Click here to skip to content

Copyright, Fair Dealing and Library Privilege

In the UK copyright is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988, although this has been significantly amended to conform to the requirements of EU legislation. As the UK’s national library, the British Library’s services are governed by this legislation.

There are three ways in which the British Library may copy items:

  • The item is out of copyright.
  • Under a licence with the rights owners, either directly or through licensing agencies such as the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) or the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC).
  • Under the exceptions in law such as fair dealing; (however there are limitations on how these copies can be used).

Fair Dealing and Library Privilege

Limited copying of books, journals, sound recordings, films and artistic works made by an individual for their own private study or non-commercial research purposes, may fall under the fair dealing exception under UK copyright law. The amount that may be copied is normally interpreted as being no more than 5% of  an in-copyright work, one chapter of a book or its equivalent, or one article from a single issue of a journal.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act allows certain libraries to make fair dealing copies on behalf of researchers which is one of the so called “library privilege exceptions”. The library privilege exception allows a librarian (and depending on the provision an archivist) to:

  • make a single copy for a UK based library user providing usage is for private study or non-commercial research purposes. The British Library can provide a copy in this manner either on site in its Reading Rooms or for book chapters and articles remotely using the Document Supply services. In the case of sound recordings, videos and films, copies are provided through the Sound and Moving Image Copying Service. Users must complete a declaration form stating they are adhering to copyright regulations and remote users must order through a third party library, such as a public or university library, who collect and keep the signed declaration forms.
  • make copies of items in the British Library’s collection for preservation purposes.
  • make copies to replace lost, damaged or destroyed works.
  • make copies of an entire unpublished item on behalf of a user providing the work is used only for private study or non-commercial research, and the copyright owner of the work has not prohibited copying for this purpose.

Copying for readers with disabilities

The Library, disabled persons, or someone on their behalf, may make accessible copies of a work if it is for his or her own personal use. The accessible copy of the work must not be commercially available at a reasonable cost and unless it is impractical, the author of the work should be acknowledged.

Further information

Helping Readers with additional needs (PDF)  

If you have different needs or want more information, please contact Customer Services:

Additional information contact:

Additional Resources:

British Library Document Supply Service (BLDSS)

Legal Deposit