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What isn't restricted?


What do you think?

Thelma loves the lyrics to Single Ladies by Beyoncé, especially the line: "if you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it"

She wants to create a t-shirt with similar wording, like: "if you like it, you should've put a picture of a ring on it"

Is Thelma allowed to print her own t-shirt with this quote?


Linking to a website

Linking to legal content is the safest way to share materials online and is not restricted by copyright. This is like showing someone the path to finding the material.

Embedding another website in your own is very different, and should be avoided unless the website you are embedding specifically permits this. Many modern social media sites allow embedding their content in an approved way. If embedding has been enabled, there is usually an embed code near the content. For example, YouTube provides the embed code to videos on their platform.


Paraphrasing is the act of referring to someone else’s work, considering their ideas and expressing them in your own words. You cannot be prevented from paraphrasing as copyright does not protect the underlying ideas. So rather than copying a large quote, consider paraphrasing instead.


Always remember to reference, even when you're paraphrasing. Please refer to the referencing website for more information.

Reusing themes and styles

All kinds of creative works are influenced by earlier works. If you are creating something, copyright does not require you to forget everything you’ve ever read or watched. Think about your favourite movie director. They will often have a distinct style which is defined by how they make movies. Copyright does not protect these elements, such as camera angles and plot devices. Similarly, copyright does not allow a musician to own a genre of music.

Public domain

Public domain content is material no longer protected by copyright. 

Copyright lasts for a long but limited duration, typically the life of the author plus 70 years. When copyright runs out, the material is free to reuse. For example, Frankenstein’s monster is a fictional character no longer protected by copyright because it was created by Mary Shelley, who died in 1851. Anyone is freely able to create works based on Frankenstein’s monster.

Some material is deliberately dedicated to the public domain by the copyright owner so that it can be reused. For example, all NASA works are copyright free and can be used without restriction. 


Everything on the internet is in the public domain.

Copying an insubstantial portion


Copyright doesn’t restrict anything you do with an insubstantial portion of protected work. An insubstantial portion is a tiny piece of a protected work. This isn’t just about the amount copied, but also how important it is.

If you want to copy the iconic part of a movie, then it is unlikely to be insubstantial. You can argue that a paragraph from a large book would be insubstantial, as would a single frame of a movie.

For example, the line “No, I am your father” from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, whilst short is important and may be considered substantial. 

Photo by Henry_RS on Pixabay




What do you think now?

Do you think Thelma's variation of the lyrics by Beyoncé can be printed on her t-shirt?

This lyric is short but iconic and therefore is considered substantial. The minor changes are not good enough as the iconic phrase is still recognisable.

Subjects: All guides