Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

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Copyright basics

Copyright FAQ for instructors

Copyright FAQ for students

Copyright FAQ for researchers

Copyright FAQ for authors and creators

Copyright basics

When can I make copies without requiring permission? 

Canada's Copyright Act contains some provisions for copying works without the consent of the copyright owner or the payment of royalties. These "exceptions", such as the fair dealing exception, allow copies to be made within defined limits for certain purposes. 

Works that are in the public domain can also be copied and adapted without permission. Public domain works are those in which copyright has expired. Insubstantial amounts of works can also be copied without permission. For more information see Works that can be copied without permission

Copying may also be permitted when the work to be copied is covered by a license, such as some of the agreements that the university has with publishers that provide access to electronic journals and books. Limitations on what can be copied will vary from license to license; check the journal or e-book record in Omni for details. 

What is the public domain?

Works that are in the public domain are not protected by copyright.  Usually this means that their copyright has expired.  However, an author or creator may also choose to dedicate their work to the public domain at any time, meaning copyright no longer applies to the work.  In this case, the work is usually clearly marked with a Public Domain symbol (PD) or note. For more information see Works that can be copied without permission

What is a Creative Commons license? 

Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a way of licensing materials on the internet so that they may be easily copied or reused by others. There are several different types of Creative Commons licenses, each of which grants specific rights of reuse. Materials that have a CC license can be used without obtaining permission, provided you attribute the creator of the work, and adhere to any conditions specified by the license. For more information about CC licenses, see Use Creative Commons Licenses or view the Creative Commons video

Copyright FAQ for instructors

Can I provide copies of copyright-protected works to students in my class? 

The Fair Dealing Policy allows instructors to make copies from copyrighted-protected works on behalf of their students. Short excerpts of a work can be copied and distributed as class handouts, sent to students via email, or posted in CourseLink or the Ares Course Reserve system.  Instructors can also provide students with links to library licensed electronic resources, or to freely available content on the internet. A large collection of online content is available via Omni, the library’s academic search tool.  For more information see Copyright for Instructors

Can I post a PDF of an article from a library e-journal on CourseLink? 

Not all journal licenses permit PDFs of articles to be posted on CourseLink, so linking directly to the article in question is generally the safest approach.  However, you can check the journal or e-book record in Omni to see if posting PDFs in CourseLink is permitted. 

Can I post an article or book chapter on CourseLink if I’m the author of it? 

If the work is unpublished then you are the copyright owner and can choose to use the work as you like. However, if the work has been published, you may have signed the rights over to the publisher. You will need to check your contract with the publisher to determine how you are permitted to use the work. 

Content I created for my course has been uploaded to websites like CourseHero or OneClass without my permission. What can I do about it? 

Websites such as CourseHero and OneClass, which allow students to upload copies of course notes and related course materials, generally provide the means for copyright owners to request the removal of content that has been posted without their permission. If you are aware that content for which you are the copyright owner has been posted on such a site, you can send a notice to the website owner requesting to have the materials taken down. Some sites make available specific forms that can be used for this purpose, or you can use one of the takedown notice templates (.docx - 24kb) provided by the library. 

Not every instance of posting course materials to a website like CourseHero will constitute copyright infringement, as copyright exceptions such as fair dealing may allow for portions of works to be posted without permission in some circumstances. It is also permissible for students to post their own course notes, including summaries in their own words, of content provided in the course. 

Instructors can help to protect the course materials they create from unauthorized uses by clearly posting copyright notices on their materials, as well as informing students what uses of the materials are permitted. 

Our department wants to post photos of a recent university event on our web site. Do we need to obtain permission from the speakers at the event to use photos they appear in? 

Yes. If the individual is the subject of the photo, or is featured prominently in the photo, it is necessary to obtain the individual’s permission to use the image on a web site or include it in a published or publicly circulated work such as a departmental newsletter or brochure. However, if the individual is in the background or is incidental to the subject of the photo, you do not need their permission to use the photo. 

