Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Out-Law Guide 1 min. read

Photocopying in a commercial context

Organisations need a licence to carry out photocopying for commercial purposes to avoid infringing copyright, even where the copying is done for research purposes.

This guide is based on UK law. It was last updated in August 2008.

Changes in copyright law in October 2003 (which were implemented through the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003) had a significant impact on the business practices of many organisations that previously had been able to photocopy books, journals and any other publications legally without the need for a licence.

Not all copying constitutes infringement. Photocopying is permitted without licence under specific exceptions. Much reliance was previously placed on the 'research and private study' exception which allows copying where it is for the purpose of research or private study, provided always that there is no multiple or substantial copying of any copyright work.

However, since the implementation of the Regulations, the research exception is no longer available where copying is for a commercial purpose.

The rules fail to clarify what will constitute a 'commercial purpose'. However, it is clear that if it is contemplated that the research may, even indirectly, result in any sort of commercial benefit it will fall outside the exception.

In addition, in order to get the benefit of the exception where the purpose is non-commercial, the author of the material being copied needs to be sufficiently acknowledged, except where it is practically impossible to do so.

Consequently, very few organisations are now able to rely on the research exception to avoid infringement and the licensing requirements. In particular, organisations that have research or library facilities and/or a marketing division and which are almost certainly carrying out extensive photocopying will now require a licence.

There are two main licensing agencies, depending on the type of publication. The Copyright Licensing Agency ('CLA') is a non-profit making organisation that represents the interests of the authors and publishers of, primarily, literary works (books, journals and periodicals). It is empowered to grant licences, to collect royalties and to institute such proceedings as may be necessary to enforce the copyright owners' rights. It does not deal with newspapers, the copying of which falls within the remit of the Newspaper Licensing Agency ('NLA') which has similar powers to act on behalf of newspaper groups.

Licences from the CLA and NLA cover most, but not all, copyright publications for copying in the UK.

Every organisation (if they haven't already done so) should undertake a review procedure, including the following:

  • Review of business practices and assessment of photocopying habits;
  • Review of purposes for photocopying of any books, journals, newspapers and other publications;
  • Review of terms and ambit of any current licence with the CLA or NLA;
  • Introduction of an internal photocopying policy, including requirements for appropriate author acknowledgement as necessary, and provision of staff training to ensure compliance;
  • Appointment of an appropriate person to oversee and monitor the policy and licensing requirements.


We are processing your request. \n Thank you for your patience. An error occurred. This could be due to inactivity on the page - please try again.