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Copyright and royalty-free content

Please note that this guidance applies to work by staff and students.

Strictly speaking we all need to comply with copyright law when communicating digitally or creating digital resources - regardless of the fact we are doing so for educational purposes (there is no blanket exception), or only sharing our productions with a closed audience. It is OK for an individual to make copies of other people's work for "research or private study" (meaning private), but that does not extend to publishing those copies electronically beyond one's own notes. This does not mean you can't use other people's material without their express permission. There are legal exceptions, and ways to do this creatively (see below).

Students should be especially wary of copyright when producing digital works that may later be used in a portfolio shared with potential employers. Flagrant breach of copyright gives a bad impression, and in some professions, is definitely unacceptable. So we all need to understand how copyright works, what we can do within its limitations, and how we can access royalty-free copyright cleared content (images, music, video).

Quick guidance

Use the links on the right of this page (or below if using a small display) to get to sources of royalty-free cleared content. But remember to acknowledge the creator of the content when you use it.

You can also use an insubstantial part of a whole work (e.g. a screenshot, a short sound sample or video clip, or a small lower quality image) if, and only if, you are critically evaluating the work itself. This does not include using the sample as decoration, incidental illustration or music.

Also note that there are varying expiry dates relating to historical materials:

Type of work How long copyright usually lasts
Written, dramatic, musical and artistic work 70 years after the author’s death
Sound and music recording 70 years from when it’s first published
Films 70 years after the death of the director, screenplay author and composer
Broadcasts 50 years from when it’s first broadcast
Layout of published editions of written, dramatic or musical works 25 years from when it’s first published

So quote as much Shakespeare as you want, the guy's been dead for a long time, but avoid copying any distinctive formatting or layout from editions under 25 years old.

Understand copyright

Fortunately, copyright is quite easy to understand, as it is quite restrictive.

Copyright concerns original works, where one or more people have contributed their efforts to produce a physical or digital artefact with originality (the amount of originality that counts for this is a grey area). These creators, and no one else, owns the right to create digital or physical copies. They can if they wish then license others, by contract, to make copies or to further license others to make copies. They might even offer their work to be used freely under a scheme such as Creative Commons. The University is also a member of a scheme run by the Copyright Licensing Agency, which allows limited digital copying for teaching purposes. This is not a blanket exemption.

There are various levels of availability under such schemes. In every case, when using someone else's work, always state the owner (for example in a caption under the image).

When someone creates an artefact as part of their job, they may be contractually obliged to cede ownership to their employer.

Artists, especially photographers, may license other companies to control the distribution of their works (stock photography companies work in this way). These companies collect royalties from people who have used the works with or without permission.

If you infringe someone's copyright they can demand financial compensation.

Sources of royalty-free and copyright cleared content

Copyright free: you don't have to pay to use this content at all.

Royalty free: you might have to pay to download, but you don't have to pay each time you use it.

Apple users: iMovie comes with some useful free music and sound effects.

Pixabay - photos, illustrations, vectors, videos, and music.

Unsplash - images.

Pexels - images and video.

Bensound - a mix of copyright free and royalty free music.