Copyright Basics

Which copyright laws and agreements apply to me?

All University of Lethbridge faculty, students, and staff must comply with the Canadian Copyright Act, and with the terms of use of open and institutional license agreements.  The Copyright Act is the federal legislation in Canada that lays out what you can and can’t do with other people’s copyright works.  Copyright owners may choose to license their works under a Creative Commons license that protects copyright while promoting certain public (open) uses of the works.  The University Library also holds license agreements with copyright owners that give you limited usage rights for certain content such as a particular publisher's subscription-based electronic journals.

To determine whether your desired use of a work is permissible, you need to consider whether the use is in compliance with a license covering the work in question if one exists, or the Copyright Act.  The Copyright Permissions Flow Chart provides guidance on the questions you need to ask, and answer.  If your desired use of a copyright work protected is substantial, and is not covered by any agreement, license, or the Copyright Act, you’ll need to obtain permission for what you want to do from the copyright owner.

What does copyright cover?

Copyright protects tangible expressions of original ideas in the form of literary, artistic, dramatic, or musical works, as well as other subject-matter comprising sound recordings, performers' performances and communication signals.  This encompasses a wide range of material that includes books, newspaper and journal articles, photographs, charts, paintings, CDs, DVDs, software, databases, websites, live and recorded performances of works, and televised programs.

A work protected by copyright may be published or unpublished, and may exist in any physical format that is fixed or tangible.  Note that only original expressions of ideas are protected by copyright, not ideas or concepts alone.  This means, for example, that while an original book, painting, film, or song may be protected by copyright, the titles of such works are not. Note also that the Copyright Act defines copyright in relation to a work as the sole rights to produce or reproduce, perform in public or publish "the work or any substantial part thereof".

When does copyright protection begin?

Copyright protection exists automatically when an original work is created.  In general, copyright protection in Canada continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year of the creator’s death, although some exceptions may apply.  When you want to use a particular work in Canada, a reasonable approach is to assume that the work is protected by copyright unless there is a clear indication to the contrary, or the creator's death occurred at least 50 years ago.

How long does copyright last?

The duration of copyright varies across different countries.  Although copyright in Canada generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 50 years after the end of the calendar year of his or her death, copyright duration in other countries may be longer (e.g., in the United States and Europe, copyright generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years).  In addition, some exceptions may apply that are dependent on factors such as the type of work, and whether the work is individually or jointly created.  The copyright durations specified in the Copyright Act apply to all works used in Canada, including those created in countries other than Canada.

What rights do copyright owners and users have?

The Copyright Act gives copyright owners a set of rights pertaining to their original works that includes the rights to copy and translate their works, and to authorize such acts by others.  Copyright owners' rights are qualified by exceptions which balance their interests with the public interest.  The exceptions to copyright infringement in the Copyright Act permit certain limited uses of copyright works without copyright owner permission.  Some exceptions are available to all users and cover specific purposes that include research, private study and education, while the availability of others is limited to specific categories of users such as educational institutions.

What is fair dealing?

Fair dealing is an exception to copyright infringement that permits you to use a substantial part of a work without seeking the copyright owner's permission if i) your purpose is research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, parody or satire, and ii) your use of the work is fair.  Because "substantial part" and "fair dealing" are not defined in the Copyright Act, determination of whether a substantial part of a work has been used, and whether a use of a work is fair will always depend on the specific facts relevant to the use.

The Federal Court of Canada1 has said "whether a substantial part of a work has been reproduced is a question of fact and involves a qualitative rather than quantitative analysis" that includes consideration of the following factors:

  1. the quality and quantity of the material taken;
  2. the extent to which the reproduction adversely affects the copyright owner's activities and diminishes the value of the copyrighted work;
  3. whether the material taken is the proper subject-matter of a copyright;
  4. whether the user intentionally appropriated the copyright owner's work to save time and effort; and
  5. whether the material taken is used in the same or a similar fashion as the copyright owner's.

