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While we may not often think of it that way, copyright laws were originally designed to encourage learning and to promote the progress of science and useful arts. So what better place to learn about and be intentional about our practices surrounding copyright than a university? The links of the left side menu of this page provide you with some basic information about copyright.

What is Copyright?

Copyright literally means the “right to copy” and is part of a larger area of law, referred to as intellectual property, which protects the intangible or intellectual nature of a work. Copyright protects many types of works and only the copyright owner has the right to reproduce an entire work or a substantial part of it. The wider category of intellectual property (IP) includes:

  • Patents (inventions)
  • Trade-marks (logos, words, symbols)
  • Industrial designs (“pretty” shapes or designs of useful items)
  • Confidential information and trade secrets (ideas, concepts, facts)
  • Integrated circuit topography (microchips)


The rights above are granted for intellectual creativity. Copyright law is intended to protect creators of literary and artistic works (copyright owners) by establishing economic and moral rights, which allow creators to control the use of their works, as well as receive recognition and monetary benefits. Copyright law is also intended to prevent a perpetual monopoly on works so that the public interest might be served by the use of creative works for ends such as learning, scientific advancement and cultural enrichment.

Reproducing a work includes photocopying, scanning, downloading or uploading, and emailing. A work could include written text, art, music, dramatic work, or stand-alone work (e.g. a graph, chart, map, figure, photograph, table or diagram). A work can also be a sound recording, a performance or a communication signal.

In Canada, there is no requirement that a work be registered or that the word "copyright," or the symbol ©, appear on the work for copyright protection to adhere. However, it is recommended to use the universal symbol © on any works you have created, as it serves as a reminder to others that the work is protected.  Other countries may have different requirements in order to initiate copyright protection.  In Canada, a creator may choose to register a work through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), which provides a certificate of registration as evidence that your creation is protected by copyright and that you are the registered owner.

Copyright law in Canada endeavors to strike a balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users.  Faculty and instructors are often both creators and users of copyrighted works. Many of the uses our faculty and instructors make of copyrighted works are allowed under the Copyright Act’s fair dealing exceptions and/or publisher licenses that have been negotiated and signed by the university. There are limits on fair dealing, however, even if the intent is to provide education.

Copyright protection exists as soon as a work is created in a fixed form. A fact or idea is not subject to copyright protection, but the expression of the fact or idea is protected.

Copyright is a broad category that protects creators of:

  • Literary, dramatic, artistic, musical works (e.g. Book, letter, e-mail, blog, computer program, compilation, government publication, script, play, film, painting, sculpture, photograph, map, architectural drawing, sheet music, compositions, music video, etc.)
  • Sound recording (e.g. lectures, animal sounds, nature sounds, music, audio book, etc.)
  • Performances (e.g. dancing, singing, acting, etc.)
  • Communication signals (e.g. Pay-per-view, radio, satellite, broadcasts, etc.)

Multiple types of copyright may exist within one work. For example, a musical work may consist of the song and the device that contains the song (e.g. a CD). In this case, the song and the device would be considered two different works and may be protected by copyright as a musical work and sound recording and the lyrics may also be categorized as a literary work. Additionally, a live performance of this song by an artist could also be protected as a performance.

The text on this page adapted from the University of Saskatchewan under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.

Copyright Basics

1. What laws and licenses govern copyright at the University of Regina?

Use of copyrighted materials at the University of Regina is governed by the Canadian Copyright Act and various agreements and licences entered into by the University with copyright owners and representative organizations. The Copyright Act is the legislation in Canada that sets out what you can and cannot do with other people’s copyright materials. In addition to this, the University has special agreements with copyright owners, such as subscriptions to electronic journals and databases, which give you additional rights to certain content.

In order to determine whether what you want to do is permissible, you need to check that you comply with any agreements or licenses covering the work in question and/or the Copyright Act. You should ask yourself:

  1. Is the work in question covered by an agreement or licenses that the University Library has with publishers or a public license such as a Creative Commons license ? If so, is what I want to do permissible under those agreements or licenses?
  2. If not, is what I want to do covered by the Copyright Act , either under the educational exceptions or under the fair dealing exception ?

If you are not covered by any license or the Copyright Act you will need to get permission for what you want to do from the copyright owner.

