able to reproduce limited amounts without seeking permission.

You should be able to use as much as you need to make your point, and you must attribute the authors, but you may not be able to use 'substantial' parts of the work.

Find out how much you can use without permission.

Use with Full Attribution


Use of other people's material

If you use content created by others you must correctly attribute (reference) the author and copyright holder. Attribution should include the name of the author, name of the copyright holder (sometimes the same as the author but not always), the date, title and terms of reuse (e.g. Creative Commons licence).

Copyright holders normally make correct attribution a condition of reuse of their content.

Permitted use


Use of other people's material

The legislation allows for use of limited amounts of copyright work for the following purposes:

  • Illustration for instruction (including examination)
  • Criticism and review, quotation
  • Non-commercial research and private study
  • News reporting
  • Text and data mining (non-commercial research)
  • Parody, caricature and pastiche sse must be fair to the rights owners

For more information see our Guide on fair dealing.

Contact the copyright owners for permission to use


Use of other people's material

There are different ways of getting permission. You may use content that is permitted because it's out of copyright; permitted by licence; with express permission of the copyright owner; or in return for payment.

Where you have permission to use content created by others you still have to attribute the work to them correctly.

Find out more about copyright clearance, including permission request templates.