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Copyright Frequently Asked Questions

Copyright basics

Copyright for instructors and teaching assistants

Copyright for students

Copyright for researchers

Copyright for authors and creators

Copyright basics

What kinds of works are covered by copyright?

Copyright protection exists automatically for every work that is created, even if there is no copyright symbol and no notice of copyright on the work. In Canada, copyright protection generally lasts until fifty years after the death of the author or creator. Once copyright has expired, the material is considered to be in the public domain which means it can be freely used without needing copyright permission.

Copyright applies to all  genres and formats, including books and journals (both print and electronic), computer software, diagrams, films, letters, maps, music, photographs, recordings, TV shows, videos, and works of art. Content on the internet is also protected by copyright.

What policies, laws and licenses govern the use of copyrighted works at post-secondary institutions?

Making copies of copyrighted works is governed by the Canadian Copyright Act. In general, permission of the copyright owner is required in order to make copies of a work. However, the Act contains several exceptions that permit copying for educational and other purposes, without the need to obtain permission.

To assist universities with determining what may be legally copied under the Copyright Act, Universities Canada has provided a Fair Dealing Policy which includes guidelines to assist faculty, staff, and students when making copies of copyrighted works.

When copying from materials that are covered by a license with a publisher, such as e-journals, e-books and other electronic content that the library has purchased, use is governed by the terms of the specific license or contract. Websites, apps, platforms, and subscription services also have their own terms of use which may be more restrictive than what is permitted in the Copyright Act.

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 without permission. Public domain works are those in which copyright has expired, usually fifty years after the death of the author or creator.  Insubstantial amounts of works can also 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 fair dealing?

Fair dealing is an exception in the Canadian Copyright Act which permits the making of copies for certain specific purposes. without needing to seek permission from the copyright owner.  The eight allowable purposes are: research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, parody, and satire.  Most copying done in a university environment will fall under one of these purposes.

However, in order to be considered fair dealing, the copies you make must also be fair.  When assessing fairness, you need to consider factors such as the amount you are copying, whether you are distributing the copy to others, and whether your copying might have a detrimental effect on potential sales of the original work.

Universities Canada has developed a Fair Dealing Policy, which is a legal interpretation of the fair dealing exception. It provides guidelines for university faculty and staff to follow when making copies of works. For information on how students can use fair dealing, see Copyright for students.

What exceptions are there for educational copying?

The fair dealing exception permits some types of copying that may take place at an educational institution. However, the Copyright Act also contains exceptions that authorize other types of educational activities, such as:

  • Displaying a work or a copy of a work, such as on a computer screen, to students in a classroom
  • Making copies for use in tests or exams
  • Performances in a class, for an audience consisting primarily of students, including sound recordings, videos, and live performances.
  • Making copies of publicly available content from the internet for educational purposes, provided that content does not contain a notice prohibiting its use.
  • Using copyrighted works to create a “mashup” or new work for non-commercial purposes.

In most cases, the above exceptions apply both to in-person and online learning environments.

There are, however, limitations on how these exceptions can be exercised. For example, some of the above exceptions do not apply if the work being copied is commercially available in a medium that is appropriate for the purpose required. Most exceptions also require that the original source of the copies be cited.

Note also that the Copyright Act prohibits the removal of technological protection measures (TPM), or digital locks, that restrict access to or prevent copying of a work. Removing or circumventing a digital lock is considered an infringement even if the copying would otherwise be permitted under an exception in the Act. Digital locks include paywalls, region-coding, watermarks and copy or download controls.

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.

What is Open Access?

Open Access materials are scholarly resources  which are free of charge to the user, as well as free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Content in Open Access publications is often licensed using a Creative Commons license. Learn more about the library's commitment to open scholarship initiatives.

Copyright for instructors and teaching assistants

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

When providing course readings and other copyright-protected materials to students, best practices are similar whether your class is in person or online.

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 either as class handouts, or by posting in CourseLink or the Ares Course Reserve systemExamples of short excerpts, as defined in the policy, include 10% or less of the copyrighted work, a single chapter from a book, or a single article from a journal or newspaper.

You 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.

To ensure that your course materials meet both copyright and accessibility requirements, submit them to the Ares Course Reserve system. Library staff will obtain and pay for any copyright permission that is required. 

Consider using openly licensed teaching materials, such as open textbooks, which are freely available to use and adapt.

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

Not all electronic 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.

Can I include copyrighted material in lecture notes and lecture slides?

Yes. Including copyrighted-protected materials (such as images, figures, video clips, or excerpts from books or articles) in lecture slides that you are displaying to students in an in-person classroom setting does not require permission as it is allowable under an educational exception in the Copyright Act.  For classes that take place remotely, any third-party copyrighted content that is included should meet the requirements of the Fair Dealing Policy, or the terms of other license agreements associated with that content.

