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Macmillan Learning

About Copyright

What is Copyright?
Works protected by copyright 
Duration of Copyright
Copyright Exceptions
Moral Rights
Copyright Internationally
Useful Resources
Copyright FAQs
              If something is freely available, does it mean it is in the public domain?
              What copyright issues should I be aware of when using works of art?
              What copyright issues should I be aware of when using data and databases?
              What copyright issues should I be aware of when using Interviews?
              Is government content protected by copyright?
              What copyright issues should I be aware of when using unpublished, anonymous or ‘orphan’ works?

What is Copyright?

Copyright gives creators of works (or in the case of employees, generally their employers) a set of exclusive rights to prohibit or authorise re-use of their work in certain situations (these include but are not limited to reproduction, distribution, public performance, broadcasting or communicating to the public, translation and adaptation).  Infringement of copyright takes place when someone carries out an act in respect of a copyright work which is exclusively reserved to the rights holder, without that rights holder’s permission - unless a limitation or exception applies.

Works protected by copyright 

Works protected by copyright vary slightly by jurisdiction but generally include the following: literary works (such as books, pamphlets, newspaper articles, instructions, speeches etc.), dramatic works, choreographic works, musical compositions (with or without words), cinematographic works, artistic works (drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving, photography, illustrations, maps etc.).  Translations, adaptations, and collections of works can also be protected There is a requirement that such works must have sufficient originality in their form of expression to attract copyright protection.

Duration of Copyright

Copyright endures from the time it is created to at least 50 years following the death of the creator. In many countries, including the United States and those in the European Union, the term of copyright is 70 years from the death of the creator.  There may be variances for unpublished works, and in the United States works published prior to 1978, foreign works, anonymous works and ‘works made for hire’ may have different terms of protection. 

It is therefore essential that any re-use of in-copyright material is covered by permission of the rights-holder/s unless the user is able to make a robust defence that what is being used falls comfortably within an applicable copyright exception.

Copyright Exceptions

Most copyright laws contain some exceptions that permit certain types of limited re-use of copyright material without the need to seek permission of the rights holder.

In the United States the copyright exception is known as the doctrine of ‘Fair Use’ and it is codified in section 107 of the Copyright Law of the United States.  

In the UK, copyright exceptions are sometimes referred to as ‘fair dealing’ as some exceptions only apply to the extent that the amount being taken is ‘fair’.  The exception most likely to be used in the context of an academic publication is the copyright exception available for the purposes of Criticism and Review (to which fair dealing applies).  Determining whether or not a use is ‘fair’ can be difficult.  We ask our authors to take account of both UK and US precedents when making an assessment of fairness.  

Moral Rights

Rights holders in some jurisdictions have moral rights (in addition to copyright).  Moral rights enable authors to claim authorship over their works and to object to derogatory treatment of their work. In the UK, authors also have the right to not have a work falsely attributed to them

Copyright Internationally

Whilst there is no International Law on copyright, most countries are signatories of one or more international treaties on copyright and related rights.  These treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which is a specialised agency of the United Nations.  Such treaties have given rise to a broad ‘minimum level’ copyright protection around the world. 

Useful Resources

WIPO have published a useful document entitled Understanding Copyright and Related Rights, which will give you further information about copyright protection around the world.

In the UK copyright comes under the jurisdiction of the Intellectual Property Office.  Their website gives lots of useful advice on the main aspects of copyright law. 

In the United States, copyright is the responsibility of the United States Copyright Office, and their Copyright Basics Circular gives a good summary of copyright in the United States.

In the UK, The British Academy and the Publishers Association have published the following very helpful document, researchers: Joint Guidelines on Copyright and Academic Research: Guidelines for researchers and publishers in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

In the US, Stanford University hosts a Copyright and Fair Use website that contains a wealth of useful information; the ‘Overview’ and ‘Charts and Tools’ sections are particularly helpful.

Copyright FAQs

Here are links to further information about some of the most common areas of copyright that our authors ask us about.

If something is available freely (either in the physical or digital space) does it mean that it is ‘Public Domain’ or not subject to copyright?

No, the only items that fall in the Public Domain are those for which copyright has expired.   
Works created by the US Government may also be considered public domain but some works owned by the US Government are still subject to copyright and either way the US Government requires specific forms of acknowledgement when using its work (see FAQ on government content below).

