Copying for Learning and Research

Copying for personal use is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) which permits limited copying for learning and research.

Copying for personal use – is it legal?

Copying more than an insubstantial amount of a copyright work is unlawful unless:

  • you have the copyright owner’s permission

or: -

  • the copying you want to do is permitted by an exception in the CDPA

The owner’s permission may be given by licence, for example a Creative Commons licence, or by seeking express permission.


  • Copying for non-commercial research or private study

    An exception to the prohibition on copying a substantial amount of work is given in CDPA s 29. It permits copying work for research for a non-commercial purpose or for private study, providing it is:

    • fair dealing with the work
    • accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, except where impractical

    Non-commercial research is that which is not for direct or indirect economic advantage.  Commercial research would probably include, for example, research for the production of commercial training materials; research for paying clients; research for a book for which payment will be received.  Similarly, private study excludes any study which is directly or indirectly for a commercial purpose. 

    There is no precise definition of what dealing would be fair, but important considerations would be (i) the proportion of the original that is copied, ie, not more than is absolutely necessary, and (ii) whether the copying competes with a use the rights owner might make.  Generally accepted limits are one chapter of a book and journal article per issue. 

    A suitable acknowledgement would include the author's name and the title of the work.

  • Copying in your assessed work

    A major exception in the CDPA (s. 32) permits fair dealing with a work for the sole purpose of illustration for instruction, provided it is: 

    • for a non-commercial purpose
    • by a person preparing for or giving or receiving instruction (including setting and answering examination questions)
    • accompanied by an acknowledgement, except where impractical 

    Illustration is not defined, but is likely to be interpreted to mean a copy can be used to illustrate or reinforce a point, but not for decorative purposes.

    This exception covers course work, dissertations and theses, but ceases to be relevant when such work is made freely available on the internet via an institutional repository.  If you upload your thesis to Lancaster’s institutional repository, you will need to consider the status of third party copyright material such as images, charts and more extensive quotations in your work.  In general you will need to seek the copyright owner’s consent to include this material, or remove it from the online version, unless it is covered by a licence or a further exception in the CPDA, such as fair dealing for quotation or criticism and review.

  • Fair dealing for quotation

    An exemption in the CDPA (s. 30) permits fair dealing with a quotation from a work that has been made available to the public, provided that the extent of the quotation is no more than necessary for the specific purpose for which it is used and is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.

  • Fair dealing for criticism and review

    A further exemption in the CDPA (s. 30) permits acknowledged fair dealing for this purpose with works that have been made available to the public.  Criticism and review has been interpreted widely by the courts to cover the quality, style, thoughts, themes and social and moral implications of a work, but not, for example, the author’s general conduct. 

    For more information on copyright and theses, including a sample permissions letter, see the Theses web pages.

  • Copying for text and data analysis

    Following changes to the law in June 2014 (CDPA s. 29A), it is now permissible to copy works to which one has legal access (eg via the Library's subscription to an electronic package) to enable data and text mining for non-commercial research.  This would cover, for example, creating a corpus of language materials.

  • Copying for disabled people

    The CDPA allows disabled people or those acting on their behalf to make accessible copies of works to which they have lawful access, providing suitable accessible copies are not commercially available, so that they can enjoy the work to the same degree as a person without the disability.