Exceptions to UK Copyright law

UK copyright law (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) defines a number of exceptions, in the form of permitted acts.

These allow you limited use of copyright works for specific purposes without the permission of the copyright owner. Most have conditions and are subject to a 'fair dealing' assessment.

Fair dealing

'Fair dealing' is a legal term used to establish whether use of a copyright work is lawful, or whether it infringes copyright. It requires that any copying does not impact on the rights holder and you only copy as much as is necessary for the purpose.

There is no legal definition of fair dealing – it is a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case. The question to be asked is 'How would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?

How much can you copy?

There is no precise answer, but a good rule is to keep it short. The amount you copy must be reasonable and justifiable for the purpose. 

When determining whether copying is 'fair', factors to consider include:

  • Is the amount of the work taken reasonable and appropriate? Was it necessary to use the amount that was taken?

This relates to quality as well as quantity. So for example, if you were to copy the final summary of a report this may only be a paragraph, but it would be an important and significant part of the work. This is unlikely to be regarded as fair.

  • Was the copying done for the purpose of the exception it was done under?
  • Does using the work affect the market for the original work? If using a work substitutes or competes with it, causing the owner to lose revenue, then it is unlikely to be fair
  • Has full acknowledgement been given to the copied material e.g. proper citations and referencing? The only exception may be situations where attribution would be impossible for practical reasons.

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Exceptions for study, research and teaching

Non-commercial research and private study (Section 29 CDPA)

This covers copying of all types of works for your own private study or non-commercial research. This means that, as students or researchers, you can make a single copy of a short extract from a work e.g. photocopy an extract from a book to read for an assignment. You may not make multiple copies, or share the extract with others. 

Copying is subject to fair dealing. The amount that you can copy under fair dealing is not defined in legislation, but as a rule of thumb, safe limits for this exception are likely to be:

  • one chapter from a book
  • one article from a single issue of a journal
  • one paper from one set of conference proceedings
  • one short story or one poem, not exceeding 10 pages in length, from an anthology
  • one case from a report of judicial proceedings

Text and data mining for non-commercial research (Section 29A CDPA)

This allows the copying of a work in order to analyse text and data, by automated/computational techniques, to identify patterns, trends and other information.

You must already have lawful access to the source, e.g. through a personal or institutional subscription. Any analysis must only be for the purposes of non-commercial research.

Publishers and content providers will be able to apply reasonable measures to maintain their network security or stability. These measures should not prevent, or unreasonably restrict, your ability to carry out analysis. Contract terms that stop researchers making copies to carry out text and data mining will be unenforceable.


Criticism, review and quotation (Section 30 CDPA)

This exception covers two distinct uses:

  • Criticism or review - allows the use of short extracts or quotations for the purposes of critique and review. Use must be genuinely for this purpose and not for illustrative or enhancement purposes.
  • Quotation - allows the use of quotations for purposes other than criticism and review. The length of a quote should not be more than is needed for the specific purpose of use. 

Both permit the use of limited extracts of any type of copyright work provided the work has been made available to the public e.g. published. The amount you can use is subject to a fair dealing test and you must acknowledge the source.

What is 'fair' will vary with circumstances. You should read the guidance on fair dealing provided above. JISC (2014) also advises that in respect of criticism and review it may be relevant to consider the following:

  • "The length and importance of the quotation(s)
  • The amount quoted in relation to the commentary
  • The extent to which the work competes with or rivals the work quoted.
  • The extent to which the use is commercial rather than academic"

Illustration for instruction (Section 32 CDPA)

All types of copyright works can be copied for the purposes of illustration when teaching. Copying must be done by the person giving, or receiving instruction and be non-commercial in purpose.

Fair dealing applies, so your copying is restricted to a small amount and must illustrate a teaching point. Acknowledgement of the source must be given. Any form of copying can be used and material can be included on interactive whiteboards, presentations and Moodle.

This provision includes copying for examination. Copying under this exception is now subject to fair dealing, so only small amounts can be used and acknowledgement must be made where practicable. This applies to both setting and answering examinations/assessment. Answering an examination question might include writing a dissertation or thesis in order to meet the requirements of a qualification.


Accessible copies (Section 31A-31F CDPA)

This allows the creation of accessible copies of copyright works by or for a disabled person for personal use. It covers any type of work. A copy of the work should already be owned by the person or institution. An accessible copy must not be available for purchase at a reasonable cost.

The University has an Alternative Format Service that can produce accessible course materials. Please contact Academic Support in the first instance for more assistance.


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Other exceptions

In addition to the exceptions already listed, there are other permitted uses of copyright materials, including:

  • Fair dealing for the purposes of parody, caricature and pastiche
  • Fair dealing for the purposes of news reporting
  • Library privilege – copying on behalf of customers for non-commercial research and study e.g. interlibrary loans
  • Libraries and Archives – copying for preservation or replacement, or making works available on dedicated terminals

The Intellectual Property Office provides more information about these and other exceptions.

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This guidance incorporates and adapts material from the following source:

Intellectual Property Office (2014) Exceptions to copyright.  Contains public sector information licensed under Open Government Licence v3.0

Quotation from:

JISC (2014) Exceptions to Infringement of Copyright, Copyright Law [Online]



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