Copyright and the Law in the UK

The main Act in the UK governing copyright is the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

The CDPA 1988 works with earlier Acts such as those of 1911 and 1954 and with later Amendments such as that of 2003. Copyright regulation and law in the UK also works with international treatise such as the Berne Convention’, TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and works to EU directives.

It is important not to read a single sentence or paragraph from the CDPA and infer a meaning for your situation without reading the whole – many of the sections of the  Act are inter-related. The Act pre-dates much of what has become common in e-learning and though it doesn't use current digital terminologies that doesn't mean it doesn't apply to digital use - digital, in the sphere of copyright, isn't different.


 You can read the Copyright Act but don't pick and mix and remember that there are other Acts and other regulation including EU directives that have to be taken account of. However, it is interesting to look at the actual wording of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988 


World View

globe iconCopyright law tends to be similar but not the same country to country. In the UK we have ‘fair dealing’ which allows individual users to use copyright materials for ‘private study’ while in the USA there is ‘fair use’ which is similar but not the same and which permits a wider range of activity.The durations pertaining to copyright also differ country to country as do the laws concerning infringement.

The complexity of the inter-relationship between the services making up the internet make it common for a simple search, discover and use activity to take a user into a number of countries (ISP, hosting of the browser and then the chosen website, hosting of material appearing on the website, location of your learning platform service, etc.) – where does responsibility lie?

A key concept that underpins use of the internet is that while the internet feels like an open place without boundaries it is the laws of the country where you are physically using it that matters in legal terms. In practice this can result in confusions for users because what a website seems to be permitting may be subject to the law of another country, not to yours. ‘Wikipedia’ underlines this issue in it’s rationale for re-use of images when it says“Please be aware that depending on local laws, re-use of this content may be prohibited or restricted in your jurisdiction.“

Flag of european union The UK also has to work with international agreements of different kinds. As a member of the European Union (EU) the UK is required to implement EU law and this dimension plays an important part in how UK copyright law is developing.  Arrangements between licencing agencies in different countries can assist creators, for instance musicians, to collect royalties of the use of their recorded music in other countries.

The development of IPR working within a globally agreed framework is led by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) an agency of the United Nations dedicated to developing a balanced and accessible international intellectual property (IP) system, which rewards creativity, stimulates innovation and contributes to economic development while safeguarding the public interest.”  Of course copyright does not develop alone and there are similar developments in regard to patents and both relate to developments and practice in trade and commerce.

World IP day takes place every year on 26th April.

... and don't forget, "Take care."

A great deal of copyright law has been derived from case law and parliamentary debate – previous cases that have gone to court and been adjudicated on and the debates when new Bills are introduced. While it is interesting to read some of these cases - both the historical ones and more recent ones dealing with copyright and digital technologies – it’s best kept for discussion sessions – don’t rely on something you’ve read as a basis for a school policy or as a defence against a possible complaint about copyright infringement. Seek professional advice.

Copyright Infringement

 Copyright can be ‘infringed’ if a work is copied, adapted, published or exploited or distributed without the permission of the copyright owner.

 The Moral Rights of a creator can be infringed ifa work is wrongly attributed or used in a derogatory way.


 Copyright infringement might be dealt with through a take-down letter which would ask you to remove the infringing material and this has happened to schools with materials hosted on both locally and internationally managed websites. A demand for compensation could be made or a civil action initiated.  Technologies such as embedded watermarking in images and fingerprinting music are already in use by copyright owners and web hosting organisations to track and identify infringement. Examples of disclaimer and take-down letters are provided in Module 4.

 Schools should minimise the risk of infringement by understanding how copyright works in the digital age, providing a wide range of resources which have permissions for education use, knowing how to search for usable materials, requesting permissions from owners for special items and being prepared not to use materials if permissions or purchase of a licence is not a viable option. More on Risk Management in Module 3

 Schools should be aware that many companies and publishers are using technical means to protect their materials with asset identity systems, search and find systems, metadata and 'dna' marking. Some of these systems are becoming available to small publishers and the public. An increasing number of countries - for instance USA, New Zealand, Hong Kong - have 'three strikes' type regulations in place to reduce P2P (peer-to-peer) and other forms of mass downloading - particularly of music and film.