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Rights, licenses and access metadata


It’s vital that rights management information such as copyright and other intellectual property rights, data classifications and access conditions are recorded because these all have an impact on how your files are managed long term, who has access to them and under what conditions. If we don’t have this information is very difficult to make the material available to anyone at all.

Data Classification

An organisation’s information needs to be classified in order to protect itself from the consequences of breaches of confidentiality, failures of integrity, interruption to availability and failure to comply with legal requirements. The University of Warwick has developed advice on classifying informationLink opens in a new window as part of its Information Governance Policy suiteLink opens in a new window.

Copyright and other Intellectual Property Rights

Intellectual Property Rights refer to the broad range of legal rights designed to protect creativity, innovation and invention.


Copyright is an intellectual property right that is designed to protect creators of an original work. Certain copyright exceptions and expiration periods differ depending on the nature of the resource; whether it is classed as a literary work, a sound recording, a film or a database for example.

  • It is automatically assigned at the point the material is in a fixed state (written or recorded), meaning creators do not need to register their work in order to be protected.
  • At its heart, copyright provides creators with exclusive control over how their work can be exploited. This may extend to restricting the unauthorised copying, modification or publishing of their material.
  • If multiple creators of a work exist (i.e. two or more authors, for example) then copyright is assigned to all of the creators.
  • If people want to reuse your material and you are the copyright owner you will need to grant them permission. You might want to consider giving the material a licence if you want people to use and reuse it.
  • Copyright can be transferred (sold or bequeathed) in writing by means of an assignment document.
  • For materials created under the terms of employment, it is legally the employer who owns the copyright unless the copyright has been assigned back to the employee.
  • Contractors who create a resource on behalf of an institution own the copyright of their work unless this is assigned to the institution as part of the agreement.
  • Copyright expires after a certain period of time depending upon the nature of the resource:
    • 70 years for a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work - most papers, reports and research outputs fall within this category.
    • 50 years from the end of the year created or, if published, 70 years from the end of the year it as published for sound recordings.
    • 70 years for films.
    • 50 years for broadcasts.
    • 25 years for typographical arrangements or published editions.
    • 125 years from the date of creation or 50 years from the date of publication for Crown and Parliamentary material.
  • Copyright exceptions exist. For information on these exceptions please consult the guidance from the Intellectual Property OfficeLink opens in a new window.

Moral Rights

A Moral Right is an intellectual property right designed to protect the creator(s) artistic integrity with regards to their work. Essentially a Moral Right refers to:

  • The right of the author of a work to be acknowledged as the author or creator.

  • The right of the author to object to false attribution.

  • The right not to have his or her work subjected to ‘derogatory' treatment.

  • For the subjects of domestic or private still and moving images; restricting the subsequent use of such images beyond the purposes for which they were originally taken, without the consent of the subjects.

Within the digital world Moral Rights are important because of the ease in which digital material can be modified and shared.

  • Moral rights cannot be transferred but can be waived or bequeathed.
  • Moral rights typically last the same amount of time as copyright.
  • Normally, moral rights are not afforded to staff who create material during the course of their employment.

Publication Rights

A Publication Right offers protection to those publishing, for the first time, previously unpublished material that has fallen outside of copyright.

  • A publication right offers broadly the equivalent protection as copyright but expires after 25 years.

Database Rights

A Database Right offers protection to creators who have made a substantial investment to obtain, verify and present content.

  • In order for a database right to apply there must be originality in the selection or arrangement of the contents.
  • Database rights exist automatically at the point of creation, i.e. there is no need to register the database for rights to exist.
  • A database may be protected by both a database right as well as copyright (literary and artistic works).
  • Database rights expire after 15 years, however, if the database is published during this period, rights exist 15 years after publication.
  • Many databases are collections of copyrighted materials - compilers should be conscious of clearing copyright for those copyrighted materials held within the database.

Performers' Rights

A Performers Right affords protection to performers for their performances, including rights in any recordings, films or broadcasts of their performances. Specifically this refers to rights associated with the reproduction, distribution, lending and availability of performances as well as rights over copies made.

  • A 'performance' is defined as being:
    • a dramatic performance
    • a musical performance
    • a reading of a literary work
    • a performance of a variety act or similar
  • In many cases the performance may be of a copyrighted work. The performers' rights will be an addition to the rights of the copyright holders.
  • Performance rights exist for 50 years from the date of recording. However, if the recording is first published within this period, protection of the right continues for an additional 50 years.
  • Those with material containing performances within their collection should be mindful of performers' rights.


If you want to encourage people to use and reuse your material or perhaps if you want to control how people use your material you might want to consider a licence. Creative commons licences are widely used for creative works (eg photographs) but there are a whole range of others available for other types of material – there is more advice available on our managing research data page. The Open Data Institute also produces guidance on data licencesLink opens in a new window.


It is important to document the type of information illustrated above as it will help to control ownership, especially where collections have been created from a variety of sources, and make sure you are credited for your files. It will also make sure data isn't published to the open web when it would not be appropriate to do so.


  • If you work for an organisation they may wish you to classify documents or data so that it is clear how it can or can’t be shared - the University of Warwick has an Information Classification schemeLink opens in a new window (part of the University's Information Security Framework).
  • Record the copyright and other intellectual property owners - have you used 3rd-party images from the web?
  • Obtain written rights clearance for any materials used that include others' intellectual property rights, ideally at the date of creation.
  • Consider using a licence so that it is clear how others can use your material.