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A Simple Introduction to Copyright

Guidelines No. 6         Issue 1.02         June 2007

What is Copyright?

Economic rights: Copyright is a form of property. It can be bought and sold, assigned, bequeathed or given away. It is created when a literary, dramatic, artistic or musical work is put into a fixed form for the first time. It is aimed at protecting the interests of the creator by restricting reproduction of the work in any form without consent. In principle it applies equally to publication in electronic form. It exists in the form of the work, not in the content, so reproducing an article in the same words is a breach of copyright whereas reproducing the ideas is plagiarism.

Moral rights: Moral rights apply to the author as a person. They comprise the right to attribution (i.e. to be identified as the author); the right to object to wrongful attribution; and the right of integrity (i.e. the right to object to changes to the work).

Types of Copyright

Author's copyright: This runs for 70 complete years after the author's death (i.e. from the end of the year in which the author dies). It prevents anyone from publishing substantial extracts without the copyright owner's consent.

Publisher's copyright: This runs for 25 years from publication. It subsists in the format of the article, that is, the page layout.

Illustrations: These can have separate copyright, as, for example, when an extract from a current Ordnance Survey map is included in an article. Copyright in OS maps runs for 50 years from publication, so you would need permission to reprint an extract from a current edition. For photographs, line drawings, etc., the rules are as for author's copyright: expiry is 70 full years after death.

Does it apply to the Internet?

Publishing on the Internet is the same as publishing in a journal or book as far as copyright is concerned. Copyright owner's consent is required before putting substantial extracts on the Internet - including substantial extracts from other websites.

It is not a breach of copyright to make a single copy of an article for the purpose only of private study and research; so downloading for that purpose from a website is permitted.


The Government Intellectual Property Site has a lot of detailed information at:

as does The Patent Office Site at:

Copyright matters in respect of oral histories are discussed at:

Further Reading:

Cornish, G.P. Understanding copyright in a week, Hodder & Stoughton 2000

Flint, M.F. & Fitzpatrick, N. User's guide to copyright. Butterworths 2000

Padfield, T. Copyright for archivists and users of archives. Public Record Office 2001

The British Photographers Liaison Committee. The ABCD of photographic copyright 1999

Wienand, P. et al. A guide to copyright for museums and galleries. Routledge 2000

Trubshaw, Bob. How to write and publish local history. 1999

Feedback on these notes will be welcomed. Please send them to the Author at Chairman. [top]