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The moment a creative work comes into existence, it is per definition protected by the rules of copyright law and the creator of the work can enforce his or her rights in the case of infringement.

By principle, you can not use and publish the work without permission or license from the copyright owner.

However, just like there is no copyright without a content creator and no content creators without copyright, there are also no rules without exceptions!

Here, we have gathered the 4 main exceptions to copyright that you should know - both as a content creator and content user.

So read on to find out in which situations the rules of copyright do not apply!

1. Private use

As a general rule, copyright applies when a creative work is used in a public context. However, the rules of copyright do not apply when a work is used for personal use only.

Say you have bought a book and choose to sell that exact book or lend it to a friend; this would not be a violation of copyright.

The same goes for you printing out a photo that you found on the internet - say, a photo of a cute puppy - and sticking it on your fridge in your kitchen, in the privacy of your own home.

However, if you make a copy of the book and sell it or rent it out, this would count as copyright infringement, for two reasons:

  • Reason 1: By making copies of someone else's work, you are controlling and distributing their work, infringing on - you guessed it - their right to control and distribute their work!
  • Reason 2: It would count as commercial activity as you are earning money off someone else's original work, infringing on their right to earn money off the work that they themselves have created

In other words, you are violating the copyright owner's economic rights by doing this.

Doesn't seem fair, right?

The same goes for you making a copy and giving it to a friend for free.

Don't forget about licenses

There are also exceptions to using works for private use, as seen with licenses.

For example, if you would like to use a photo with a license from the copyright holder and the license states that the photo can only be used for editorial use, using this photo privately would be a copyright infringement.

Therefore: if you have been given a license to use a work and would like to use it privately, make sure to check up on exactly which type of use is specified in your license!

2. Citations

The next exception is citations. Citations are most often seen in articles where the purpose is to critique or review (and without commercial interest).

For instance, say you are reviewing a book as part of a literature-blog. As a reviewer you might wish to use examples from the book to demonstrate the literary points you are making.

You are allowed to do this by citing the work without the author's permission, given that you stick to correct citation practices. This means making the source of the work, i.e. the author and copyright holder, known to the audience, making their name explicit so it is clear who the original creator of the work is.

How much of a work can I cite?

There are no formal rules stating how much of a work protected by copyright you are allowed to cite.

This means that, ultimately, the question of whether sound citation practices have been used will be determined individually from case to case. That being said, using the same example as before, you would not be allowed to cite the book in its entirety - unless the author has given permission to do so.

Similarly, you are not allowed to change or edit the content of the work in a form that violates the author's copyright.

Finally, although possible, citation laws rarely apply to the use of images.

3. Educational or Research Purposes

An important exception to copyright law is for work used for educational or research purposes, i.e. for the purpose of teaching (or as the law puts it: for the purpose of illustration for instruction).

This means that you - as a teacher or student - can freely use a work if it is for the purpose of giving or receiving instruction and it is used to illustrate a point about a subject that is being taught. An example of this is using photos for a PowerPoint presentation in class.

What about photocopying?

It is quite common to use handouts, e.g. photocopies of pages from a novel, and handing these out to students as part of a language class or using photocopies of an art work as part of a lesson on art history.

Often, a school has an agreement with an organisation that gives access and permission to copy certain works for a fee, e.g. as seen with CopyDan in Denmark (practices vary from country to country). This allows schools to make use of and copy works for educational purposes while paying the copyright owner for their creative work.

Another factor that makes educational use exempt from the rules of copyright is the audience. Teaching is done to a closed audience of a certain size of e.g. 30 students, meaning that the use is not public and the work distributed to the class won't move further out of this context.

The same goes for sharing the work used in class on a closed student network, i.e. an intranet for students where a username and passcode is required to access the material.

However, if you were then to publish the work on the internet, e.g. on the school website, this would make the use public and would count as copyright infringement!

Remember good practice in educational use

When using someone's work for educational or research purposes, it is considered good practice to acknowledge the author or creator by naming him or her for their work.

Not only does this secure that the copyright owner's moral rights are respected - it seems like the natural and right thing to do when someone has spent time, effort and creative headspace on something, doesn't it?

4. The "70 years after the death of the creator"-rule

Does copyright last forever?

The short answer is no. As a rule, a work is protected by copyright until 70 years after the death of its creator, and ultimately: the copyright owner.

Usually this would also mean the person who created the work, but in the case of him or her transferring the copyright to someone else, this person would then become the copyright owner, why the 70-years-after-death-rule would apply to their lifetime, instead.

Before this time, only the copyright owner holds the economic rights i.e. can copy and make money off the work and publish it (unless permission or license has been given for others to do so, that is).

Also, the copyright owner holds the moral rights, i.e. the right to be named for their work and respect for their work, e.g. not having their work changed or edited.

After 70 years have passed since the copyright holder's death, you can freely copy and distribute the work without permission.

However, in principle the original creator's moral rights last forever, why he or she will still have the right to be named for the work and the right to have their work respected. For example, a publishing house can not change the ending of a book or edit it in a way that changes it significantly.

Take note: No rules without exceptions - and no exceptions without "buts"...

As a content creator finding your way around your rights, you're probably well aware that copyright law comes with many rules.

Knowing these can prove as a invaluable first step to protecting your content online; but also knowing where the rules don't apply is important.

With these 4 exceptions to copyright, we hope that you have gained a better understanding of copyright and its exceptions.


Not only do rules have their exceptions, but with exceptions there can be grey areas that don't always fit into a legal “one-size-fits-all” definition.

Plus, the law varies from country to country, so there's that!

This is why we at Copyright Agent always advise you to refer to the country-specific laws and legal practices that apply to your area, when dealing with a copyright-related case. At the end of the day, each case will be evaluated and looked at individually, so keep this in mind.

Get in touch

In doubt about whether the rules of copyright apply in your situation?

Or just interested in knowing more about staying copyright compliant online?

Feel free to reach out to us at and get in touch with one of our legal experts from your area!

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