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Library Guides

Copyright for Researchers: Introduction

This guide provides guidance on copyright matters for researchers


This copyright guide is aimed at researchers at the University of Westminster who are creating and sharing research outputs, such as journal articles, creative works or data as part of their research activities, whether funded externally or as part of their substantive role. It discusses using other people’s content (publications, data or other intellectual property) and when you might need to obtain licences or permission to use their work. It is particularly important to read this guide before you add your research and /or creative outputs to the VRE: Repository to enable sharing in the institutional open access repository WestminsterResearch.

The guide considers a number of other related issues including the relevant copyright exceptions that may apply when you are undertaking non-commercial research, identifying openly licensed content including datasets, adding Creative Commons Licences to your work and copyright issues and social media. It also includes three case studies of copyright issues associated with research and sources of further help and advice.

Disclaimer: The guide in no way substitutes for formal legal advice. If you are in any doubt or require further information we recommend you consult the sources of further advice at the end of this guide. 

What is copyright and why does it matter?

Researchers create a whole variety of copyright works, through the data they generate, the papers they write and other creative outputs they may produce such as works of art or computer software. The need for researchers to understand copyright is now particularly important because of the requirement to deposit research outputs and data sets on open access, following funding mandates from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

In the UK, the relevant copyright legislation is the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. While researchers do not need to be familiar with the legislation in detail, this guide provides you with an accessible but practically focused guide to the aspects of copyright law that might impact on you.

Some of the examples of when it’s important to understand copyright include: 

  • When you are using other people’s creative work (and data) protected by copyright.
  • When you create your own works (and underlying data) that qualify for protection and need to understand what protection your work is awarded.
  • When you work collaboratively with colleagues either at the University of Westminster or other organisations.
  • When you are asked to sign contracts or licence agreements by organisations funding your research.

Open access

As a researcher you will also need to understand the requirements for open access when you deposit your work or data in the institutional repository or when you publish your research such as in books and journals. You can find out more from our Open Access page

open access logo

How does copyright relate to other forms of intellectual property?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property right that gives the creator of a work certain exclusive rights, such as the ability to copy a work, to publish the work or to share it on a network. Copyright typically lasts for 70 years after the death of an author although this varies depending on the type of content. In contrast to trademarks and patents, provided a work qualifies for protection, copyright arises in a work as soon as it is created, so there is no requirement to register your copyright. There is a relatively low bar for a work to qualify for copyright protection; it needs to be original and fixed and to fall into a category of works specified in law including: literary, artistic, musical works, sound recordings, film, broadcasts etc. For further information on copyright basics we suggest you consult our Library guide on Copyright.

Depending on the nature of your research, your work may also qualify for protection under database rights, performance rights or design rights. If it is an invention then you may seek to protect it using other intellectual property laws, such as by applying for a trademark or patent. These will need to be registered and there are specific checks you need to undertake before applying for such protection. If you need further advice about other aspects of intellectual property then please contact

Other guides

This guide should be read in conjunction with the following other guides that cover specific related areas:‚Äč

Credits and disclaimer

With thanks to Dr Jane Secker for authoring this guide © Jane Secker and licenced for re-use under Creative Commons  creative commons non commerical

Disclaimer: The guide in no way substitutes for formal legal advice. If you are in any doubt or require further information we recommend you consult the sources of further advice at the end of this guide.