Frequently asked questions

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Frequently Asked Questions by the University of Waterloo Copyright Advisory Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Everything you ever wanted to know about copyright but were afraid to ask! The links below provide you with general information about the Canadian Copyright Act and how it affects your work within the University. In addition to this FAQ, and for more detailed information on specific topics, please see the links on the left side of this page and the resources listed in question 5.3 below.

1. Copyright basics

General copyright information, including what it covers, how long it lasts, how you get permission to use someone's copyright material and how it works internationally.

Use of copyright materials at Waterloo is covered 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 can’t 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, 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 licences 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 licences that the University library has with publishers or a public licence such as a Creative Commons licence? If so, is what I want to do permissible under those agreements or licences?
  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’re not covered by any agreement or licence or an exception under the Act, you’ll need to get permission for what you want to do from the copyright owner.

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 protection arises automatically when a work is created and generally continues for 50 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 50 years.

For more information about duration of copyright protection in Canada see the Government of Canada’s About Copyright publication.

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 rights are qualified by certain exceptions which balance the copyright owner’s interests with the public interest in allowing use of works for purposes such as education and research.

Fair dealing is a user’s right in copyright law permitting use, or "dealing" with, a copyright-protected work without permission or payment of copyright royalties. The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows you to use other people’s copyright material for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody 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. For more guidance on how to apply the fair dealing factors to your particular circumstances, please review our Fair Dealing flowchart.

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, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody 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, review, or news summary you must also mention the source and author of the work for it to be fair dealing. Note: 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 Fair Dealing Advisory prepared by legal counsel for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).

Please note as well; it’s important to distinguish "fair dealing" from "fair use". The fair use exception in U.S. copyright law is NOT the equivalent of fair dealing in Canadian law. The wording of the two exceptions is different. It is important to make sure that you consider the Canadian law and aren’t relying on U.S. information.

Yes. While fair dealing doesn't specifically mention teaching it does mention education. The Supreme Court of Canada has also ruled that a teacher may make copies of short excerpts of copyright-protected works and distribute them to students as part of classroom instruction without prior request from the student under the fair dealing exception. See the guide to copying for instructional purposes for details about what may be as copied as fair dealing by instructors.

How long copyright lasts depends on which country you are in. In Canada, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author, plus 50 years. By contrast, in the U.S. and Europe, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, though it can differ depending on factors such as the type of work, the manner of publication and the date of creation. Use of a work in Canada is governed by the Canadian rules for the duration of copyright protection.

The term "public domain" refers to works in which copyright has expired.

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 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 publicly available through the Internet. See question 3.6 for further information about using material found on websites.

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.

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.

In general, the copyright laws in the U.S. and Canada are different. For example, the U.S. has a provision known as "fair use" which is different from the Canadian equivalent ("fair dealing").

See last paragraph in question 1.5.

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 the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (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.

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 that is prejudicial to the author’s reputation. These rights are important for authors to ensure they get appropriate recognition for their works and for prohibiting any prejudicial changes to their works.

The University has special arrangements relating to copyright ownership and use, set out in Policy 73 – Intellectual Property Rights. Under this policy, faculty, staff and students will generally own the copyright in works they create through teaching and research, with certain exceptions, such as works created as "assigned tasks" to assist the operation, administration and/or management of the University’s affairs. The University retains a non-exclusive, free, irrevocable licence to copy and/or use copyright in scholarly works created in the course of teaching and research activities for the sole purpose of other University teaching and research activities, but excluding further sublicensing or distribution to persons or organizations outside the University community. Policy 73 also expressly recognizes that students own the copyright in their theses.

Ownership can however be affected by agreements with industry sponsors or joint authors, who may have an interest in the works which they have helped to create or fund. Ultimately, ownership will depend on the facts of your situation and you should contact the Waterloo Commercialization Office (WatCo) if you are unsure about the ownership of your work.

If you want to scan something, you may do so only if the use falls within one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing, or where no permission is required, such as scanning a public domain work. If you want to scan a work that is still in copyright and add it to a website you need to be sure that the website is password protected, e.g. LEARN, and restricted to students enrolled in your course. If what you want to do falls outside the exceptions and is not in the public domain, you will need to get the copyright owner’s permission. See also question 3.4.

2. Copyright in the classroom

How you and your students can use other people's copyright material in your presentations and in class.

Yes. Under fair dealing you may make copies of another person’s works and hand them out to students enrolled in your course. Under fair dealing you may also include another person’s work, including images, in your PowerPoint presentations that you display to students enrolled in your course. In both cases, you must adhere to the amount that may be copied under fair dealing. Please see the Fair Dealing Advisory for the copying limits.

