Copyright Exceptions

The University pays for several licences (such as, CLA HE licence, NLA and ERA licences) that allow the use of copyright works under certain conditions.

In addition to these licences, copyright law (under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 CDPA, updated in 2014), also contains several ‘exceptions’ which are particularly relevant to education.

These exceptions, referred to as ‘permitted acts’, allow copyright works to be copied without permission of the copyright holder under limited circumstances. The following conditions must apply:

  • the work must be used solely to illustrate a point
  • the use of the work must not be for commercial purposes
  • there must be sufficient acknowledgement
  • most of the exceptions specify that the use must meet a test of ‘fair dealing’

As you would expect, any materials used under copyright exceptions should be properly acknowledged or attributed to the copyright holder.

Fair Dealing

What constitutes 'Fair Dealing' is not exactly defined in copyright law.  Every case is different, but in general terms, before you use someone else’s work, you need to think about whether your use is fair.  Consider the following questions:

  • How would a fair-minded and honest person use the work?
  • Would the use of the work affect the sales of the original?
  • Have you acquired the material fairly and legally?
  • Is the amount of work to be used reasonable and appropriate for your purpose?

The Exceptions

The following is a summary of the exceptions that are most relevant for educational purposes.

It is based on information from the University of Kent’s Copyright: what you need to know webpage under a CC-BY licence (with thanks to Chris Morrison, Copyright, Software Licensing and IS Policy Manager) and the University of Sheffield’s Copyright Exceptions webpage (with thanks to Sharon Cocker, Learning Resources Manager & Copyright Compliance Officer).

Exception (and section in CDPA)SummaryExamples of usage

Illustration for instruction

Section 32

Teachers and students can use copyright work for teaching or studying – where use is fair.  Includes adding content to examination papers

Use of a reasonable (no more than 5%) amount of text, images, music or video in teaching slides and lecture recordings.

Educational performance

Section 34


You can perform, play or show a work for purposes of instruction in an educational setting.  Members of the public (including parents or friends) cannot be present.

Playing a DVD of an entire film in a class where the film is related to the teaching.

Playing musical sound recordings in class.

Performance of a play in class.

Recording of broadcasts

Section 35

You can record free-to-air broadcasts on behalf of educational establishments for non-commercial purposes. However, the ERA Licence [] takes precedence over this exception.

Record TV and radio broadcasts to play to students (NB check BoB service first)

Research and private study

Section 29

Students and researchers can make a single copy of a copyright work for non-commercial research or private study.  Only a ‘fair’ amount is allowed to be copied.

Making personal copies of extracts from books and journals in order to research a topic for an essay.

Criticism, review, quotation and news reporting

Section 30

Allows anyone to reproduce copyright works for these purposes where it is ‘fair’

Criticism: using low resolution versions of artworks in a thesis in order to discuss an academic theme.

Review: using sentences from a newly published book in order to review it.

Quotation: using a line of poetry as a decorative backdrop for a poetry event.

Accessible copies

Sections 31A-F

Individuals and institutions can provide equal access to copyright works for users with any type of disability.

Making a large print copy of a book for a visually impaired person, so long as the person has lawful access to the original work.


Acknowledgements, further information and reading

University of Sheffield: Copyright exceptions

University of Kent Copyright: what you need to know

Jisc guide – Exceptions to infringement of copyright

Government webpage containing details of the exceptions to copyright that allow limited use of copyright works without the permission of the copyright owner.

Copyright User UK

Paper on ‘Copyright Guidance for Using Films in Online Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, Emily Hudson (King’s College London), August 2020