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University of York Library
Library Subject Guides

Copyright: a Practical Guide

For Students (Undergraduates and PGTs)

Copying for private study

UK copyright law permits anyone to copy from a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for your own private study,  providing you are accessing the original legally, and your use is "fair dealing" (see below).

Printing, photocopying or scanning, ripping or downloading, screen capture, photography or filming, audio recording and transcribing are all regulated by copyright law.

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It is your responsibility to avoid infringing copyright when using University of York equipment to print, photocopy or scan.


You can also ask a librarian or archivist to make a copy for you, although you may be required to sign a declaration that you are not infringing copyright, and you may be charged to cover costs.  At York the Borthwick Institute for Archives offers a staffed copying service for material in their collections, including the University's Rare Books and local history sources.

Your lecturer does not have an automatic right to make copies for students.  For information about what lecturers are allowed to copy,  see the Course Reading and Teaching tabs.


If you have a disability which makes it difficult for you to work with material in its original format, and there's no accessible version available, you are entitled to copy the whole work into a different format which you can access more easily, or ask someone else to copy it for you. The Library offers:

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How much copying is "fair"?


Start from the principle that your copying shouldn't undermine the rights-holder's market for their work, i.e. it doesn't substitute for purchasing/paying to view the original.

Just because you have accessed the original free-of-charge, don't conclude that copyright doesn't apply:  the rights-holder has chosen to make their material available to everyone, but not necessarily to allow other people to re-use it.

 Probably fair       Probably not fair   

Photocopying a few pages from a library book

Selling your photocopy to another student

Downloading an article from an e-journal to read offline

Emailing the file to a friend at another university

Snipping a photo from a website to include in an assignment

Using the photo to illustrate your own blog

Clip art depicting a tombstone engraved with R I PIn most countries, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator.  But a publisher or distributor who re-issues older material (for instance, a new edition of a Victorian novel, or a digital copy of a Renaissance painting) may be entitled to claim copyright in the new version, to protect their investment.

Assessed work (including dissertations)

Clip art depicting a cardboard archive box, opened, with pages of a document visible insideIn the UK, it's legal for students to reproduce a "fair" amount of copyright material in classroom activities or assessments, for the attention of classmates, tutors, and examiners. Don't forget to attribute your source!


  • Unless you've been asked to submit a portfolio of your sources for your assessors,  try to avoid making copies of published material (book chapters, journal articles and more) simply to give them to other people - share the link or the reference instead.

  • Reproducing a modest amount of somebody else's published work in the form of a fully referenced quote or a low-resolution or cropped image does not infringe their copyright. If you want to incorporate a more substantial amount of copyrighted material, such as a poem, artwork or hi-res photo in its entirety, consider the risk: is it possible that the rights-holder could discover that their work has been used in this way and raise an objection? If so, then you can try contacting them for permission.

  • The captions for any images you reproduce should provide information about the image and its source in accordance with your department's preferred referencing style. You should also identify the rights-holder (e.g. "Copyright © University of York"), reiterate any copyright statements or licensing terms indicated at the source (e.g. "All rights reserved", or "This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License") and state whether you have obtained any necessary permissions to use the image. 

Student work submitted for assessment at the University of York becomes the property of the University (Regulation 5.5.h), although the copyright may be retained by the student in some circumstances (Regulation 12.2.1). 

If your work will be made available to future students by your department (for instance, a dissertation in York Digital Library), you should be particularly careful to respect other people's copyright when reproducing and attributing their material.

If you intend to share your assessed work with a wider audience, bear in mind that you will be increasing your risk of facing a claim for any unlicensed reproduction of other people's material.  Also take steps to protect your own copyright.


For advice about managing copyright in your PhD or Masters thesis, see the Research tab.


Students are able to perform music or drama, play recorded music, or screen a film or TV broadcast, for an educational activity, without infringing copyright in the UK. These performances would only be open to relevant students and staff, and if needed, to external examiners. The law does not cover inviting a non-University audience, charging for tickets, or recording the performance.

To show a film, stage a theatrical performance or play music at a student society event, open lecture or other extra-curricular activity, you will need to apply for a licence from the appropriate agency.

Further help

UK higher education IT specialists Jisc created a concise and comprehensive Copyright Guide for Students following the most recent updates to English copyright law in 2014.

The British Library has published a Guide to Fair Use and Fair Dealing which draws together a number of sources of advice about how much can be copied for private study.

You can also contact your Academic Liaison Librarian if you have any further questions not addressed in this guide.