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Guidance - Copyright in Public Records

Number: 3
Date: 18 June 1994
(Revised 9 May 2005)

Unpublished public records and those open for public inspection are reproducible freely under waiver of copyright. This guidance explains how this works in practice.


1. In the Government White Paper, The Future Management of Crown Copyright, it was announced that copyright would be waived for certain types of material which are Crown copyright protected. One of the categories of material which is covered by waiver is unpublished Crown copyright protected public records.

2. The purpose of this guidance is to describe how the waiver will be applied and which Crown copyright protected material will be covered.

3. Crown copyright subsists in all copyright works produced by officers or servants of the Crown in the course of their duties, in accordance with section 163 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Her Majesty the Queen is the owner of Crown copyright but she has vested this right in the Controller of HMSO, as Queen’s Printer, by Letters Patent. The Queen’s Printer is appointed Queen’s Printer for Scotland under the Scotland Act 1998, section 92 in relation to Crown copyright protected works in Scotland.


4. Some of the terms used in this Guidance Note need some explanations, and they are defined as follows.


The Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in her role as Queen’s Printer and Queen’s Printer for Scotland.

Crown Material:

Crown copyright protected material contained within Public Records.


The authorised issuing of copies of a work to the public in any medium:

Public Records:

Public Records, for the purposes of this guidance, are the records of central government in the United Kingdom and its constituent countries, and of the central courts of law, including bodies under the government such as the national museums, the National Health Service, and national regulatory authorities. The records have been selected for permanent preservation and are preserved in record offices and other repositories in the United Kingdom. Most become available for public inspection when they are thirty years old, but a longer or shorter period may be set in certain cases. They are selected, preserved and made available to the public under the authority of the Public Records Act 1958, the Public Records (Scotland) Act 1937, the Public Records Act (Northern Ireland) 1923 and the Government of Wales Act 1998.

Public Record Repositories:

Public Records are preserved in The National Archives, the National Archives of Scotland, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and some 240 places of deposit in England and Wales appointed by the Keeper of Public Records (such as local authority record offices, national museums and galleries and the archives of specialised public record-creating bodies). In the future they may also be preserved in a record office established by the National Assembly for Wales.


A product or publication in which Public Records are to be featured.

What is meant by Waiver

5. For those Public Records which are subject to waiver, users may copy, quote, index, transcribe, publish and broadcast the text of Crown Material in all formats and media throughout the world without:

The reproduction of images, including copies of documents, is not covered by the waiver (see paragraph 14).

6. The waiver of copyright is, however, subject to the following conditions being observed:

that the source of the Crown Material is provided by quoting the archival document reference and the name of the Public Record Repository where the records are held on any copies of the material which are to be made available to the public and in any publication or broadcast reproducing or using the Material;

that the material is not used in a misleading context or in a derogatory manner;

that a complimentary copy of the Work is supplied to the Controller and/or the Public Record Repository where the Crown Material is held. In the case of electronic products and publications which reproduce Public Records, the Controller and/or the Public Record Repository should be provided with an appropriate end-user licence and password access.

7. For material in which the period of Crown copyright protection has expired the conditions listed at paragraph 6 do not apply.

Which material is covered?

8. The waiver of Crown copyright in Public Records covers those Public Records which:

Which material is excluded?

9. The following Public Records are not subject to the waiver conditions:

10. Any user wishing to reproduce any Public Records listed at paragraph 9 or any material which is Crown copyright protected should apply in writing to one of the following:

For Public Records held by the The National Archives or in a Place of Deposit:
The Copyright Officer
The National Archives

For all other Crown Material:
Office of Public Sector Information
Information Policy Team

or use the Click-Use licensing system

11. The fair dealing provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which cover copying for the purposes of research and private study, criticism, review and news reporting and incidental inclusion of copyright material apply equally to Crown Material as to other copyright protected works. Similarly, the provisions contained in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 relating to education, library privilege2 and to uses for public administration cover Public Records as well as other copyright works.

Public Records which are not Crown Copyright protected

12. Many Public Records are not Crown copyright protected and users wishing to reproduce such material remain responsible for determining where ownership of the copyright rests and for obtaining the appropriate consents from the legal copyright holders. General guidance on the copyright status of particular documents can be obtained from some Public Record Repositories, such as the The National Archives. However, Public Record Repositories cannot undertake to identify the names and addresses of copyright holders.

13. Copies of any Public Record can be obtained from the appropriate Public Record Repository in accordance with section 49 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 without infringing copyright. However, the subsequent reproduction of such material, may be subject to copyright restrictions unless such copying falls within the scope of the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Tradeable Information

14. The waiver of Crown copyright does not apply to Public Records which fall within the scope of Tradeable Information, which will be subject of a separate Guidance Note to be issued by HMSO. The following material falls within the scope of Tradeable Information:

15. The reproduction of such material may be subject to formal licensing and payment of fees.

Provision of copies

16. Public Record Repositories retain the right to determine the means by which copies of Public Records are made available in fulfilment of their statutory responsibility and, furthermore, reserve the right to charge for the provision of such copies.

Undertakings of confidentiality

17. Public Records that are available for inspection by users only after completion of an undertaking of confidentiality will continue to have access and use restricted on that basis.

18. The details of the policy described in this Guidance Note takes immediate effect.

Carol Tullo
Controller HMSO
Queen’s Printer