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Copyright and websites

Is content posted on websites covered by copyright?

Content posted on websites is covered by copyright in the same way as content contained in a book or newspaper is. If a person reproduces material found on a website without the permission of the copyright owner a claim may be brought against them for copyright infringement.

Can content ever be used legally without obtaining the copyright owner’s consent?

In certain circumstances it is permissible to make use of copyright material. Where material is used for the purpose of non-commercial research, private study, criticism, review or the reporting of current events the use of such material may be covered by the exception known as “fair dealing”.

Where material has been placed on the internet, there may be an implied licence to use the material. Many websites contain a “copyright statement” (often found in the terms and conditions of use) setting out what is permissible and what is not.

International considerations

The copyright laws may be different in other countries to those in the UK. As a consequence content may be placed on websites in other countries without infringing their copyright laws. However, it could still be illegal to reproduce such content in the UK without obtaining the permission of the copyright owner.

Obligations of internet service providers

The Communications Act 2003, as amended by the Digital Economy Act 2010, places a number of obligations on Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) for the purpose of tackling online copyright infringement. These are as follows:


Obligation to notify subscribers of copyright infringement reports

If it appears that a copyright owner’s copyright has been infringed on the internet it is open to them to make a “copyright infringement report” to the ISP. OFCOM have prepared a draft “Online Copyright Infringement Initial Obligations Code” and once this has been approved by Parliament if an ISP receives such a report it may be obliged to notify the subscriber of the report within the period of 1 month and provide them with certain information and advice.

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For more information on:

  • Obligation to provide infringement lists to copyright owners
  • Obligation to limit internet access
  • Injunctions against internet service providers