17. How can I tell if the materials I find online are legal copies?

Figuring out if the content you want to use was legally posted online can be difficult. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when assessing content that will help you make a more informed decision. If you are having difficulty figuring out if the content you want to use is a legal copy, please contact us at copyright@uwaterloo.ca.

Keep the following in mind

  1. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if you find an entire documentary uploaded to YouTube by an individual user (not by the production company that owns the documentary), or an entire textbook uploaded to an individual’s blog, it’s almost certainly not a legal copy. The copyright owner would have had to give permission for the content to be posted that way, and in these cases there is no motivation for them to do so since it would completely negate the need for people to purchase the content from a more legitimate source.
  2. What website was it posted on? What is that website's reputation? If the content is posted on a reputable website, it is more likely to be legal content. For example, if content is posted on the website of a newspaper (such as the Globe and Mail), it is more likely to be legitimate content than if it is reposted on an individual’s blog, unless it is accompanied by a statement indicating that material reappears with the permission of the copyright holder. Be more cautious with sites that allow users to upload content, since many users do not understand the copyright implications of posting content without permission. A good rule of thumb is to go to the source whenever possible: for example, when looking for a copy of a news broadcast, go directly to the news organization's page, or to its account on the platform you are using (e.g. YouTube). 
  3. Who posted the content? Who is the copyright owner of the content? If content has been posted by the copyright owner (a BBC news broadcast on the BBC YouTube account; an image posted in the photographer's digital portfolio), then that content can be considered legal. If content has been posted by someone other than the copyright owner and a credit line is visible (a photograph in a news story, an article reprinted from another source), then that content can likewise be considered legal. If, however, material has been posted/duplicated online and there is no clear connection between the uploader and the copyright holder (e.g. a YouTube video of movie clips posted by an individual fan; a text available as a scanned PDF on an individual reader's website), it is unlikely to be a legal copHave a look at who posted the content, and think about how likely they were to have permission to post the content. For example, if they are the copyright owner, they don’t need permission, if they are the creator of the work they are more likely to have permission or be the owner. Here are a couple examples:
    1. A video of a BBC news broadcast is more likely to be a legitimate copy if it was posted by the official BBC account on YouTube, than if it was posted by JaneSchmoe1984.
    2. An image posted on a photographer’s digital portfolio is more likely to be a legitimate image than a copy found on another individual’s blog.
  4. What attribution or permission statement is present? If content is posted on a website and it is unlikely that the website owner is the copyright owner, look for an attribution statement that indicates that permission was sought to use the content (e.g. “Image posted with permission of Photographer X" or "Reprinted with permission of the author"). You may also find that content posted by the copyright owner appears with a disclaimer about the terms of use or copyright statement for the content. 

If you've gone through these tips and are having trouble determining if the content you wish to use was legally posted, please send an email copyright@uwaterloo.ca.

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