More information about the Public Domain at:



What Copyright issues should I be aware of when using works of art?

There are several issues to be mindful of in artwork.  The copyright holder of an artwork image may be a person other than the artwork’s creator, so even if the underlying work is out of copyright, the image of the work, that we will need to use to reproduce in the book is likely to be in copyright. 
Take care when using photographic images containing other copyright works or people.  If other copyright works are not incidental to the image, then permission to re-use those underlying copyrights may be required.  Where people are featured, you need to ensure that an individual’s privacy or publicity rights are not being infringed.  It is likely that you will need to secure model release 

For more information about Copyright in Artistic Works, please see the following resources:

Intellectual Property Office website:

Designers and Artists Copyright Society website (see factsheets available in the Knowledge Base section):

The US Copyright Office’s Document  ‘Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts’ contains some useful information:

Some information is available from the Artist’s Rights Society:

WIPO gives the following helpful information in respect of photography:

Istock provides a technical wikki where people have uploaded © information they have identified in respect of particular artworks, it is especially helpful for identifying information about sculpture and architectural works.


What Copyright issues should I be aware of when using data and databases?

Please be aware that large proprietary databases sold under license are likely to be protected by database right and will be accompanied by strict licensing terms which govern re-use.  If you are using data from such databases please check the licensing terms which may apply in each case.

For more information about Data and Database Right, please see the following resources:

Intellectual Property Office website:

Joint Guidelines on Copyright and Academic Research – Guidelines for researchers and publishers in the Humanities and Social Sciences (section 14):


What Copyright issues should I be aware of when using Interviews?

Copyright exists in both the words spoken (copyright belongs to the speaker) and any recording of them (copyright belongs to the person recording or transcribing), and in the UK, moral rights for both parties will also subsist.  Appropriate permissions should therefore be sought to reproduce any interviews or speech in the same way as you would obtain permission to use literary or artistic works.  When conducting interviews it is wise to ensure that participants understand the reason that the interview is being conducted and what the outcomes of such research might be (e.g. publication) in order that they can give their informed consent (written or verbal) to the interview.  In order to include material from interviews you have conducted, you should satisfy yourself that the person being interviewed was capable of giving their informed consent (e.g. were not minors, mentally incapacitated etc.) and that you have respected any obligations entered into as a result of the interviewee’s participation, e.g. anonymity, ‘off the record’ comments etc.  We can supply an Interview Agreement document for you to use with Interviewees if needed (available in our Useful Tools section)

For more information about Copyright in Speech and Interviews, please see the following resources:

The Oral History Society has useful information on its ethics pages


Is Government Content protected by copyright?

Content produced by National Governments will be subject to the national copyright law of that country.  In the UK, content produced by Government ministers and employees of the Crown (civil servants) in the course of their duties falls under Crown Copyright (n.b. this does not extend to Local Government).  Most items protected by Crown Copyright can be reproduced under the Open Government License operated by the Office for Public Sector Information (see box below).

Works created by the US Government are not protected by copyright.  However there are specific requirements in respect to how US Government content is acknowledged.

For more information about Government Copyright, please see the following resources:

Joint Guidelines on Copyright and Academic Research – Guidelines for researchers and publishers in the Humanities and Social Sciences (section 9):

The Open Government License can be found here:

The US Copyright Office’s Copyright Basics Circular1, page 5:

Public Domain Sherpa Website:


What Copyright issues should I be aware of when using unpublished, anonymous or ‘orphan’ works?

Unpublished works often have different periods of copyright protection than published works and this will vary by jurisdiction (see box below for more info). Unpublished works are not subject to fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review under UK law since they have not ‘been made available to the public’. Therefore permission will be required from the rights-holder for re-use unless the content is out of copyright. 

There is currently no legislation in either the UK or the US to cover use of works for which a copyright holder cannot be found or identified (so called orphan works) and being unable to locate a rights holder is not a defence against copyright infringement.  UK law does allow for some re-use in cases where the rights holder is anonymous. 

For more information about  Unpublished and/or Orphan Work,s please see the following resources:

Joint Guidelines on Copyright and Academic Research – Guidelines for researchers and publishers in the Humanities and Social Sciences:

Duration of copyright in unpublished works, section 4.3

Orphan Work, section 8

The copyright law of the United States, section 302