SOAS University of London

Library Copyright Guidance: What is Copyright - and Why it Matters

Copyright is a form of property right which protects the interests of the creators of works. It applies to a very wide range of created material, including:

  • Literary works: any work other than a dramatic or musical work which is written, spoken or sung: e.g. a book, a journal article, a magazine, a letter, a poem or the lyrics to a song.
  • Dramatic works: a work of action which is capable of being performed before an audience and is recorded in writing or some other form: e.g. a play, the libretto of an opera, dance or mime.
  • Musical works: a work designed to produce music which is recorded in writing (e.g. musical notation) or some other form. Musical works do not include any words or action intended to be sung, spoken or performed with the music, which are protected as literary or dramatic works.
  • Artistic works: any work which is a graphic work (such as a map, chart, plan, painting, drawing or diagram); a photograph (including an electronic image); a sculpture; a collage; a work of architecture (including a building or a model for a building); or a "work of artistic craftsmanship".
  • Films and sound recordings, regardless of the recording medium (e.g. CD, DVD, video, LP). A film or sound recording of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work will include separate copyrights for the film or sound recording, and for the literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work which has been recorded.
  • Radio and television broadcasts and recordings of broadcasts.
  • Performances: where a literary, dramatic or musical work is performed, the performer will have rights in their performance which are distinct from the copyright owned by the creator of the work, and copyright in any film, sound recording or broadcast of the performance.
  • Databases.
  • Computer programs.
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions. This can affect out of copyright works which are re-published in a new typography: the typographical arrangement of the new edition will enjoy copyright protection even if the original work does not.
  • PhD theses: the authors retain the copyright and moral rights of their PhD theses. A PhD theses cannot be reproduced or quoted from extensively without first obtaining permission from the author.

Works which are protected by copyright cannot be legally reproduced, distributed, communicated to the public, lent, rented out or performed in public without the consent of the copyright owner. The creator of the work is usually the initial owner of copyright, although copyright may be owned by other parties: e.g. where copyright has been sold, transferred or inherited, or is owned by the creator's employer. The exclusive rights of copyright owners run for a limited period of time, after which works are considered to be "out of copyright" and can be freely used and copied by anyone (see Summary of the duration of copyright). Copyright law also limits owners' rights by allowing other individuals, in certain circumstances, to perform acts such as copying which would normally be reserved to the copyright owner. This guidance explains how these "permitted acts" allow the copying and use of SOAS Library material.

Infringement of copyright occurs where a copyright protected work is used without the owner's permission in ways which are not allowed by copyright law. Copyright owners can take legal action to prevent infringement, and may seek substantial compensation for the damages caused to them. Users of the SOAS Library are required by the  Library rules (pdf; 97kb)   to comply with copyright law, and the School's copyright licences, when copying Library material and using the Library's electronic resources. Similarly, SOAS students and staff must respect copyright when using the School's information systems, as required by SOAS's IT Policies.

Last updated February 2008