2. What does copyright cover?

Copyright protects literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, as well as sound recordings, performances and communication signals. This encompasses a wide range of things, ranging from books, articles, posters, manuals and graphs, to CDs, DVDs, software, databases and websites. Copyright doesn’t protect your ideas, but the “expression” of them. For example, if I think the earth is flat, my idea of a flat earth isn’t protected by copyright; but if I write a book about a flat earth, write and/or record a song about a flat earth, or paint a picture of a flat earth, those works expressing my idea of a flat earth are protected by copyright.

3. How do I know if something is protected by copyright?

Copyright protection arises automatically when any one of the above types of works is created and generally continues for 70 years after the author’s death, though this can depend on the type of work and where you want to use it. When you want to use a particular work in Canada, the safest approach is to assume that the work is protected by copyright, unless there’s a clear indication to the contrary or the author has been dead for at least 70 years. When there is more than one author or creator copyright continues for 70 years following the last death of an author. For sound recordings copyright protection lasts for 70 years following the creation of the recording.

For more information about duration of copyright protection in Canada see the Government of Canada's A guide to copyright and the Canadian Public Domain Flowchart

4. What constitutes a “substantial” portion of a work?

A: The Copyright Act only applies when a “substantial” portion of a work is used. However, the term substantial is not defined in the act. The courts have held that both qualitative and quantitative analysis of what is copied must be considered, with the qualitative aspects having priority. In considering what is qualitatively substantial a court will consider whether what was copied has taken the distinct traits of the original work. Therefore, the assessment on whether a copied portion of a work is substantial will vary from one use to another depending on the facts of the case. Generally, if you are copying more than a few lines or sentences of a work it likely would be considered a substantial portion. Even two seconds of a song could be substantial if it contains a signature riff of that work. Note that the fair dealing provision in the Copyright Act covers copying that is substantial but still allowed without permission: see fair dealing guidelines.

5. What rights does a copyright owner have?

Copyright gives the copyright owner a number of legal rights, such as the right to copy and translate a work and the right to communicate a work to the public by telecommunication. These are given as exclusive rights, meaning that only the copyright holder has the right to do these things. However, these rights are qualified by certain exceptions which balance the copyright owner’s interests with the public interest in allowing some use of works for purposes such as education and research.

6. Is the author of a work always the copyright owner?

The author/creator is the first owner of the copyright, except in the situation where the author has created the work in the course of his or her employment, in which case, the first owner is their employer, unless the employer has agreed otherwise.

The first owner of the copyright is permitted to do several things with their rights to their work:

  • Retain them and restrict everyone else from using their work
  • Grant permission to a specific person or institution for a particular use while retaining all other rights. This is usually done through an agreement called a license
  • Grant permissions to any potential users in advance for certain (or all) kinds of use. This can be done by attaching a notice to the work indicating how the work may or may not be used. One example would be attaching a Creative Commons licence
  • Assign their copyright to someone else. In this case, the person receiving the assignment becomes the copyright owner.

It is common in publishing transactions for the author to assign their copyright to the publisher in order to get published. Thus, in academic publishing the copyright owner of most books and journal articles is not the author, but the publisher. However, even when assigned the term of copyright is still linked to the lifespan of the author.

Some commentators assert that it is counterproductive for academics employed by public universities and doing research funded by government grants to assign all the copyrights to their publications over to what are often for-profit multinational corporations. This has led to the rise of the open access movement which is another way of granting some or all copyright permissions in advance to potential users. See “open access” under the resources link above for more details.

7. What is fair dealing and how does it relate to copyright?

Fair dealing is an exception in the Copyright Act which allows you to use other people’s copyright material for the purpose of research, private study, criticism or review, news reporting, education, parody or satire provided that what you do with the work is ‘fair’. Whether something is ‘fair’ will depend on the circumstances. Courts will normally consider factors such as:

* the purpose of the dealing (Is it commercial or research / educational?)

* the amount of the dealing (How much was copied?)

* the character of the dealing (What was done with the work? Was it an isolated use or an ongoing, repetitive use? How widely was it distributed?)

* alternatives to the dealing (Was the work necessary for the end result? Could the purpose have been achieved without using the work?)

