Changes to copyright law: education in the digital age

As a general rule, if you wish to copy or use a copyright work then you have to get permission from the copyright owner. However, there are some exceptions under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988(the “1988 Act”) which allow copying or use of part or all of a copyright work without permission.

The Government is now implementing a series of changes which aim to make copyright law better suited to the digital age. On the 1 June 2014 a series of small but important changes to copyright law will be put into force. The changes will be extremely beneficial to educational institutions, teachers, students and even museums and youth organisations.

What are the changes and how will they affect education?

The changes are being introduced by five statutory instruments, each of which amend the 1988 Act. Each instrument deals with a different exception however the most important exception for education is to be introduced by The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Research, Education, Libraries and Archives) Regulations 2014 (the “Regulations”). A few of the key changes are highlighted below:

1. Illustration for instruction: blackboard v whiteboard

One new exception permits fair dealing for the purpose of “illustration of instruction”. This essentially means that teachers will now be able to copy a small amount of material to allow them to illustrate a point, without the need to seek permission from the copyright owner.

The current law has a similar provision but only allows for copying by hand, such as reproducing a few lines of poetry on a blackboard or flipchart, and does not allow the teacher reproduce work using digital technology such as an interactive whiteboard. The current law also allows a student to copy down the example using pen and paper but not by using a laptop or tablet.

Given the widespread use of technology by teachers, students and lecturers, this update seems long overdue and will certainly bring the law into line with the realities of teaching and education.

It is important to note however that the copying may only be used to illustrate a teaching point, not be for a commercial purpose and the use must be fair. The work used must also be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement; this generally means identifying the author, artist or creator of the work, and the title or some other identifying description of the work that has been copied.

2. Research and private study

Under the new Regulations researchers and students will be permitted to copy a limited amount of sound recordings, films or broadcasts for non-commercial research or private study.

Under the 1988 Act they are only allowed to copy limited extracts of literary, dramatic and artistic works. Extending the exception to include sound recordings, films and broadcasts brings the law much more into line with the realities of education. Again, copying is only permitted where it is not for commercial purposes and is limited to fair dealing i.e. copying a whole work would not generally be permitted.

3. Virtual learning environment

The current law permits educational establishments to play recordings before an audience within their premises (although if a licence scheme is available for this activity, such as a CLA photocopying licence, it must be obtained).

The Regulations update this exception and reflect the fact that long distance education outside of the premises is increasingly used and virtual learning environments are now the norm. This update makes it easier for teachers and students to use distance learning technology.

Each change recognises the need for delivery of education in the digital age and reflect a positive move for educational establishments and students alike.

The changes will enable teachers to deliver multi-media teaching without the fear of copyright infringement and display webpages or quotes on interactive whiteboards for example, without having to seek prior permission.

A word of caution

Although these changes are hugely positive for educational establishments, they do not erase the need for licences for use that is not “fair dealing”, for example photocopying large portions of a work and recording of broadcasts from the radio and television. Following the implementation of these changes the majority of uses of copyright materials will continue to require permission from copyright owners, so you should always be careful when relying on an exception and if in any doubt, seek legal advice.

This article provides only an overview of some of the key changes. Further information can be found on the Intellectual Property Office website.


This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Paul Attwood


I advise on a full range of commercial legal agreements, including agency, distribution, logistics, outsourcing, IT, licensing and co-packing arrangements. I also advise on aspects of intellectual property law and competition law.