Copyright law is just one of a range of legal rights which enable the owner to prevent someone else from using their work without permission or passing it off as their own.

Generally speaking, when someone creates something - from a painting to a restaurant review - they have legal ownership of the copyright unless or until they sell or give those rights away. If you are considering posting anything on the internet that you haven't created yourself, you may well not have the right to do it. It may breach someone's intellectual property rights and it breaks our Terms of Use if posted on the BBC website.

What are the exceptions?

One of the problems with Intellectual Property Law is that it is quite complex. In some circumstances it is OK to include other people's material in your own work, in others it isn't. For example:

  1. Expired Copyright

    Copyright protection for written work generally lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. This means you can post sections of work by Shakespeare or Chaucer, but not Barbara Cartland or Elvis. Similar principles apply to artwork (such as photographs, paintings or drawings).

  2. Quoting Extracts

    Short extracts of copyright works can be used without consent as long as they are 'insubstantial' - There is no hard and fast definition of what is or isn't substantial as it depends on the work and the importance of the extract you want to use. As a general rule the moderators look for large sections of text and err on the side of caution as with defamation.

  3. Parody or 'Homage'

    In limited circumstances you may be able to use an idea from an existing work for the purpose of making a 'parody' of it, provided that you use your own skill and originality in creating your new work, and don't use a 'substantial' part of the work you're parodying.

  4. Fair Dealing

    There are exceptions in the Copyright Act which allow for what is called 'fair dealing'. This means:

    • Using a work for the purposes of criticism or review (as long as you acknowledge it)
    • Using a work (except photographs) for the purposes of reporting current events

    Even here, the size of the quotations/extracts, how they are used and how proportionate they are to your review or report as a whole may also be considered.

  5. Titles

    The titles of books, films or songs won't usually have copyright protection.

  6. Ideas

    Ideas themselves are generally not protected by copyright law until they are written down.


If you spot any user generated content on the BBC website that you think breaches any intellectual property rights, please use the report link to alert the moderators. Sometimes things slip through, but we will always act swiftly to remove unauthorised material.


The information provided on this site is intended as a guide only. It does not constitute legal advice.

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