It is a good idea when planning an event, to have event participants sign a waiver or permission form ahead of time, to ensure that you have their authorization to use photos, videos, or audio recordings of their participation in the event, as well as the content of any presentation or other works they may provide at the event. 

Copyright FAQ for students

As a student, what am I allowed to copy without infringing copyright? 

The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows students to make copies from all types of copyright protected works without requiring permission, but with certain limitations. For more information, see Copyright for Students. Also, a general guide to copying in an educational context, Copyright at the University of Guelph (PDF - 120kb), has been posted at photocopying, printing, and scanning equipment in the library and throughout campus.   

Can I use content from a YouTube video in my presentation? 

Generally, it is permissible to include a link to a YouTube video in a presentation for a class, although it is important to make sure that the video you are linking to does not include infringing content. Many of the videos found on sites like YouTube have not necessarily been placed there with the permission of the copyright owner. If there are indications that this is the case, then you should avoid linking to the video. 

Downloading and saving a copy of a YouTube video is generally not permitted as it would require breaking or removing the video’s technological protection measures (TPMs) which is prohibited by the Copyright Act as well as YouTube’s terms of service. However, some videos on YouTube are downloadable and have a Creative Commons (CC) license; in this case you are permitted to copy and use the video as outlined in the CC license terms. For more detail on permitted uses of YouTube videos, as well as uses that are prohibited, see YouTube’s Terms of Service

Must the images I use in my assignment be public domain or Creative Commons licensed? 

The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act permits copying for research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, parody and satire, and therefore would usually permit a student to use images or other small portions of copyrighted works in an assignment without needing to seek permission. However, the source of the image must be clearly cited. 

There are also many websites where royalty-free, public domain, or Creative Commons-licensed images can be obtained; these images can be used without permission provided the source is attributed. 

I am a graduate student who has co-written a journal article with a faculty member. The faculty member transferred copyright ownership to the journal when the article was published. Can I now re-use some of that work in my thesis? 

According to copyright law, every individual who has made a substantial contribution to a work is a copyright holder. The law does not grant special privileges to faculty members in cases where they have co-written a paper with a student. Copyright may be signed over to a publisher, but one co-author cannot sign over the copyright of another. If you have not individually signed over your copyright, then you still retain all of your rights as an author, regardless of whether a co-author has signed away their rights. In such a scenario, you would be able to continue to use your work as you wish. 

Copyright FAQ for researchers

Can I e-mail a PDF of an e-journal article to other University of Guelph researchers I am working with, or to a colleague at another university? 

Sending a PDF of an e-journal article to a colleague at the University of Guelph is generally permitted. 

However, some journal license terms prohibit the sharing of articles with colleagues at another institution.  Instead, you can send a link to the article, or provide the citation. License terms for specific e-journals are made available in Omni

You also may be able to make a copy of an article for a colleague under the fair dealing exception, which permits copying for the purposes of research and private study. See Using Copyright Protected Works for more information. 

Can my colleagues and I create a database of relevant journal articles to be shared across institutions? 

The library’s licenses with e-journal publishers generally do not permit the sharing of collections of articles with non-authorized users, such as colleagues at other institutions. Many licenses also specifically prohibit the creation of databases using their content. Instead, consider including links to the articles, or provide the article citations. 

Does the University own the copyright on a graduate student’s research? 

Students always hold copyright to their work when they write something as part of their program of studies. This includes term papers, major research papers, theses, and dissertations, etc. When someone produces something in the context of a job they are hired to do, however, copyright often belongs to the employer. If hired as part of a research project, the student will need to determine who holds copyright to any work produced by the team. This may be determined by a contract signed upon accepting the position. 

Copyright FAQ for authors and creators

Does the University own the copyright in content I create in my role as an instructor or staff member? 

In general, faculty and staff own the copyright in any materials they create as employees of the university, although there are some exceptions.  Employees should consult the collective agreement for their employee group, as well as the University’s Intellectual Property Policy (requires SSO) for guidelines pertaining to their own situation. In some cases, employment contracts may outline special copyright ownership arrangements for individual employees. 


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