Navigating copyright in the Digital Age

Have you ever found a nice image on the great, wide web and decided to download and use it? Have you ever come across an array of Creative Commons licenses and their meaning was daunting or confusing? Hopefully the next few paragraphs will help you navigate copyright in the digital age.

So, what exactly is copyright? Copyright is defined as an exclusive economic right granted to the creator of original work to permit or prevent other people from using it. In plain language, copyright is a right given to a creator (human creator) to use the work created in any way shape or form they wish. They can sell it, bequeath it, or decide to give their copyright up and make it available for anyone to use without restriction. You might come across items that are licensed as Creative Commons Zero, those are free to be re-used without issues.

You can also find items that are in the public domain, not to be confused with publicly available. Public domain items are works, where copyright has come to an end, and they can now be used by the public without fear of copyright infringement. However, do be careful. Certain items can have trademarks attached to them, so they work differently.

How do you navigate this mishmash of reusable, free and all rights reserved works that you can find on the web? Well, there are some handy questions to ask yourself:

Be aware that anything that says “fair use” does not apply in the UK. In the UK we use the term “fair dealing”.

The ‘fair dealing’ principle in the UK, is much more restrictive than the US ‘fair use’ principle. In simple terms, the question to ask yourself when applying the ‘fair dealing’ principle is how would a fair-minded person use this material? The below infographic should help with ‘fair dealing’ use.

More information on ‘fair dealing’ can be found in the Fair Dealing: A quick guide on our repository.

Licenses are very useful when it comes to knowing what can or cannot be done with copyright materials. So here is a quick overview of the different licenses:

  • All Rights Reserved (ARR): The most restrictive license, granting the copyright holder exclusive control over all aspects of the work’s use.
  • Creative Commons (CC) Licenses: A family of open-content licenses that provide a flexible approach to copyright management. CC licenses offer different levels of permission, from non-commercial use to commercial exploitation with attribution.
  • Software licenses: Legal instruments governing the use and redistribution of software.

You can find more information on licenses in our Licenses section on the Copyright webpages.

Important to remember is the fact that materials found online have the same protection as physical materials, like books or paintings. Before you save and re-use, make sure you know what you can or cannot do with the material and most importantly of all, make sure to credit the author. If you still struggle with licensing and re-use of digital material, get in touch with Loughborough University’s Copyright and Licensing Manager.