Copyright FAQs for Students

Find out the answers to frequently-asked questions.

Copyright for students

What is copyright?

Copyright gives the creators of original works the right to control how their works can be used.  The following types of work are protected:

  • literary, dramatic and musical works which include web pages, computer programs and lyrics
  • artistic works which include photographs, maps and charts
  • sound recordings, films and broadcasts
  • typographical arrangements of published editions: the way the words are arranged on the page

The person who owns the work and copyright has rights over how it is copied, adapted, distributed, rented or performed.  For more information on copyright and how long it lasts see the Library web page on Copyright Information.

When can I copy materials?

There are a number of exceptions in UK law which allow you to copy protected material without the prior permission of the copyright owner.  There is a ‘fair dealing’ exception which allows you to make a single copy for personal use for private study or research.  The amount which may be copied is not specified but is usually taken to mean one article from a journal issue, or one chapter or up to 5% of a book.

Can I copy materials for coursework and assignments?

In UK copyright law there is a specific exception which allows copying for the purpose of answering examination questions and this includes assessed work that will count towards a final examination mark.  So you can copy material, including images, tables and diagrams, for incorporation in an essay or assignment.  The use must be proportionate and fair, i.e. the extent should be justified by the context.  You must always clearly acknowledge the source or you may be guilty of plagiarism.

How much can I copy from a website?

The Internet makes copying very easy but, unless there is an explicit statement to say otherwise, all material on the web is protected by copyright.  You may make one copy, electronic or print, for your own private study or research in line with the limits set out above. Check the site’s terms and conditions – there is usually a link from the homepage – to see whether you can copy more.   

If you are creating your own website express your ideas in your own words.  Adapting another site’s web pages is a breach of copyright law.  Do not use frames or other forms of display which might give the impression that somebody else’s website is your own work.

What if I want to copy more?

You should ask the owner for permission.  Many copyright owners will be prepared to give permission to students for educational use.  Make clear what you will be using the material for and follow any requirements they make, for example that you indicate the author.  Do not assume that no reply equals consent.

Can I download music from a website?

You must not download music from the web unless the site permits it and you must not take part in file sharing.  Both are breaches of copyright and could have serious consequences for you and for the University.

Who will lose out if I copy without permission?

It could have a serious impact on the income of the author, artist or composer, the publisher, the record or film production company.  Remember copyright law is there to protect people and in the future may protect something you create or produce.

What will happen if I copy too much of someone's work?

Anyone who infringes copyright by copying a protected work without the permission of the copyright owner is committing a serious offence.  If you do this in the course of studying you could be guilty of plagiarism and will be subject to disciplinary action.  Breaching copyright law could ultimately give rise to legal action against you or the University.  This could result in fines or imprisonment under civil and criminal law.

Where can I find out more?

Detailed guidance on copyright, how copyright material can be used lawfully, UK legislation and the various licences held by the University, is available on the Library web pages at Copyright Information.

For further information on copyright compliance please contact the Copyright and Digital Resources Advisor, Gill Dwyer.

Copyright and Digital Resources

For advise contact us at 


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Room: 17 LB 00

Copyright Leaflet

Where we are

University Library, George Edwards Building,  University of Surrey,  Guildford,  Surrey GU2 7XH,  United Kingdom T: +44 (0)1483 689235 F: +44 (0)1483 689500

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