* the nature of the work (Is there a public interest in its dissemination? Was it previously unpublished?)

* the effect of the dealing on the original work (Does the use compete with the market of the original work?)

It is not necessary that your use meet every one of these factors in order to be fair and no one factor is determinative by itself. In assessing whether your use is fair, a court would look at the factors as a whole to determine if, on balance, your use is fair.  If, having taken into account these considerations, the use can be characterized as ‘fair’ and it was for the purpose of research, private study, criticism or review, news reporting, education, parody or satire then it will fall within the fair dealing exception and will not require permission from the copyright owner. In addition, if your purpose is criticism or review, you must also mention the source and author of the work for it to be fair dealing.

For further clarity and additional information about limits on the amount and nature of copying permitted under fair dealing in certain contexts, please see the University’s Fair Dealing Guidelines.

8. How long does copyright last?

How long copyright lasts depends on which country you are in. In Canada, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. Generally, use of a work in Canada is governed by the Canadian rules for the duration of copyright protection.

9. What is meant by ‘the public domain’? How do I know if something is public domain?

The term “public domain” refers to works in which copyright has expired. Generally copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author/creator; see public domain flowchart. New editions of older works are copyright protected based on the lifespan of the editor of the new work, but that new protection does not extend back to the original edition.

For example, although the copyright in Shakespeare’s plays expired long ago, many of the published editions of his plays contain added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.) which are copyright protected because the authors/editors have used skill and judgment in creating the new material. This creates a new copyright in the added original material, but not in the underlying text of the original work in which the copyright had expired.

And don’t assume that everything you find on the Internet is in the public domain just because it is publicly available. Most of the material you find online is protected by copyright, however, you may nonetheless be able to use it for educational purposes because many uses will be covered by fair dealing or the exception for educational use of material publically available through the Internet.

Note: Some copyright owners have made clear declarations that certain uses of their copyright works may be made without permission or payment. The Reproduction of Federal Law Order, for example, permits anyone, without charge or request for permission, to reproduce Canadian laws and decisions of federally-constituted courts and administrative tribunals in Canada.

10. How does copyright work internationally?

Copyright is recognized internationally thanks to international conventions. So, generally, your copyright will be protected in other countries. But it is protected under that country’s laws so there may be some differences from the level of protection you would get in Canada. If you’re concerned about someone’s use of your work overseas, you will need to check the particular jurisdiction’s copyright laws to confirm whether they are infringing your copyright. For example the United States has a provision called “fair use,” which differs somewhat from the Canadian “fair dealing;” so don’t assume copyright laws or their exceptions are the same everywhere.

11. How do I get permission to use someone else’s work?

You ask! If your use isn’t permitted by a licence, or one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, you will need to ask for permission. The permission must come from the copyright owner so the first step is to identify who the copyright owner is and whether there is an organization that represents the owner. There are a number of copyright collectives who can give you permission (in the form of a licence) on behalf of the copyright owner to use their work. So, for example, if you want to use music and your use doesn’t fall within any of the Copyright Act’s exceptions, you may be able to obtain permission from copyright collectives such as SOCAN, Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) or Re:Sound that administer copyright in music.

But if the copyright owner is easily identifiable and locatable, it can sometimes be easier to contact them directly as many copyright owners will give permission to academic users without requiring payment. Usually you’ll be able to identify the 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, simply email or write to him/her, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing. An email will suffice. It is not advisable to rely on verbal permission. You should also keep a file record of who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave the permission.

12. What are moral rights and what do they have to do with copyright?

Moral rights are additional rights held by authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. They consist of rights that protect the integrity of a work and the reputation of its author. The right of attribution is the right to always be identified as the author of a work or to remain anonymous. The right of integrity is the right not to have a work modified or associated with goods or services in a way which is prejudicial to the author’s reputation. These rights are important for authors to ensure they get appropriate recognition for their work and for prohibiting any prejudicial changes to their works.

13. Who owns the copyright in the works I create at the University of Regina?

See the applicable collective agreement (e.g. URFA Collective Agreement).

The information provided on this site is offered as general guidance only, not as legal advice.

Text derived and adapted from Waterloo Copyright FAQ by the the University of Waterloo Copyright Advisory Committee, licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The web page "Copyright Basics" is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.