Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Succeeding in postgraduate study

3.2 What is copyright?

Broadly speaking, copyright is the protection given by law to an author for his or her work. The word ‘author’ refers not only to writers, but also to artists, composers, architects, etc. In addition, the legislation gives protection to people who make any audio or visual recordings or who prepare editions of books, and protection to media broadcasters for their broadcasts. Therefore, copyright is originated by an author, and protects physical forms of the author’s work. Furthermore, copyright owners have the sole right to use their works or to authorise others to use them. Because copyright is technically a form of property, it can be split up and transferred from person to person by gift, sale or licence (or on death). Once it has been transferred, the original author loses ownership – copyright has been ‘passed on’ to another party. ‘Licence’ or ‘licensing’ are terms used to define the permission given by the owner of the IP rights to a third party. The owner may charge a fee for granting the use of a licence and could well impose terms and conditions on its use as part of the licence.

In the UK, copyright is automatically applied to the expression of an idea. This means that an idea itself does not have copyright protection, but if that idea has been expressed in a piece of writing or music, a design, a sculpture or any other permanent form, then it has copyright. You can find out more at the Intellectual Property Office’s [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] website. Copyright in a work is protected by the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which grants the owner the right to prevent anyone making copies of their work without permission. However, there are some exceptions to copyright when you are studying, as the page on Non-Commercial Research and Private Study explains.

For your academic studies, when referring to other people’s work, as long as you acknowledge your sources, and cite these appropriately, most of what you need to do should be covered by ‘fair dealing’ exceptions, which allow the use of part of a published work for non-commercial research or private study, for criticism or review purposes. However, you should always check additional guidance and regulations provided by the institution where you are studying. For example, The Open University Library requires all users to comply with the ‘Eduserv User Obligations’ when making use of online resources.

Skip Your course resources

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371