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Digital skills: succeeding in a digital world
Digital skills: succeeding in a digital world

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4.2 Copyright responsibilities

Given the ease with which online material can be reused, whether it belongs to you or someone else, it is very important to be aware of the implications for copyright owners and users.

Copyright holders

The copyright holder is usually the person who has created an original work. This might be a picture, photograph, song, text or a piece of software. As long as it is saved in a fixed form, they control the rights to that content. As you’ve already discovered, the author’s rights are automatic from the time the work is created.

If you create something entirely original yourself and are therefore the copyright holder, it is often a good idea to record ownership of the work. You can do this by using the copyright symbol, ©, on the work itself, for example ‘© Jane Bloggs (date)’. You should also consider in what ways you would allow use of your work without asking for your permission. You can add this to your work using Creative Commons licences for example. It is a good idea to add on your contact details so that users can contact you to request permission which is not covered.

Copyright users

If, however, you use someone else’s original work, you are then a copyright user. It’s easy to find material online, but just because you find it online, you should not assume that you have the permission of the copyright owner to reuse it. Unless the rightsowner has specified permission on their work, you will need to seek permission to copy it and share it online or distribute it further.

As a copyright user, you have the responsibility to:

  • contact the copyright owner to ask permission to reuse their material, unless a permission exists on their work such as a Creative Commons licence to copy and share their work
  • credit the original creator of the work in the form of an acknowledgement. This will state the name of the work you copied, the author, the url or page numbers (if applicable) and the date of the original publication. There are different styles for doing this, one example is: ‘extract from Burns-Booth, K. (2020) ‘Cheese and lentil slice’, Lavender & Lovage, 25 April [blog]. Available at (Accessed 15 May 2020)

Activity 6 Acknowledging someone else’s work

Timing: 10 mins

Find a photo or extract from an article that you might want to use in a lifestyle blog. Assuming you have managed to contact the owner, how would you acknowledge it?

Have a look at Week 4 Acknowledgements [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] in this course for an example of how to do them.


There are a number of exemptions under copyright law such as Fair Dealing in the UK and Fair Use in the US. These are ‘defences’ which mean that, while there is provision to use content without permission, this use can be challenged by rights owners if they do not agree with the interpretation of Fair Dealing.

Exemptions under Fair Dealing are:

  • criticism, review and parody
  • news reporting
  • personal study and non-commercial research
  • education (personal study and other limited provision).

The exemption for education allows students and academic researchers to access and copy the work of others as long as that original work is properly credited and the use is fair. Students and researchers use a reference list and bibliography to credit the contributions of others in the development of their own ideas. Note that it is not usually considered fair to use a whole work.

Creative Commons licences provide a means for establishing specific rights without the need to contact the copyright owner. This is explained on the next page.