Copyright and teaching – changes to the law

Print this page Email a link to this page


The Hargreaves Review of 2011 encouraged the Government to expand the exceptions under UK intellectual property laws that allow the use of copyrighted work without the permission of the author. Pinpointing the failure of legislation to keep pace with technological change as an obstacle to creativity and innovation, the report highlighted concerns amongst academics and teachers as to what was and was not permitted under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act (CDPA), citing senior figures from the university sector who had called for urgent reform to clarify the boundaries for educators and students alike.


UK copyright law has been reformed to address the concerns highlighted in the Hargreaves Review. Significantly, the law now allows the use of copyrighted works for a variety of purposes without institutions having to seek the permission of the copyright owners.

Copyright law was changed to allow ‘reasonable’ copying of, films, sound recordings and broadcasts for non-commercial research and private study, with libraries and universities allowed to offer access to copyright works on the university premises at electronic terminals for research and private study.

Multi-media teaching

Modern methods of teaching often include the use of multi-media technologies. The law has been changed to allow teachers to use such technologies without fear of infringing copyright. Minor acts of copying for teaching purposes are allowed in circumstances where this is ‘fair and reasonable’, allowing teachers to display web content or quotes using multi-media technologies such as electronic whiteboards without the need to seek the permission of the copyright owner.

Educational copying licences

The range of materials covered by educational copying licences has been expanded. Schools already familiar with the need for licences from the Educational Recording Agency and the Copyright Licensing Agency can now use new materials such as artistic works, films and sound recordings provided that they hold the relevant licence. Provision of such materials over secure distance learning networks is also allowed, which will underpin the proliferation of distance-learning courses offered by universities and other higher education providers.

Does the principle of ‘fair dealing’ still exist?

The principle of fair dealing still exists and the question to be asked is ‘how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?’ This acts as a guide to users of copyright material, helping them to understand where the boundaries lie and assess what is acceptable for teaching purposes.


Despite the changes, criticisms have been levelled at the CDPA by senior members of the judiciary, including comments by Mr Justice Arnold that ‘systematic problems in the design’ of the Act had been exposed by the advent of new technologies and that the changes made to the law in response to the Hargreaves Review, whilst ‘incremental’, served to show the need for a new Copyright Act.

The EU is currently consulting on proposals for new pan-European copyright laws as part of the drive to introduce a Digital Single Market across the union. Many of the changes currently being discussed involve an expansion to the exceptions to copyright laws similar to those now in force in the UK.

For more information or advice in this area please contact Alex Craig on 0191 211 7911 or [email protected].