Copyright law protects certain kinds of work. It protects works of literature, plays and dramatic works, images, music and audio recordings, visual design and graphics, typefaces, films and broadcasts.
The length of copyright varies for different types of work
For literary works, plays, music and visual arts, it is generally 70 years from the end of the calendar year an author dies. For computer-generated work, the period is 50 years. When copyright expires, the work enters the public domain, meaning that it can be freely used by anyone without the need to get permission. You can find more information about the duration of copyright and the public domain on CopyrightUser.org.
Copyright law gives creators and right holders economic and moral rights
Economic rights give artists the exclusive right to make copies of their work, distribute it, rent it, lend it, perform, broadcast and generally make the work available to the public in any way they want.
This means that when you use a work, or quote a small part, you should credit the authors. In many instances you must.
Moral rights allow creators of works to be identified as the author, to object to disrespectful treatment of their work and to not be falsely attributed as the author of work they didn’t create.
Exceptions to copyright
In the UK, people can use material protected by copyright in certain ways without infringing copyright. These include:
quotation, criticism and review (subject to a test of fair dealing)
news (excluding photos)
material to help visually impaired people
However, if you are using large amounts of material or making several copies of it, you may still need to get a copyright holder's permission to do so. You should also always acknowledge the creator when using copyright protected work. You can find more information about copyright exceptions on CopyrightUser.org
You might be infringing copyright law if you copy, adapt or make someone else's work public without permission
If you want to use someone else's copyright protected work or share it with the public in any way (including online, broadcast, speeches and photocopies), you usually have to ask permission from the copyright holder or a copyright licensing organisation acting on their behalf.