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Copyright guidance

Assistance with matters relating to copyright for Edinburgh Napier University staff and students

What is copyright?

Image of Copycat lionsThe CopyCats say... Copyright is:

  • legislation intended to protect the rights of creators of certain kinds of material 

  • opportunity for them to benefit from their work in any way they wish, for a certain amount of time.

  • automatic, there is no requirement to register works

  • property that can be bought and sold  - 

  • or made freely available to all, e.g. via Creative Commons licences

Copyright subsists in most types of creative work,

e.g. Literature, drama, music, artistic works, textbooks, reports, plans, maps, sound recordings, films, photographs, broadcasts, databases, multimedia productions, websites, computer programs, official publications, 

and also the typographical layouts of published material. 

How long does copyright last?

Generally speaking, in EU countries, copyright lasts until 70 years after the end of the year of the death of (all) the creators of the material. If the author is unknown, then 70 years from publication date.

  • Some Crown copyright material is only covered for 50 years, and some things have no copyright at all. For more information see the section below on Copying Official Publications. 
  • Ordnance Survey maps over 50 years old are out of copyright.
  • For sound recordings, copyright generally lasts for 70 years from the end of the year of release.
  • For broadcasts, 50 years from the end of the year in which it is first broadcast (but could be longer depending on the content of the broadcast).
  • The typographical layout of printed works is usually protected for 25 years from the end of the year of publication.

Copying Official Publications

Official publications cover a wide range of materials created by international, national, federal or regional governmental bodies.

UK Parliamentary Papers

The House of Commons, House of Lords and Scottish Parliament encourage you to use materials made avaialble by them, in which copyright or database right subsists.

This does not cover:

  • the Crowned Portcullis
  • images featured on Art in Parliament
  • Parliamentary Archives
  • parliamentary photographic images
  • live and archive video or audio broadcasts

The Open Parliament Licence applies to material made available in hard copy or electronically. It also applies to material owned by the Houses of Parliament and published before 1 August 1989 in which Crown copyright subsists.

For the UK Parliament see the Open Parliament Licence information pages for more details.

For the Scottish Parliament see their Policy on use of SPCB Copyright Material for more details.


Crown Copyright

Crown copyright covers material created by civil servants, ministers and government departments and agencies. This includes legislation, government codes of practice, Ordnance Survey mapping, government reports, official press releases, government forms and many public records.

Crown copyright lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which it was first commercially published. However if it was not published within 75 years from the year of creation, the copyright period will be 125 years.

See the National Archives Crown Copyright pages for more detailed information.


Non-UK Oficial Publications

  • Unless there is a statement to the contrary, the publications of other governments and the EU should be treated as if they were commercial publications so our general guidance on copyright periods applies.
  • The US Government however claims no copyright in its own publications so it is generally accepted that US Government Printing Office publications are open documents.

Who owns copyright?

Copyright is normally owned by the creators of the material unless they have chosen to transfer it to someone else, e.g. a publisher or a recording company. It can be very complicated to work out who owns all the copyrights in multimedia works, but here are some broad guidelines as to who might be involved:

  • Books = normally authors or editors, but could be publisher or employer of author. Note that the publisher also has copyright in the type layout of printed works
  • Journal articles = could be author, but often the journal publisher, as transfer of copyright may be a condition of publication
  • Photographs = photographer since 1989, or owner of negatives before that
  • Databases = maker, or employer of maker
  • Films = producer and principal director, but there will be separate copyrights in music, screenplay, dialogue etc.
  • Broadcasts = person making broadcast, or employer
  • Sound recordings = normally the producer has the rights to the recording, but performers, composers, and lyric writers may also have rights.
  • Multimedia productions = very complicated, could be writers, performers, producers, composers, choreographers etc.


Do I own the copyright in things I have created while studying or working at Edinburgh Napier University?  

If you are a student:

you normally own the copyright in your own work.  The only exceptions might be if the work was created for an external funder, or paid for by the university, or if you have signed an agreement that allows the university to use it.

If you are a member of staff or a researcher:

Works created as part of your job may well be owned by your employer. However, publication in an academic journal may require you to transfer copyright to the journal publisher, and Edinburgh Napier University may agree to this. If in doubt, check with the university's Research and Innovation Office.

What can go wrong?

  • Copyright is infringed when a substantial part of a work is copied without permission.
  • This could be copying more than is permitted for personal purposes, or distributing further copies to others without permission.
  • Copying includes photocopying, photographing, electronic copying (including storage of the work in electronic form), converting to a different format, tele-facsimile (fax) and even copying by hand!
  • Bear in mind that the creator of the work has the right to restrict access to their work if they wish to. Consider how you might feel if someone else used your work to make money or to pass off as their own.  You might not mind, but that is your choice, and if your livelihood depended on this work you might be very upset by it.

Image of cross Siamese cat

Where can I find out more?

If you would like to know more about the background to copyright, please consult up-to-date books in the library, or official websites on copyright. The following are useful places to check.

  • Paul Pedley: Practical copyright for library and information professional. London, Facet Publishing, 2015
  • Jane Secker & Chris Morrison: Copyright and e-learning: a guide for practitioners. London, Facet Publishing, 2016
  • CopyrightUser  -   an online resource aimed at making UK copyright law accessible to creators, media professionals, entrepreneurs, students, and members of the public. They aim to inform creators about how to protect their work, how to license and exploit it, and how to legally re-use the work of others. Includes videos and case studies.

Check LibrarySearch for more books on copyright, and Westlaw for current copyright legislation.

The principal legislation for Copyright in the UK is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, (which has since been augmented by a number of Statutory Instruments and case law), and the EU Directive on Copyright 2001/29/EC, in force Oct 2003. There have been some important extensions in 2014.  The full text of these documents may be consulted via Westlaw (find this via LibrarySearch, Databases).
There seems to be no single official document which incorporates all the subsequent changes to the act, but the UK Intellectual Property Office has produced a useful page on Intellectual Property Copyright which pulls together all the information about the Copyright Acts and related laws​.