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Copyright and licences

Knowing about authors’ rights – both yours and others' – and sharing your work with an open licence helps you make your research more open.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property. Intellectual property gives a person ownership over created works. In the UK the legal framework, including what is protected and for how long, is laid out in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Works protected by copyright include texts (e.g. journal articles, books, screenplays, blog posts, newspaper articles), music, sound recordings, images, films, databases, computer programs, websites, designs, maps – basically any type of original work involving some degree of judgement or skill in its creation.

Why is copyright important?

Copyright law determines both whether and how much you can photocopy, scan, print or download and how much you can reuse in your own research and teaching. It is therefore important to be aware of what you can and cannot do when it comes to using copyrighted materials, to ensure that you remain within the law. Anyone who infringes copyright by copying a protected work without the permission of the copyright owner can be sued for damages.

Copyright law also protects your rights over your own work. By default, your employer (the University) owns the copyright for any work you produce in the course of your contract (e.g., teaching materials, scholarly publications, software and databases).

However, in many cases you retain rights in addition to your moral rights enabling you to publish, re-use and disseminate your own work. For more details, see the University’s Copyright Policy (PDF) and Intellectual Property Code.

Creating copyrighted materials

Open Research is about making your scholarly works – including research publications and data, theses and teaching materials – as open as possible, for others to discover, access and re-use. At the same time, you must consider commercial interests, ethical issues and other factors that affect whether, when and how you can share your outputs. Considering these factors from the start and throughout the research process is essential.

To be able to decide what can be shared you need to be aware of the following:

  • Who owns the copyright to your work
  • What the University and funders expect you to do in terms of sharing or not sharing your outputs
  • How open licences help you define how others can re-use your work.

Using copyrighted materials

This includes lectures, recorded lectures and teaching materials.

Sharing on SurreyLearn

The content below indicates whether you can share various types of materials on SurreyLearn.


The University holds licences and contracts that allow staff and students to copy protected works without having to seek individual copyright holders’ permission. You must observe the relevant terms and conditions.

Copying without permission

Getting permission

With the permission of the copyright holder, you can copy whatever is agreed and make as many copies as agreed. Look on the publisher’s website for information on rights, permissions and clearance. Some websites offer online clearance.

When seeking permission bear in mind the following:

  • Allow plenty of time. It can be difficult to track down the right person and publishers can take several weeks to reply
  • Copyright in films and music is often complex as it may belong to several creators: the screenwriter, the producer, the director, the composer of the soundtrack all have related rights in a film. Similarly, the composer, lyricist, performers and makers of the sound recording all have rights in a work and all rights holders need to give permission for it to be used
  • Be as specific as possible about how you intend to re-use the material. Will it be embedded in a lecture? Will it be posted on the web? How much do you intend to use and why?
  • In your request always state that you will fully acknowledge the source
  • Get permission in writing and keep it for future reference
  • Be aware that the copyright owner may impose conditions and costs

Do not assume that no reply equals consent.