Sales & Marketing

Our guide on fair use copyright in the UK

Business Advice | 23 August 2021 | 3 years ago

Fair use copyright in the UK

You might have heard about fair use copyright, also known as fair dealing, which allows you to use certain types of artistic work for specific purposes. But how does fair use copyright in the UK work and how can you ensure that you comply with it?

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about fair use copyright, from when it applies to what exactly it allows you to do.

What is fair use copyright?

In general, copyright laws mean that you are not allowed to reproduce copyrighted material without the express consent of the copyright owner. Breaching these rules is known as copyright infringement.

However, in UK copyright law there are copyright exceptions that include fair dealing. This enables works to be used in specific ways under certain conditions, without being regarded as a copyright infringement. Fair dealing enables the lawful use and reproduction of copyrighted material, without needing to seek permission from the owner of the copyright or the creator of the work.

The purpose of fair dealing is to permit free speech and accurate news reporting. It also helps to prevent disproportionate penalties from being awarded for the accidental or inconsequential inclusion of copyrighted material.

What does fair dealing copyright apply to?

There is a wide range of works to which fair use copyright or fair dealing laws may apply in the UK. These works include:

  • Artistic works
  • Dramatic works
  • Literacy works
  • Musical works (excluding printed music)
  • Typographical works
  • Written works

What does fair use copyright allow?

Fair dealing copyright allows works to be reproduced for specific purposes. However, it’s worth noting that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to fair use copyright law so each purpose must be carefully considered before deciding to reproduce the works.

Examples of purposes for which fair dealing is often acceptable include:

  • Quotation
  • Criticism or review
  • Educational use (for the purpose of instruction or examination)
  • Preservation or replacement copies
  • Research or private study (non-commercial)
  • Reporting of current events
  • Text or data mining (non-commercial)
  • Parody, pastiche or caricature
For example, through fair dealing copyright, it is typically acceptable to quote literacy works or written works, providing that:

  • The work has been made available to the public (eg is published)
  • The work is being used for an acceptable purpose under the terms of fair dealing
  • The quotation is justified and no more than necessary has been included
  • The source and author of the material is referenced
fair use vs fair dealing UK

Fair use vs fair dealing UK

Both fair use and fair dealing are terms that are used to describe cases where permission is not required to be sought from the copyright owner for the reproduction of the works. The main difference between these two terms is that fair dealing is the term that is used in the UK whilst fair use is typically used in the United States.

Fair dealing in the UK provides specific circumstances where work can be reproduced without a copyright infringement taking place. This includes for the purpose of criticism or review, in reporting current events and for non-commercial research. The list of available exceptions is set in law, meaning that it is clear what is and is not classed as fair dealings in the UK.

On the other, fair use is a concept in the United States which can apply to many different uses of copyrighted material. There is no definitive list of these uses, meaning that it can be difficult to establish what is and is not classed as fair use in the US as it is open to interpretation.

What is incidental inclusion in copyright?

Incidental inclusion is separate from fair use copyright, but it’s also worth discussing. Incidental inclusion happens when part of a copyrighted work is included unintentionally. For example, if a member of the public filmed a home movie that accidentally included part of a poster on a wall or background music.

There is a specific exception in copyright law to allow for incidental inclusion. If the artistic work that has been incidentally included is not integral to the film or image, it falls under incidental inclusion. It doesn’t matter if the material falls in the foreground or background, or the size of the material, as long as it is not integral.

On the other hand, if the copyrighted material could be deemed as integral to the film or image in which it has been captured, this will not fall under the incidental inclusion exception and could be deemed to be an infringement on copyright.

How much of a piece of work can I use under fair dealing?

You might be wondering whether there is a limit to how much of a piece of work you can use under fair dealing copyright. For example, if you’re quoting a piece of literature, how much can you quote without exceeding fair use?

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question as there is no set percentage that can be used. The proportion of a piece of work that can be reproduced under fair use copyright will depend on the individual circumstances.

The question of whether a case falls under fair use will depend mainly on the importance that the copied content holds. If the situation in which it is reproduced is fully reliant on the copied works, it could be deemed to be an infringement of copyright.

In copyright cases that have gone to court, the judge will assess whether the use of the copyrighted material is justified or excessive. This is an objective decision to which there is no strict formula to be followed.

How long does copyright last

How long does copyright last?

Whilst a copyright is in effect, you are unable to reproduce the work unless the use falls into one of the exceptions, of which fair use is one. However, copyright doesn’t last forever, so eventually, the copyright of a piece of work will expire. But how long does copyright last?

How long a copyright lasts will depend on the type of work in question. The table below details the length of each type of copyright.

