25. When can content be used without permission? What is fair dealing?

There are certain specific situations where you may be able to use content without seeking permission from the owner—for example, some instances of quotation, criticism, review and teaching. Exceptions are set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and the IPO has an introductory guide to them.

Some exceptions are subject to ‘fair dealing’. This covers limited situations where the consent of the copyright owner is not required. There is no statutory definition of fair dealing, and it is specific to the facts of each case. It might apply to use of content for private study or non-commercial research, and can only apply when part of a work is used. Users should consider whether the use might affect the value of the original work or the owner’s revenue from it, and if the amount taken is reasonable, appropriate to the context and proportionate: in short would an objective opinion consider it fair?

Copyright exceptions are not straightforward, so IPO guidance should be consulted and legal advice may be needed before relying on one. If in doubt it is safer to obtain the consent of the owner.

26. How much of a work can be copied without infringing copyright?

There is no minimum limit that can be copied, and it shouldn’t be assumed that a small amount of reuse is permitted without consent. Whether or not use is of a substantial part is a qualitative assessment. For example, a couple of lines from a short poem or song might represent a substantial part of the content. If in doubt seek legal advice.

27. What if content has been adapted?

If original content has been substantially altered, permission for its use must be sought from copyright owners of both the original and the adapted work.

28. What if content has been translated?

The translation of content is an adaptation which generates a new copyright, and its owner must grant permission for its use. There is also copyright in the original content, and permission from that owner will be needed too.

29. Can content on the internet be freely used without permission?

No. It is a common misconception that anything on the internet can be used without permission. Content on the internet may not be in the public domain from a copyright point of view, and it may well be protected by copyright. Similar rules apply as those applicable to works in print and other media.

30. What does ‘in the public domain’ mean?

If something is not protected by copyright—perhaps because the copyright period has expired, or because the owner has waived it—it is deemed to be ‘in the public domain’ for copyright purposes. It is sometimes assumed that content is in the public domain just because it can be found on the internet, but this is not the case. It should not usually be used without consent.

31. What is a Creative Commons Licence?

A Creative Commons Licence is a standard form licence that some people use for sharing their work, and to access and build upon the work of others. It is important to remember that copyright ownership still applies, and that users must adhere to the specific conditions of the Licence. Various types of Creative Commons Licences are available, and users need to read them carefully before relying on them. There is more information about the Licences and how they work here.

32. What happens if I can’t find a copyright owner?

This is a common problem, especially for older content. However, difficulties are not in themselves causes for ignoring copyright law. Content in respect of which the author is not known or cannot be found is known as ‘orphan works’. The IPO has a process for granting permission for use of orphan works, details of which can be found here. A diligent search will be required. PLS may be able to help to identify rights holders.