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Copyright Queries



Copyright myth #3: ‘I can use materials without permission if the use is non-commercial’.

By Christina Daouti, on 28 February 2024

A cartoon drawing of a man sitting at a desk, facing a computer screen out of which banknotes are flying. The man, has his arms wide open and looks happy watching the money.

Free Clip Art, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

On day 3 of  Fair Dealing Week (26 February to 1 March 2024) we discuss another aspect of ‘fair dealing’ when using copyright materials: non-commercial use.

It is often assumed that, unless you making money from a work, it is OK to include copyright materials in the work without permission. ‘Non-commercial’ use (and/or acknowledging the source, as discussed in the previous post) is often deemed to be ‘fair dealing’.

It may be useful to keep the following in mind:

  • Fair dealing does not preclude commercial use. As discussed in a previous post, whether using a work is ‘fair dealing’ depends on many factors, including the purpose (which is related to UK copyright exceptions), the amount and proportion of the material used in that particular context and, crucially, the effect the use is likely to have on the interests of the author/copyright owner. As many of these interests are economic (i.e. when your use is likely to affect sales of the original work) it is perhaps easy to assume that ‘non-commercial’ use is more likely to be fair.  However, this does not mean that any commercial use is not ‘fair’.
  • Posting a work on the Internet is ‘commercial publication’. In UK copyright law, ‘making the work available to the public by means of an electronic retrieval system’, in other words, electronic publication, is considered to be a commercial activity even if you don’t profit from it financially.
  • Non-commercial use is a restriction when relying on certain exceptions, but not others. Copying material for research and private study or as part of teaching may be permitted in UK copyright law, as long as the purpose is not commercial and the use is ‘fair dealing’. Copying and reusing material  for the purposes of criticism, review and quotation (and news reporting) does, not, however, have a non-commercial restriction. The use must still be ‘fair dealing’ and this may well restrict what and how much  you decide to share; however the use can, indeed, be commercial. This is useful to know as you will most likely be relying on the quotation exception when including material in theses, research publications  and teaching materials.

Learn more.

1. Complete our 7-question copyright exceptions quiz.

This is to help you understand copyright exceptions better: you can submit answers anonymously and we won’t be using your responses for any purpose.

2. Register for one of our sessions, on Teams or in person.

Our sessions cover copyright for PGRs, research staff and teaching staff; open licences; and publishing contracts. Sessions last up to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

3. Complete the Copyright Essentials online tutorial.

A self-paced, online tutorial introducing copyright in a fun and approachable way. It takes around 20-25 minutes to complete.


You can also contact copyright support at copyright@ucl.ac.uk to ask a question, arrange an appointment or schedule your own training session.

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