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Guide to Copyright: What is Copyright?

What is this guide about?

This guide is a brief introduction to copyright relevant to both students and lecturers. It introduces the basic concepts of copyright, including Copyright, Creative Commons licensing and Fair Dealing. It will also provide some quick guidelines on avoiding infringing copyright law.

The importance of copyright

Copyright is important as information has a value in many different forms including monetary and educational value. Copyright is important as it helps protect that value by giving owners of a work the ability to protect their interests in the work. Which means preventing significant copying of their work to the degree where they cannot sell it effectively. In this way copyright encourages creativity, as it provides an incentive to creators to allow them to gain rewards and recognition for their works.

Library and electronic resources

LIT library subscribes to a range of electronic resources and copying restrictions which are governed by licenses.

In most cases staff and students can:

  • Search and  retrieve items.
  • Print and download for personal use.

They do not allow:

  • Downloading a significant part of a database or the entire contents of a publication e.g. a full journal. 
  • Multiple copying of single items.
  • Distributing copies.
  • Removing any marking or copyright statement from copies made.
  • Using them for commercial purposes.

Copyright in Ireland

Copyright in Ireland is enshrined in law by the Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000 and its amendments. The Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Act 2019 is expected to replace the older act but has yet to be fully enacted. The 2000 act is still the law in relation to copyright at the time of writing. Students and teachers should familiarize themselves with these laws.

What is copyright?

Copyright refers to the legal rights given to the originator of the created material. For example an artist has this right over his painting, to print, publish, reproduce, film etc this material over a period of years, though they may give this right to others at their discretion or by allowing others to reuse it when other people ask for the owners permission. 

Remember however,  that most journals ask you to hand the copyright of your writing over to them. This is important to take this into account if you later wish to deposit the article in an Institutional Repository. Consult the publisher website for more information. 

An author who publishes via an open access route will usually retain copyright.

Though it focuses mainly on the US context the above video gives a concise introduction to the copyright concept.

What is Creative Commons


There are a few exceptions to full copyright however, one of these being Creative Commons.

Creative Commons refers to a set of licenses that allows authors of papers and other works decide exactly how people may use their work and for what purpose. It essentially means that they can decide to what use their works can be made.

There are six different licenses that are available that are made up of Attribution, that the author of the work should have their name recognised and attached to it, non-derivatives, whether or not the original can be changed, non-commercial, can they make money off using the item, and share alike that all work taken from the original must have the same creative commons license. The six licenses combine allowances and stop some of these uses to form the different license.

A breakdown of these licenses can be seen in the video below. It allows students and lecturers to see in what ways they can use certain works. It also allows authors to easily make their work easy to share and accessible if they desire it. However remember by using this license you signing away your rights to full copyright protection and lessening any financial incentives from the work. Also remember there is a way to put your work  into the public domain completely through the CC0 license but this forfeits any copyright protection including attribution.  


Wanna Work Together? from Creative Commons on Vimeo.

How long does copyright last?

Literary works: 70 years after authors death. 

Film: 70 years after the death of the last of the major creators of the film, which include director, screenplay author, dialog author and music composer.

Computer generated works: 70 years after they were first created and distributed. 

What can I copy?

You can copy a work :

  • Whose copyright has expired
  • You own the copyright to the work
  • The copyright holder has given you permission to copy the work
  • The work is governed by a license granted the copyright holder
  • Your copying is permitted by fair use

Fair dealing

Fair dealing refers to instances when you do not need to ask permission from the creator of a copyrighted work to use their content. It applies in circumstances when: 

1. The copied work is not infringing on the profits of the originators of the work. 

2. It is used for academic, education, criticism, review or reporting on currents events purposes. 

3.  A satisfactory attribution is given to the originator of the copyrighted work. 

However defense on a case on case basis and fault for a case is based on four aspects: the purpose of the work; how much is copied; the purpose of your use and whether it  infringes on the right or profits of the original works owners.

This usually only applies to individual copies. Multiple copies cannot be made and distributed unless covered by the ICLA  license. ICLA approved work can be copied and distributed to students.


This guide provides general guidelines and an overview of copyright for students and staff. Information in this guide should not be taken as legal advice.


Content created by DKIT librarians. Reused and adapted - original guide can be found here.

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Library, Technological University of the Shannon: Midwest