Copyright issues

What does copyright mean? 

Copyrights are the legal rights of the creator to dispose of his or her work.The copyright sets in automatically when the work is created, so the creator does not need to e.g. register or publish it, or mark it with a © sign.

The main rule for copyrights is that it applies for as long as the creator lives and 70 after his or her year of death. The transfer of all or part of economic rights (e.g., to an employer or company) and compensation must always be agreed upon separately.

Copyright applies to independent and original creative works. A spreadsheet program’s simple bar graph may not meet the criteria for copyright, while a visually ingenious vector graph designed by a skilled graphic artist is more likely to meet the criteria.   

You are not violating the rights of other authors if:   

  • you acquire the sources you use legally  
  • you follow good scientific practice  
  • you distinguish your own ideas from those of others  
  • you mark the sources you use carefully 

You have copyright to the copyrighted works you produce in your studies, unless you separately agree on the assignment of copyright. Copyright also applies to unpublished works.   


The creator of a work has completely power over it. The copyright gives the creator both economic and moral rights:

Economic rights ensure that only the creator has the right to exploit the work. This means that the creator alone may determine

    • how to manufacture copies of the work and
    • how to offer the copies to the public.

Moral rights protect the creator’s honour. These rights require the name of the creator to be mentioned every time the work is used, in accordance with usual practices. The work may not be changed in a way that dishonours the creator.

Creating a copy includes any kind of reproduction of a work, such as digitising a book or photograph or taking a photo of a painting.

  • Making a work available to the public refers to performing, displaying, disseminating or conveying it to a wider audience.
  • The performance of a work includes public singing and playing, while displaying is what takes place in museum exhibitions, for example.

The distribution of works includes the sale of copies of books and the distribution of works online, for example.

Permission to make a work available to the public must always be obtained from the author. For example, you may not post copyrighted material made by another person on your open blog without permission. However, you can link to another site as long as the source is legal.


The most significant copyright restriction concerns purely private use. A few copies of the original legal work may be made for private use, but a copy made for private use may not be redistributed. A copy of a digital recording that is shared online unlawfully may not be made even for private use.

Another exception to copyright, which is of particular importance to the scientific community, concerns the right to quote copyrighted material. You may quote the material in accordance with good academic practices, as much as is needed for your purposes, and in a relevant context; keep in mind that you have to mention the source whenever quoting.

Under permission the university has obtained from Kopiosto, teachers and students may copy and scan a limited number of pages from printed publications and copy minor quantities of text and images from open websites for theses or a closed learning environment, such as Moodle. Check the details of the permission from the Kopiosto website.

Authors also have the right to make their materials freely available to others.

CC licences

The terms and conditions of using the materials can be specified in a CC licence, for example. There are several different CC licences, and each defines the conditions under which others can use the work. The licences are international, meaning they are valid globally, and the licence texts are translated into different languages.

The most common of these is CC BY (Attribution), which is also the basis for other CC licences. Often, the version number (currently 4.0) is provided in connection with the licence, such as CC BY 4.0 (Attribution). A work labelled with the licence CC BY, can be used quite freely. For example, the work can be translated into a different language and even larger parts of it can be used in your own work – according to good citation practices, of course.

The CC-BY licence requires you to:

  • indicate and link the original source appropriately  
  • provide a link to the licence
  • mention any changes you have made to the materials.

If they wish, the author may also choose a licence that restricts the modification of the work (CC BY-ND, Attribution-NoDerivatives) or commercial use (CC BY-NC, Attribution-NonCommercial). Under the CC0 licence, the author hands over the work for free universal use (public domain). A work published under the CC0 licence may be copied, modified, distributed and displayed without permission, even for commercial purposes, without the need to mention the author’s name. However, it is good academic practice to mention the name of the original author.

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A video explaining how Creative Commons licences work. The video is on Youtube and its lenght is 1min 57s.

Video: the University of Guelph McLaughlin Library. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

You could use a CC licence, for example, for licencing the slides of your presentation or blog post, if you wish, as long as you have produced the material yourself or have the rights to use it. The recommended licence for educational materials is CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike). If you modify a material licenced under the CC BY-SA licence and republish, you must do so under the same CC BY-SA licence.

Copyright to images

The surest way to observe copyright is to use an image that you yourself have created. If you use other people’s images, first check whether the person who created the image has already given permission to use it.

You can use images created by others in the following cases:

  • You are working with an old photo, and its copyright protection has expired. The protection period of regular photographs published in Finland is 50 years from the end of the year in which the photograph was taken. In some cases (for example, art images), the protection period may be 70 years.
  • The image comes with a licence (for example, a CC license), which allows its use.
  • You have obtained permission from the copyright holder (author or publisher) to use the image.

A Kopiosto licence allows you to use a limited number of images in works related to your studies, for example in a PowerPoint presentation related to a course that you publish only on Moodle or another similar closed learning platform.

You can use (cite) a published image in an academic text if you discuss the image in the text and the image illustrates the subject matter. If you are not sure whether the image can be used for citation purposes, ask the author for permission to use the image. Follow good scientific practice in your field. Always mention the name or pseudonym of the person who created the image, even if the copyright has expired. In written works, refer to the images according to the chosen reference style.

More information about copyright:
Information on CC licences and their use (Creative Commons website)
Answers to questions about copyright and CC licences (Helsinki University Library website)
Terms and conditions for the copying of publications and works for higher education institutions (Kopiosto website)
Copyright and referencing of images (ImagOA guide)
Copyright questions related to the work of teachers (Operight website (Finnish and Swedish))
Test your copyright knowledge with quizzes and earn the Copyright Expert badge (Kopiraittila Academy)