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Copyright: Personal research & private study

Guidance and tips on making copyright law work for you in your University teaching and study.

What am I allowed to do?

Someone using a laptop on a deskAs a student or researcher, you will often need to use items which are copyright protected, including copying or referring to extracts from those items in your finished research project or assignment. In balancing the interests of rights holders in copyright works and people wanting to use those works, the law allows, under certain conditions, the use of copyright materials in academic study, research and writing.

Note: these legal exceptions apply to all types of copyright work and cannot be overridden by contract. This means that any contractual term will be unenforceable to the extent that it tries to prevent or restrict you doing anything permitted by an exception.


Image: lumenbrite via Pixabay (CC0)

Copying extracts for study or research

Subject to certain conditions, copyright law contains a fair dealing exception which allows you to make single copies of short extracts of works for the purpose of research or private study.

The exception for research and private study applies only if:

  1. Your use is for the purposes of non-commercial research and/or private study
  2. Your use of the copyright work is fair
  3. Only you make use of the copy made
  4. For research, you credit the copyright holder unless impractical

While what is "fair" is not defined (see further the column on the far right), as a guide it's considered safe limits for you to copy whichever is the most of 10% of a published book/or journal issue or one chapter/article for your research or private study.

Quoting, criticising and reviewing

For your University assignments, a fair dealing exception for the answering of examination questions generally permits you to include relevant extracts of copyright works in assessed work, provided you credit the copyright holder unless impractical (referencing your sources will ordinarily be sufficient).

In addition, the law allows the fair dealing use of copyright works for the purpose of criticism or review, and to use quotations from such works. These exceptions overlap, and require you satisfy several of the same conditions:

  1. Your purpose is genuinely quotation, criticism or review
  2. The work you use has been made available to the public
  3. Your use of the copyright work is fair
  4. You credit the copyright holder unless impractical

The quotation exception also requires that the extent of the quotation is no more than required by the purpose for which you are using it. You should therefore be selective in the amount that you quote.

What is "fair dealing"?

In seeking to take advantage of these fair dealing exceptions, there is no statutory definition of what is or isn't fair. Based on the existing case law, the website usefully advises:

"Ultimately, for your use of someone else’s material to be fair, it should not conflict with the way in which they normally exploit their work. So, when thinking about whether your use is fair, ask yourself if your use of the copyright material is or would be in commercial competition with the copyright owner."