Reading text books, searching on the web, working with Interactive Whiteboards, watching videos, listening to music. And of course the same applies to being out of school - working at home or on a school trip. You are a 'copyright consumer'.
It is OK to copy and keep many copyright materials for 'personal' study without asking for permission; that's the law in UK and most countries. This applies to anyone, anywhere and anytime - not just in school. BUT (and it's a big BUT) two things:
Personal Study + Exceptions + School Licences pretty much covers students and pupils for their personal study needs - but not sharing, putting on the web, re-using, etc.
Copyright isn't straightforward ...
One thing that applies to everything. If you use other people's work (quotations, images, socund clips - anything you've copied) acknowledge it! Acknowledging your sources helps with copyright and schoolwork.
In the UK there are also some special 'exceptions' in the copyright laws for learners in education, which lets you use materials for learning without getting special permissions. See Section 2 - 'Exceptions' - if you want more details.
The school has licences - most of which they pay for - which let you use software and learning materials they provide for you.
The school also has blanket licences - most of which they pay for - so you can watch recorded broadcasts, listen to recorded music, watch movies after school and photo-copy and scan small sections from books and magazines and photo-copy newspapers. The school also gets special licences if it is putting on a musical or a carol service open to the public - and parents and friends count as public!
There is a huge amount of material - from museums, libraries, the NEN, etc. - that allow education use of their materials without you having to ask for special permission.
There is a growing amount of material on the web that you can use because it has open licences such as 'Creative Commons'.
Materials - such as old materials and some government papers - that are in the public domain do not have copyright restrictions.
The problem comes when you want to:
The other problem is that it all gets very complicated ... In the copyright regulations copying from books isn't the same rule as as it is for films. Some websites encourage personal study without restriction but if you want to download the materials you have to pay. Even where the terms and conditons allow education use each website will have it's own version of exactly what that means. Copyright is, unfortunately, complicated :-(
Some copyright owners are concerned about how how their materials might be used or misused if they just said 'OK. You can do what you like', so they take the safety-first position of reserviing the copyrights so if someone does misuse their materials they have recourse to the safeguard of 'copyright infringement'.
Some copyright owners seek a revenue for their materials even though they are 'not-for-profit' businesses; sometimes it's this revenue that helps keep the website going so you can get the stuff free for personal use in the first place.
Some copyright owners business is in the materials and they view unauthorised copying and sharing as an attack on their business and income. The most obvious example of this is peer-to-peer mass distrbution of music and films without permission.
The 'exceptions' and licences together don't cover all the things we want to do these days in school.
However if you want to copy copyright materials or re-use them in your own work the bottom line is that you have to have permission of the copyright owner to copy and re-use or re-distribute their materials. Sometimes the permission is provided on the website or alongside the materials - sometimes you have to write to get permission.
If there is no clear indicator with the materials you want to use or on the website then you have to write off anmd ask for permission; email is usually OK. When you write state clearly what purpose you want to use the materials for and whether it is just for you to hand in as schoolwork or if it will appear on a website and be seen by other people. You could also say how long it is needed for - if it's just for a school year, that may encourage a 'Yes' answer.
However, all sorts of problems can arise from someone not answering you message, saying 'No', asking for a licence fee or taking so long to answer it doesn't fit your needs; i.e. to hand in your homework by next Wednesday or whatever.
On the bright side sometimes people say, 'Yes of course you can.' giving you a feelgood factor and sometimes some extra information.
Permissions - information, guidance and what to put in a letter.