Cambridge University Library


The questions and answers below are designed to address the main issues and concerns regarding library copies and copyright. A detailed guide to copyright as it affects images produced by the library can be found in our Copyright Guidelines Document.

What is copyright?

Copyright gives the creators of a wide range of material, such as literature, art, music, sound recordings, films and broadcasts, economic rights enabling them to control use of their material in a number of ways, such as by making copies, issuing copies to the public, performing in public, broadcasting and use on-line. It also gives moral rights to be identified as the creator of certain kinds of material, and to object to distortion or mutilation of it. The rights of copyright owners are separate from the rights of the owners of the physical or digital objects themselves. For example, the writer of a letter retains ownership of copyright in the words on the page although the recipient of the letter becomes owner of the physical item.

How long does copyright last?

The following broad guidelines may help you to establish whether a work is in copyright:

  • The standard term of copyright in the UK for a literary work (e.g. a book or journal article), artistic work (e.g. a photograph, drawing, map, diagram or chart), dramatic (e.g. a play, mime) and musical work (but not lyrics which are treated as literary works) is 70 years from the end of the year following the death of the author. However, there are many variations to this general rule. Under the transition arrangements introduced in the 1988 Copyright Act any literary, dramatic or musical work which was unpublished by 1 August 1989 and whose author died before 1 January 1969 will be in copyright until 31 December 2039, regardless of how long ago it was created.
  • General information on copyright duration is available from the UK Intellectual Property Office. In more detail, for UK published and unpublished literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works and Crown copyright works, The National Archives provides copyright duration flowcharts. Further information and guidance is available from the Copyright Licensing Agency

What can be copied from a published work still in copyright?

If a published work is in copyright, a maximum of 5%, one chapter, or one article from a single issue of a periodical or newspaper may be copied, for non-commercial research or private study. This applies both to self-service copies and to copies made on a reader's behalf by Imaging Services.

What about copying artistic works?

Imaging Services may not supply copies of artistic works which are still in copyright without explicit permission from the copyright holder - except for evaluation copies for possible commercial reproduction or publication. Examples of artistic works in this context are a photograph, painting, drawing, diagram, map, chart, plan, engraving or etching on its own (i.e. not incidental to the text of a work), a film, sound recording or broadcast.

What if I want to have copied more than is allowed?

If you wish to reproduce more than the allowed amount from a work that is in copyright and where copyright is not owned by or licensed to the Library, you must provide the Library with written permission from the copyright owner that allows you to reproduce their work for your specific purpose. Only then can the Library reproduce the image or images. The Library is unable to trace copyright owners of works on behalf of enquirers. The Intellectual Property Office offers advice on locating copyright owners at

How do I order copies from Imaging Services?

For all copies made on a reader's behalf, Imaging Services require a signed declaration stating that the reader will adhere to copyright regulations. This is built into the ordering process.