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We don't like disclaimers but as we aren't lawyers we have to make it clear that this is our interpretation of copyright law in the UK as it applies to printed materials – books, journals, newsletters, worksheets and so on. It isn't a statement of the law. If you find anything wrong please do let us know.


Because you are interested in accessible copies of print materials in alternative formats, you will need to know a bit about copyright. This brief account deals mainly with copyright as it applies to schools, pupils, teachers, support staff and education authorities in Scotland.  Similar sorts of arrangements apply in Further Education and Higher Education, as well as in other not-for-profit sectors but here we concentrate on copyright for print disabled pupils in Scottish schools. 

Whichever applies you need to be aware of your duties under copyright law. It's a complex area so here we provide you with a route map together with useful links if you need to find out more.

Copyright Licensing Agency

The agency that deals with copyright matters on behalf of publishers is the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA).

For the most part copyright law prohibits photocopying, scanning or other re-uses of people's work but there are some notable exceptions. We're particularly interested in copyright exemptions for printed materials e.g. from books, journals, articles. Here we do not cover copyright as it applies to original audio works or film, or art. The exemptions to copyright for printed works that we describe cover:

  1. Out of copyright texts – what you can do, where you can get them, what sort of extra work you need to put in to make them even more useful;
  2. Copyright exemptions that apply to all pupils in Scottish schools;
  3. Copyright exemptions that apply to pupils with a print disability;
  4. Sharing accessible copies with other pupils in your authority;
  5. Sharing accessible copies with others outwith your authority.

1. Out of copyright texts

Out of copyright is not the same thing as out of print. Just because a book or other is out of print does not mean that is free to copy. It may not be.

Once an author has been dead for 70 years that author's works is assumed to have fallen out of copyright. This offers quite a bit of scope to schools. Many of the classics that feature in Higher English e.g. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice are out of copyright works. They can be accessed for free from the Internet from places such as Project Gutenberg or University of Virginia's eText library. With thousands of books available Project Gutenberg and University of Virginia have done a fabulous job in bringing this material to the world.

Many out of copyright texts are available for free download, and some can be obtained in HTML (useful for screen reader users); audio (useful for pupils who prefer to listen). Many are pretty raw and need some work done to them before they will fit the bill. Think of downloading an electronic out of copyright text from either site as having a TV dinner in the freezer. Most of the hard work has been done for you. You probably wouldn't want to eat it as is and you may need to put in a bit more work to make it edible. A lot still has to be done before you get to tuck in.

Despite the huge range of out of copyright books available, not every book or publication used in schools is by a long dead author. Are there other options for getting a hold of accessible books?

2. Copyright exemptions – all pupils

CLA have set out conditions for photocopying and scanning for Scottish schools in the Scottish Schools Photocopy and Scanning Licence.

All schools have a photocopy licence (one should be next to or attached to each photocopier). The schools licence, between CLA and the local authority, allows the following exemptions for copying materials:

  • One whole article from any one issue of a journal (even if that one article is the whole issue);
  • One chapter or up to 5% (whichever is the greater) of a book;
  • Up to 10% of a short book of up to 200 pages;
  • One poem or short story (up to 10 pages) from an anthology; or
  • An entire report of a single case from any law report.

While this is very helpful and welcome, it isn't much good if, for example you are blind and need to have a book provided in a different more accessible format such as audio or Braille. Which chapter or which 5% of the book would you want to have produced in Braille or audio?

3. Copyright exemption – pupils with a print disability

Having recognised that being allowed to access only 5% of a book isn't much use for a pupil with a print disability, the CLA allows additional exemptions to be given to Authorised Persons. An Authorised Person includes pupils who are visually impaired or are otherwise disabled under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This includes for example pupils with dyslexia.

A little known clause – Clause 5 – of the standard licence allows an 'Accessible Copy' to be made of the whole of the book or other printed material, not just 5%. Not only that but the text can be made accessible by presenting it in an alternative format. You can make an accessible copy teachers or other representatives of the local authority (known as an Approved Body) under the following terms and conditions:

  1. You must own an original copy of the book.
  2. You must check to see if an accessible copy is commercially available. If so, you must buy it – you can't make your own if one is already available.
  3. You must insert the correct copyright statement into the book.
  4. You may add digital facilities for navigation and to enable access.
  5. There is no need to notify the publisher.

To make sure that you understand your rights and obligations regarding making and using accessible copies, we recommend strongly that you read the Scottish Schools Photocopying Licence Clause 5.

4. Sharing materials – in your school or authority

Suppose you have made or have obtained an accessible copy of a book in an alternative format e.g. an eBook in .lit format. Suppose that the format would suit a different pupil in the same school. Is it Ok to share it, or would doing so break copyright? This section describes:

  • What you need to do to if sharing an accessible copy with another pupil with a print disability;
  • Whether, having made, an accessible copy, it is Ok to share it with pupils who have additional support needs;
  • How much you (not personally but as the Approved Body) are allowed to charge to provide it;

Sharing an accessible copy with another pupil who has a print disability

Provided the other pupil is disabled in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act, and this may include a pupil with dyslexia, then copyright exemption applies to sharing that accessible copy. If the alternative format is suitable it can be shared with that pupil because he or she would qualify, in his or her own right, as an Authorised Person.

Sharing an accessible copy with pupils who have additional support needs

You can only share the accessible copy with other pupils if they too have a disability. Not all pupils with additional support needs have a disability. If the pupil does not have a disability then it is illegal to share the accessible copy. (You can't just stick an accessible copy up on the SmartBoard.)

Charging for sharing an accessible copy

You are allowed to charge but only enough to recover costs of producing the accessible copy.

5. Sharing materials - with another local authority  - you need a CLA Print Disability licence

Under Section 31B of The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and The Copyright (Visually Impaired Person’s) Act 2002 c.33, a local authority is allowed to share materials, that they have made into an accessible alternative format, with other authorities.

The authority that intends to make the accessible copy available to another authority must hold a CLA Print Disability Licence, signed by them and by the CLA.

The authority that will use the accessible copy can only make it available to a pupil who is visually impaired or otherwise disabled.

Both authorities must comply with the terms of the licence including checking that a commercially available copy is not already available in a suitable format.

Other restrictions

A number of other restrictions apply to making accessible copies of books in alternative formats.

1. Commercially available copy exists

You are not allowed to make an accessible copy of a book if one already exists commercially. In that case you should buy the accessible version. You are obliged to check first before making an accessible copy.

2. Publications not covered by CLA licence

The CLA licence does not cover some publications – see the CLA web site for a more complete list.

3. The CLA licences covers making Accessible Copies of Printed works

The CLA licences allow you to make Accessible Copies of printed books. The licence does not allow you to make copies of digital files (unless they are 'Intermediate Files' i.e. text files of a Braille book, or digital files of a Large Print book), digital files from publishers (the publishers will define their own terms and conditions), commercial eBooks, or audio books.