British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Copyright FAQ

500px-Control_copyright_icon.svgWhat is Copyright?

Copyright is a monopoly property right that, in the UK, automatically protects an original work (as soon as it is created) from unlicensed copying, re-use and dissemination to the public. While international conventions establish the right of authors and creators to control the copying and re-use of their works at the time of creation, they also acknowledge and offer grounds for ‘exceptions’ that may permit individuals to copy parts of certain types of works to support personal research and other ‘non-economic’ activity.

What are Moral rights?

This broadly means protection of the work as a reflection of the author/creator and his or her career. In the UK this means protection of two types; firstly the protection of ‘paternity’ – the right of an author or creator to have ‘due acknowledgement’ with his or her name cited or attached to the work whenever it is reproduced; and secondly the protection of the ‘integrity’ of a work – protection from the editing or re-use of a work in some way which might be regarded as derogatory, potentially undermining the original work and the reputation of its author or creator. If you ever use the works of others it is good practice always to give due acknowledgement to the original author/creator.

Types of protected works

  • Literary works
  • Dramatic works
  • Artistic works
  • Computer programs
  • Musical works
  • Computer generated works
  • Sound recordings
  • Films
  • Broadcasts
  • Published editions
  • Performers’ rights
  • Databases

Do Students and staff own work created while at University?

All works created ‘in the course of employment’ are, under UK law, automatically owned by the employer unless there is an underlying contract of employment that passes ownership back to the author/creator.  This is a contentious issue for academic staff in universities and colleges, but it is a fact that this feature of UK law means that employees in UK universities rarely have the right automatically to exploit or sign contracts for the reproduction, distribution and sale of their own works.  It is worth reflecting that rights may be held by an employer in teaching notes, correspondence, photography, video recordings and all other material created in the course of employment.

Students, on the other hand, are not normally employees (although postgraduate research students may have contracts of employment) – in fact, they are normally clients paying fees for service.  Therefore students attending a course of study hold all rights in their own works – essays, films, theses, photographs, paintings, sculpture etc.

There are continuing misconceptions in some institutions about the status of student works. For instance, some will claim that because college or university equipment has been used in the course of the creation of a work, this automatically gives some form of ownership of copyright in the work to the institution.  This is incorrect.  There must be a signed agreement that passes rights in student works to an institution to allow copying or dissemination.

What is ‘Fair Use’?

To support research and private study in the medium of print, there is the concept of ‘fair dealing’ which is helpful for the individual wishing to copy literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Some people in the UK talk about ‘Fair Use’ in this context.  This is an error because Fair Use is a formal term that applies only under US legislation. In the UK the phrase is ‘Fair Dealing’ and is covered by sections 30 and 32 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.

How to access material in the ‘Public Domain’?

The phrase has wider application in the United States but is often used in the UK to describe content in which copyright protection has expired, which at the moment has now been standardised at 70 years after the death of the author / composer / performer or in the case of film the last of the four main contributors (writer, composer, designer, director).

Can DVDs bought overseas be retained and used

In it is not illegal, per se, to view, or own, video discs legally purchased overseas. In the UK commercial DVDs are classified by the British Board of Film Clssification (BBFC) under the Video Recordings Act 2010. Using foreign-bought releases and putting them on library shelves could certainly create difficulties if any of the content of the DVDs was problematic from a censorship / classification standpoint. For further details, visit the BBFC website.

If you have any Copyright Queries please get in touch by email ( or  telephone (020 7393 1500)