You may also post your lecture slides or lecture notes that contain copyright-protected content to CourseLink, provided the copied material meets the requirements of the Fair Dealing Policy.  Slides provided by textbook publishers can usually be posted to CourseLink as well, although it is a good idea to check the publisher’s terms of use.

It is also possible to use content from the internet provided the source is cited, the original is not protected by a digital lock, the original is not an infringing copy, and that there is no clearly visible notice on the original web site prohibiting such use.

Can I share a movie, documentary or sound recording with my class?

Playing a sound recording or showing films and videos during in-person classes is permitted by an exception in the Copyright Act. However, there are copyright limitations to be aware of when sharing audio and video files in an online course. 

You can link directly to legally posted online content (from YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), or link to content found in the library’s extensive collections of streaming media.

Standard commercial streaming options like Netflix, Crave, or Disney Plus may also be an option for students who subscribe to them.  As subscriptions to these services are intended for personal use only, sharing your own subscribed content with a class is not permitted.

The library can assist with converting analog formats such as DVDs and CDs to streaming files. This is permitted for educational purposes, subject to certain restrictions, using an exception in the Copyright Act. If you wish to provide online access to a DVD or CD for a course, submit the details to the Ares Course Reserve System. Library staff will arrange for digitization of the video and will host the streaming files, which can be accessed by students via Ares.

Can I use copyrighted material on tests and exams?

Copyrighted material can be used in tests and exams that take place in person on the premises of the university.  If the exam takes place online, some copyrighted material can be copied and provided to students as outlined in the Fair Dealing Policy.

Can copies be made in accessible formats for a student with a disability?

The Copyright Act contains an exception which allows copies to be made in an accessible format for the benefit of a person with a perceptual disability, provided the work is not already commercially available in the format required.  This exception does not apply to films and videos.

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 (.doc - 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 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. In order to use the fair dealing exception your copying needs to be for one of the purposes listed in the Copyright Act; these include private study, education, research, criticism and review.  Likely most of the copying you will do as a student will fall into one of the fair dealing categories.  However, you also need to ensure your copying is fair, which means you need to consider factors such as the amount you are copying, whether you are distributing the copy to others, and whether your copying might have a detrimental effect on potential sales of the original work. For a more detailed explanation of fair dealing, see Fair Dealing Guidance for Students (PDF-13 kb).

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

Generally, it is permissible to include a link to a YouTube video, 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.

You can also embed a YouTube video in your presentation.  For more detail on permitted uses of YouTube videos, see YouTube’s Terms of Service. 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 license; in this case you are permitted to copy and use the video as outlined in the license terms.

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.

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

Not all electronic 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 copies be made in accessible formats for a student with a disability?

The Copyright Act contains an exception which allows copies to be made in an accessible format for the benefit of a person with a perceptual disability, provided the work is not already commercially available in the format required.  This exception does not apply to films and videos.

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, 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.

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 his or her rights. In such a scenario, you would be able to continue to use your work as you wish.

This may not be the case, however, if you have been hired by the faculty member as a research assistant or as part of a research team. 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.

Do I need to get permission to include copyrighted content in my thesis?

Including content from other works in your thesis, such as figures, images, or passages of text, may be permitted under the fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act.  Fair dealing allows you to use copyrighted works without permission for purposes such as research, criticism, and review. Your use is more likely to be fair dealing if the content you are including is discussed or reviewed in your thesis.

If you are using a large portion of a copyrighted work in your thesis, or if your use does not fall within fair dealing requirements, you may need to contact the copyright owner to get permission for your use.  Also, if you publish your thesis, the publisher may require you to obtain permission for any copyrighted material you have included.  

Copyright 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.

If the article you are e-mailing has been scanned from a print version of the work, it may be covered under the fair dealing exception, which permits copying for the purposes of research and private study. The copying must be limited to a short excerpt, as outlined in the Fair Dealing Policy

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.

Do I need to get permission to include copyrighted content in my thesis?

Including content from other works in your thesis, such as figures, images, or passages of text, may be permitted under the fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act.  Fair dealing [link] allows you to use copyrighted works without permission for purposes such as research, criticism and review. Your use is more likely to be fair dealing if the content you are including is discussed or reviewed in your thesis.

If you are using a large portion of a copyrighted work in your thesis, or if your use does not fall within fair dealing requirements, you may need to contact the copyright owner to get permission for your use.  Also, if you publish your thesis, the publisher may require you to obtain permission for any copyrighted material you have included. 

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, 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.

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 his or her rights. In such a scenario, you would be able to continue to use your work as you wish.

This may not be the case, however, if you have been hired by the faculty member as a research assistant or as part of a research team. 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 for authors and creators

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 obtain a takedown notice template by contacting 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.

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, 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.

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 his or her rights. In such a scenario, you would be able to continue to use your work as you wish.

This may not be the case, however, if you have been hired by the faculty member as a research assistant or as part of a research team. 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.

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 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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