Type of works End date of copyright
Film 70 years from the death of the last principal director, author or composer.
Film (creator unknown) 70 years from the creation of the film, or 70 years from when it was first made available to the public.
Literacy, musical, artistic or dramatic works 70 years from the death of the last remaining author of the work.
Literacy, musical, artistic or dramatic works (author unknown) 70 years from the creation of the work, or 70 years from when the work was first made available.
Sound recordings 70 years from the first release of the work.
Broadcast 50 years from the broadcast date.
Typographical arrangement of published editions 25 years from the publication of the work.
Crown copyright 125 years from the creation of the work.
Parliamentary copyright 50 years from the creation of the work.
If you’re unsure of whether a work is still within its copyright period, you can find the full guidance on the government website. If you’re still not sure, it’s always best to seek legal advice to ensure that you don’t accidentally infringe on copyright.

What happens if you use copyrighted material without permission?

If you use copyrighted material without the express permission of the copyright owner, and if none of the copyright exceptions apply, you will have committed a copyright infringement. There are several different things that can happen if you are caught infringing on a copyright.

Many copyright owners will try to resolve the matter privately, without attending court. This is typically done through mediation, in an attempt to reach a resolution without beginning legal proceedings.

If mediation is unsuccessful and an agreement cannot be reached, the copyright owner may decide to take the matter to court. If this happens, the court may decide to:

  • Award monetary damages to the copyright owner
  • Grant an injunction preventing further copyright infringement
  • Force the infringing party to surrender any goods to the owner of the copyright
If the judge determines that the infringement of copyright has been done deliberately and for commercial gain, it could be deemed to be a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for this offence in the UK is ten years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

These severe penalties demonstrate the importance of ensuring that you do not breach copyright law. If you’re unsure of whether the copyrighted material can be legally used, it’s always best to seek advice from a specialist intellectual property lawyer.

How to comply with copyright law

How to ensure you comply with copyright law

The penalties for infringement of copyright can be severe, so it’s important to ensure that you comply with UK copyright law. But how can you ensure that you don’t accidentally infringe on copyright?

The best way to ensure that copyrighted material that you plan to use is covered by fair dealing regulations is to check directly with the owner of the copyright. In your request, you should include the following details:

  • The copyrighted material that you are referring to
  • The exact content that you wish to reproduce
  • The number of copies that you wish to create
  • How the copied materials will be used and to whom they will be distributed
If you receive permission to use copyrighted materials, ensure that this permission is given in writing and keep a record of any conditions that are attached. This will help to protect you in case of future legal action.

Related questions

When can I use copyrighted material without permission?

There are certain situations where it is possible to use copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright owner. These are known as the exceptions to copyright law and include fair dealings and incidental inclusion. If you’re unsure of whether your planned use falls under UK copyright exceptions, it’s best to check the list of copyright exceptions set out on the government website. If you have further questions, it’s worth consulting an intellectual property lawyer to ensure that you don’t infringe on copyright.

What is an example of copyright violation?

There are many different types of copyright violation. However, one example of an infringement of copyright would be music used in the background of a TV advertisement, without requestion permission from the copyright owner – in this case the producer of the music being used. This infringement could result in monetary damages being awarded to the copyright owner, a fine being endorsed or even a prison sentence.

Where to get assistance with fair use copyright UK

Whilst copyright law provides authors, producers and creators with automatic protection of their works, there are some exceptions where copyrighted material can be used by others without permission being required. One of those exceptions is covered by the fair dealings regulations.

However, it isn’t always straightforward to understand whether your proposed usage of the copyrighted material is covered by fair dealings, and the potential penalties for copyright infringement can be severe.

For this reason, if you aren’t sure whether your planned use of copyrighted materials is covered under fair dealing laws, it’s always best to seek professional advice from an intellectual property lawyer. They can review the copyrighted material, along with your proposed usage, and provide advice on the best way forward. This may include seeking permission from the owner of the copyright.

Related Topics

16 Tips & Tools to Boost Small Business ROI
8 January 2024

16 Tips & Tools to Boost Small Business ROI

Read More →
How to Master the Art of Professional Networking
3 January 2024

How to Master the Art of Professional Networking

Read More →
Boosting Sales in a Competitive Market
15 August 2023

Boosting Sales in a Competitive Market

Read More →
Are 08 Numbers Free?
27 July 2023

Are 08 Numbers Free?

Read More →
How to Generate More Sales via Your E-commerce Site
25 July 2023

How to Generate More Sales via Your E-commerce Site

Read More →
Unlocking the Power of Social Media Marketing for Your Business
21 July 2023

Unlocking the Power of Social Media Marketing for Your Business

Read More →

If you enjoy reading our articles,
why not sign up for our newsletter?

We commit to just delivering high-quality material that is specially crafted for our audience.

Join Our Newsletter