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 copyright@uwaterloo.ca.

Keep the following in mind

  1. If it's too good to be true, it probably is. For example, if you find an entire documentary uploaded to YouTube, 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 as it would completely negate the need for people to purchase the content.
  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 (ex. the Globe and Mail) it would be more likely to be legitimate content than material posted on an individual’s blog. Be more cautious with sites that allow users to upload content, 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 straight to the news organizations page, or to their account on the service you are using.
  3. Who posted the content, and who is the copyright owner of the content? Have 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. Something like, “Image posted with permission of Photographer X. You may also find that content posted by the copyright owner is posted with some kind of disclaimer about the terms of use of copyright statement for the content. 

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