Copyright - an introduction

The purpose of copyright law is to promote the progress of knowledge. It ensures the incentive for the creation of new content by protecting content producers’ rights to benefit from their work. It is of huge benefit to research intensive Universities, their staff and students who are all both consumers of, and creators of, copyright protected material.

In recognition of the fact that educational institutions are integral to society’s efforts to progress knowledge there are certain exceptions in UK law that allow some use of other people’s copyrighted material (3rd party copyright) for the purposes of instruction. In addition to this the University of Sheffield purchases licences that permit the use of 3rd party material for educational purposes.

Copyright law in the UK is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. Copyright is a legal property right; it exists to control the reproduction of intellectual property expressed in a physical form. Ideas in themselves are not covered by copyright, though patent and designs law may protect them. Copyright subsists in:

  • Literary, artistic, dramatic, and musical works
  • Sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions
  • Software (computer programmes) and databases may be protected as literary works, in addition to other possible rights

Copyright protection is automatic (no registration is required) and it applies to all physical formats, including the Internet.

Staff and students at The University of Sheffield are expected to have a basic understanding of copyright in order to ensure best practice with regard to UK legislation. These pages are designed to support our staff and students to make appropriate decisions with regard to copyrighted material, both their own and that of others. In addition the University Library provides advice and guidance on University copyright policy in specific cases through the contact.

The information contained within these pages is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Further guidance on UK copyright law can be found here: