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Copyright at British Library Newspapers

Copyright is a complex area, and the following notes are for guidance only. They do not attempt to represent all types of material, neither do they constitute legal advice.


Vogue 14 November 1928. Copyright © The British Library Board

Changes to UK Copyright Law

UK copyright law was revised in 2003 to align it with a European Union directive on copyright. Copyright office staff have prepared a selection of Frequently Asked Questions, which should help you to understand the changes:
Frequently Asked Questions about the new copyright legislation

What is Covered by Copyright?

Copyright can subsist in anything that is printed, such as books, journals, newspapers, or music, as well as artistic works such as photographs, statutes, or anything else that has an element of creativity in it. There is also copyright in sound recordings, films (and videos), and broadcasts.

What the Library is Permitted to Supply to Users

Single copies may be made of copyright material for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study, reference, criticism or review or news reporting, of not more than one item (article or page) from any one issue of a newspaper of periodical, if a copyright declaration is signed. Written permission of the copyright holder is not required in these instances.

However, written permission is required from the owner of the copyright if multiple copies of single items are involved, or more than one article from a single issue is required, or if an article is intended for reproduction, exhibition, or display.

If the copy is needed for a commercial purpose, you must have the prior permission of the copyright owner or pay a copyright fee.

Copyright fees

The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) and the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) Sticker Schemes provide a simple way in which you can pay a copyright fee, for both our reading room staff-operated service and self-service copying, and then lawfully copy an article from a newspaper, magazine or journal for commercial purposes.

For further information, please consult staff the Newspaper Reading Room Enquiries & Admission desk.

Breaching copyright law is an offence. You are legally responsible for any copies made.

Duration of Copyright

For an unsigned or anonymous article: copyright expires 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, or made available to the public. For example, a newspaper published in 1930 is out of copyright in 2001.

For a signed article: copyright extends until 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author died.

The ownership of copyright will depend on whether the journalist was a staff reporter or a freelancer? whether the article was a syndicated article? and so forth. When an article is prepared as part of a journalist's permanent employment, the copyright belongs to the publisher; otherwise it probably still belongs to the author. Rules on commissioned articles are complex and advice should be sought.

Reproduction Rights

Permission to use copies supplied by British Library Newspapers in printed, electronic, or broadcast form must be requested from the Permissions department (contact details below).

Further Information:

We cannot answer general copyright questions that are not related to our services or provide advice on complex copyright queries. If you have such a question, you should seek professional advice from a qualified lawyer. You may also find the website of the UK Intellectual Property Office to be useful.


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FAQ about copyright law