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When work is created by students, who owns the copyright, the student or the educational establishment?

There is nothing in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which relates specifically to ownership of copyright in works created by students. Therefore, the normal rules of ownership will apply as outlined in sections 9-11 of the Act PDF document(1.53Mb).

The pupil is not an employee of the school so this rule should not pertain, and a teacher/lecturer should not be able to claim joint ownership on a student's work unless their contribution is equal to that of the student (this may occasionally occur with primary school children, where a teacher's involvement with a pupil's work would usually be more considerable than the interaction with an A-level student).

However, some Universities and Colleges may ask that the students assign their copyright over to the establishment when enrolling. Alternatively, the establishment might extract a royalty free licence of any works created as a condition of enrolment. but in the absence of any such contract, the copyright would remain with the creator.

There are a number of exceptions in the Act which apply to Education however, and depending on the exact use you wish to make of the works in question, you may not need the copyright owner's permission.

The research and private study exception, covered in Section 29 of the Act, allows "fair dealing" with literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works for the purposes of research or private study (provided it is for a non-commercial purpose and is supported by a sufficient acknowledgement).

Section 32 of the Act applies to schools, universities and other educational establishments and allows limited copying of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work in the course of teaching as long as a reprographic process is not used (reprographic process means using a fax machine, photocopier or any appliance which makes multiple copies). The exception also provides that it is not an infringement of copyright to do anything for the purposes of setting or answering examination questions or communicating these to the candidates (this does not include photocopying music that is to be performed in an exam).

Section 34 may also be relevant where the work is one which can be performed (for example a piece of music written by a student). This exception permits that where the work is performed before an audience consisting of teachers and pupils in the course of the activities at the educational establishment, then it is not a public performance for the purposes of infringement of copyright.

In conclusion, while we can explain the provisions in the copyright act, each case in the real world has to be considered on its own merits and as such, only a Court can rule with certainty as to how the provisions apply. For further clarity on this issue, you may wish to seek advice from a Solicitor.