Business development · 23 August 2021

Our guide on fair use copyright in the UK

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.