Fair Dealing Factors

To determine if a particular dealing with a work is fair, the Supreme Court of Canada2 provided a six-factor framework that considers qualitative and quantitative factors such as:

  • the purpose of the dealing (e.g., is the purpose one of those identified as fair dealing purposes in the Copyright Act, and is the purpose commercial or non-commercial?)
  • the character of the dealing (e.g., how is the work used: are limited or large numbers of copies made? is it an isolated or repetitive use? does the use involve limited or wide distribution?)
  • the amount of the dealing (e.g., how much of the work is used or copied, considering both qualitative and quantitative factors?)
  • alternatives to the dealing (e.g., are there alternative ways to achieve the same purpose without using the work?)
  • the nature of the work (e.g., is there a public interest in the dissemination of the work? was it previously unpublished?)
  • the effect of the dealing on the original work (e.g., does the use compete with the market of the original work?)

It is not necessary for your use to meet every one of these factors in order to be fair, and no single factor is determinative in itself.  In assessing whether your dealing with a work is fair, you should look at the factors as a whole to determine if, on balance, the dealing is fair.

Also keep in mind that fair dealing is format neutral. The Supreme Court of Canada has recently reaffirmed the principle of "technological neutrality" which "seeks to have the Copyright Act applied in a way that operates consistently, regardless of the form of media involved, or its technological sophistication" (SOCAN v. Bell, 2012 SCC 36).

The University's Guidelines for Copying under Fair Dealing provides a basic guide to copying that is likely to qualify as fair dealing as well as copying that is not allowed under fair dealing.  For more guidance on how to apply the fair dealing factors to your particular circumstances, please contact the University Copyright Advisor.


1Warman v. Fournier, 2012 FC 809.

2CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2004 SCC 13.

Can fair dealing cover teaching?

Yes. As of November 7, 2012 when the majority of Bill C-11 amendments came into force, education is a fair dealing purpose enumerated in the Copyright Act along with research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, parody and satire. Whether a particular dealing with a work is fair should be determined by applying the six-factor fair dealing framework proposed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

As the Copyright Act does not mention "teaching," prior to November 7, 2012 the potentially applicable fair dealing purposes relating to copying of works for use in instructional settings were criticism and review. Note that fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review requires you to mention the author (if provided) and source of the work in order to be considered fair dealing. 

The Supreme Court of Canada's July 12, 2012 affirmative decision on "whether photocopies made by teachers to distribute to students as part of class instruction can qualify as fair dealing under the Copyright Act" (2012 SCC 37, para1) is particularly notable. The decision took into account the six fair dealing factors laid out in a previous Supreme Court of Canada decision (2004 SCC 13). For U of L instructors this means that copying short excerpts for distribution to students as class handouts may qualify as fair dealing if the copying, on balance, is fair according to the six factors. Consult the University's Guidelines for Copying under Fair Dealing or contact the University Copyright Advisor for assistance in assessing whether fair dealing applies to the copies you wish to make.

What is the public domain?

The public domain refers to works in which copyright has expired or has never subsisted, or works for which copyright owners have made a clear declaration that copyright will not be asserted.  For example, consider the works authored by William Shakespeare about 400 years ago when copyright law did not exist.  Today his original works are in the public domain, which means anyone may use or copy those works without permission.  At the same time, many published editions of Shakespeare's works contain added original materials authored in recent times by other individuals (such as footnotes, prefaces, critical essays) which are protected by copyright because the authors used skill and judgment in creating the new material. This creates new copyright in the added original material, but not in the underlying text of the original works.

It is important to distinguish between works that are in the public domain, and works that are publicly accessible such as material freely accessible on the Internet.  Much of the material you may freely access online is protected by copyright, but you may be able to use it without the copyright owner's permission if the amount you need is insubstantial or your purpose is covered by fair dealing.  If you plan to use a publicly accessible work without the copyright owner's permission, you should first make sure your use falls within fair dealing, or is covered under the permitted uses stated in the Terms of Use or Legal Notices section applicable to the work.  When in doubt, you should obtain the copyright owner's permission for your use.

See the Canadian Public Domain Flowchart produced by Creative Commons Canada for an overview of the numerous factors applicable to the determination of whether a work used in Canada is in the public domain. For a similarly complex overview of the public domain within the context of United States copyright law, see Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States provided by P.B. Hirtle at Cornell University's Copyright Information Center.

Are Canadian government publications protected by copyright?

