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Copyright and the Internet.

Information is freely available via the Internet, but this does not mean it is free to copy. Understand the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them through good practice when hyperlinking or using images, logos etc.

General principles

The same principles and legislation which govern copyright in hard-copy works (see General introduction to copyright) apply to material in electronic formats. The main difference is that, by their nature, electronic materials are easy to access, copy, manipulate and distribute via networks. Information is freely available via the Internet, but this does not mean it is free to copy. It is therefore even more important to be aware of potential pitfalls when using information from such sources.

Whenever you are using information or material from the Internet, it is important to remember that, unless explicitly stated otherwise, the majority of such resources will be subject to copyright restrictions and will be the property of the copyright holder. Even if there is no copyright statement on the material you are looking at, you must not assume that it is copyright-free.

  • Always look for copyright notices or terms and conditions of use stated on resources themselves.
  • Just because it is easy to access, you must not assume that information posted on the Internet is freely available to be used in any way you choose.
  • You must not assume that, if there is no copyright notice on the material, it can be copied freely.
  • Copying someone else's web page to be adapted for your own purposes is a copyright infringement unless permission is obtained.
  • Copyright applies to logos and illustrations as well as to text – do not use these without permission.

Hyperlinking (making links to other web pages)

It is common practice for web pages to include links to external web sites, and this does not usually cause a problem, but there are some risks involved if care is not taken. It is good practice to check for any conditions that might apply to a particular web site, and if in doubt to contact the copyright owner. In particular, it is wise to avoid the practice of “deep-linking”, that is to say hyper-linking directly to material in someone else’s site and by-passing the home page. In doing so, there is a danger that you remove the identification of the owner/creator of the original site, and appear to claim the content as your own.

When creating hyperlinks remember:

  • It is advisable to create a link to the home page of a web site rather than linking to a deep level of the site: this helps to avoid the issues of referring to information out of context, or seeming to pass information off as your own.
  • Clearly label links with the name of the web site and the individual or corporate author: this will help inform your users of what they are looking at and avoid the issue of passing the information off as your own.
  • When you are creating hypertext links you should be careful not to authorise users to make copies of the site you are referencing unless this is expressly permitted.
  • Take care that you do not quote or link to another site in a derogatory manner, by quoting out of context or making an inference that is not directly supported by evidence.
  • Avoid the use of frames and do not link from frames to another external site without the specific permission of the owner of the site you wish to link to. If you do link to an external web site make sure that it opens in a separate frame to avoid any confusion or possible misinterpretation.

Using images

Images on the internet are not copyright free, and care should be taken in their use. There are a number of sources of royalty-free images and pictures on the internet, and these sites will state quite clearly the terms and conditions of their use. Many will allow their work to be copied for non-commercial purposes (for example, using the Creative Commons licence). If it is not clear from the site that the rightsholder is happy for the image to be used for your particular purpose, you should always seek permission before you do so.

  • Always acknowledge your source;
  • Never alter the image.

Screenshots

There may well be multiple copyrights in screenshots, including fonts, graphics etc. If using these for learning and teaching purposes you must avoid any alteration to the original, and any misleading labelling.

Logos

Care must be taken with use of company logos, particularly where these are used to click through to a web page. Such use, without permission, would infringe the company’s trademark. There have been several high-profile legal suits resulting from such uses.

Fair dealing (using electronic materials for private study and research)

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 permits individuals to make a single copy of a "reasonable proportion" of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works for their own private study or research for non-commercial purposes under the terms of "fair dealing". Although this concept was initially developed with printed materials in mind, it is a useful rule of thumb when copying electronic materials which are not otherwise governed by specific licences.

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