Yes, section 12 of the Copyright Act states that copyright in Canadian federal government publications belongs to the Crown for a period that lasts for a period of 50 years following the end of the calendar year of publication.  Prior to November 18, 2013, permission was generally not required for copying of Crown copyright-protected works for personal, public noncommercial or cost-recovery purposes.

However, as of November 18, 2013, Publishing and Depository Services no longer administers Crown copyright and licensing. When needed, Crown copyright clearance must be sought from the appropriate department or agency. Some departments, such as Industry Canada do not require permission to copy their publications "for personal or public non-commercial purposes, or for cost-recovery purposes . . . unless otherwise specified in the material."

How does copyright work internationally?

Although there are no international copyright laws, copyright is recognized internationally thanks to international conventions and treaties which individual countries may choose to sign.  In general, your copyright will be protected in other countries that have signed applicable international conventions or treaties.  Note, however, that the specific protections your copyright work will receive for its use in another country depends on that country's copyright laws.  If you’re concerned about someone’s use of your work outside of Canada, you will need to check the relevant jurisdiction’s copyright laws to confirm whether infringement of your copyright has taken place.

Are American and Canadian copyright laws the same?

The copyright laws of the United States and Canada are in general not the same.  For example, the provision known as "fair use" in United States copyright law is wider in scope than "fair dealing" in the Canadian Copyright Act.  United States copyright law provides that "the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction . . . for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright."  In contrast, the "fair dealing" exception in the Canadian Copyright Act covers only purposes of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, parody and satire, subject to certain conditions.  The location of use determines the rules which apply. If you are from the United States or are collaborating with an American researcher, you should keep in mind that the rules which apply to the copyright material you intend to use or create in Canada may differ depending on where you want to use them.

How do I get permission to use a copyright work?

Is your desired use permitted by an open access license, an institutional license (e.g., the University's Access Copyright license, and licensed Library full-text databases), or one of the exceptions to copyright infringement? If the desired use is not covered by a license or statutory provision, you will need to contact the copyright owner for permission.  The first step is to identify who the copyright owner is and whether there is an organization that represents the owner.  There are copyright collectives who may be able to give you permission to use a work in the form of a license on behalf of the copyright owner.  For example, if you want to use music that isn't covered by a license or the statutory exceptions to copyright infringement, you can seek permission through copyright collectives such as the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), or Re:Sound Music Licensing Company (Re:Sound) that administer copyright in music.

But if the copyright owner is easily identifiable and locatable, it may be easier to contact him or her directly as copyright owners will sometimes give permission to academic users without requiring payment.  You can usually identify the copyright owner somewhere on the work by looking for the copyright symbol ©, which should have the copyright owner’s name next to it.  You’ll often find this at the beginning of a book, at the side of a photograph, or at the bottom of a webpage.  Once you’ve located the owner, you can send an email or letter requesting permission for your use and explaining how and why you want to use the work.  Written rather than verbal permission is preferable; an email should suffice.  It’s also a good idea to retain a record of who gave the permission and when, what was permitted, any conditions or limitations on your use, and how to contact the person who gave the permission.

What are moral rights?

Moral rights are additional rights specified in the Copyright Act held by creators of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works.  Moral rights protect the integrity of a work and the reputation of its creator.  The right of integrity is the right not to have a work modified or associated with goods or services in a way that is prejudicial to the creator’s reputation.  The right of attribution is the right always to be identified as the creator of a work or to remain anonymous.  These rights prohibit any prejudicial changes to a creator's original work, and ensure that the creator receives appropriate recognition for his or her work.  Moral rights in a work have the same duration as copyright, but may not be assigned to someone else.

Who owns the copyright in works I produce at the University?

Agreements covering who owns the copyright and who can use original works created by members of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) are set out in Article 29 and Schedule E of the Faculty Handbook, and in Article 18 and Schedule D of the Sessional Handbook. In general, copyright in original works created by ULFA members in the course of employment are retained by the members, although exceptions may apply if a member is specifically instructed to create a work as part of his or her assigned duties. For more information about ownership and use of copyright works created by ULFA members, please contact the Chair of the ULFA Handbooks Committee.  It is worth noting that although in most cases copyright initially belongs to the creator of a work (who may subsequently sell or license ownership of certain rights to others), there are exceptions to this general rule.