Yes, you can do both if you adhere to the amount that may be copied under fair dealing. Please see the Fair Dealing Advisory for the copyright limits.

Note however that in some instances a copyright-protected work is made available under a digital license that prohibits certain uses such as posting an electronic article to LEARN.  Any such restrictions will take precedence over fair dealing. Send a message to copyright@uwaterloo.ca for information about such restrictions.

Yes. Posting something on your own website means you are making the work available world-wide. Wide distribution tends towards the conclusion that the dealing is not “fair” and such uses may not be covered by any University licences. By contrast, Waterloo's learning management systems (LEARN) is a password protected, secure website accessible only by students enrolled in university courses. In some cases, posting material on LEARN will be covered by one of the University’s electronic subscriptions. The key thing to remember is just because you may post a copyright-protected work to LEARN doesn’t mean you have permission to post the work on your own personal website.

Yes. The Fair Dealing Advisory permits the copying of an entire journal article. Copies may be handed out to the students enrolled in your course or you may scan and post a copy of the article to LEARN.

Keep in mind that allowable use of ejournal articles is governed by a license. See 2.2.

In some instances the journal article is made available under a license that prohibits posting to LEARN.  Reach out to copyright@uwaterloo.ca for information about such restrictions.

The licences for some e-journals provided by the Library allow instructors to upload articles into secure course management systems such as Waterloo's LEARN. While there may be good reason to upload articles to LEARN, it is important to consider that doing so may mean that your students do not have the most recent version of the article. It is not unusual for publishers to make corrections or changes, such as adding supplementary material, to articles after initial publication. If such changes are made after a copy has been uploaded they will not be reflected in that copy. A direct link is the best way to ensure access to the most recent version of an article. Linking to the article also allows the Library to track use and obtain data about the importance of a particular journal to the campus.

You are free to create a direct link yourself, or you might want the Library to do this for you through the eReserves service. As well as saving you time, Library staff will ensure that authentication is taken care of so that your students don’t need to remember to log-in to the Library’s proxy server before going into LEARN. They will also prepare a “persistent” URL. The publisher’s URL for many articles can change from day to day; a persistent URL will ensure that your students get to the right articles quickly and without frustration.

Even in cases where uploading and linking to articles in LEARN is permitted by the licences, it is important to remember that licences generally do not permit you to upload to a website, or create links on a website, that is not part of the University’s secure network, and that is open to the world at large. None of the licences that the Library has with publishers allows for uploading to, or linking from, websites that allow access without authentication.

As long as you adhere to the amounts that may be copied under fair dealing you may scan and post it on LEARN. See the Fair Dealing Advisory for the copying limits. It’s important to note that fair dealing does not allow you to scan material and add it to a website unless that website is password protected (e.g. LEARN) and restricted to students enrolled in your course. If you want to scan a copyright protected work for inclusion on an open website, you will need to obtain permission from the right’s holder.

Yes! The Copyright Act allows you to play a sound recording or live radio broadcasts in class as long as it is for educational purposes, not for profit, on University premises, before an audience consisting primarily of students. However, if you want to use music for non-educational purposes, for example, for background music at a conference or in an athletic facility, a licence must be obtained from the copyright collectives the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) and Re:Sound

You may play videos in class in the following circumstances:

  • You may show a film or other cinematographic work in the classroom as long as the work is not an infringing copy, the film or work was legally obtained, and you do not circumvent a digital lock to access the film or work.
  • If you want to show a television news program in the classroom, under the Copyright Act, educational institutions (or those acting under their authority) may copy television news programs or news commentaries and play them in class.
  • You may perform a work available through the Internet, e.g. YouTube, videos, except under the following circumstances:
    • The work is protected by digital locks preventing their performance
    • A clearly visible notice prohibiting educational use is posted on the website or on the work itself.
    • You have reason to believe that the work available on the internet is in violation of the copyright owner’s rights.

If you want to show a video in class and need assistance in obtaining video programming, please contact copyright@uwaterloo.ca for more information.

Generally yes. Since fair dealing now includes education, students may include limited amounts of material in their assignments and presentations. See the Fair Dealing Advisory for details about amounts allowable under fair dealing.

Yes. There's a wealth of material out there which is either in the public domain or available under what is known as Creative Commons licensing, which generally means the work is available for free, subject to certain limited conditions, such as non-commercial use only and acknowledgment of the author.

For Creative Commons materials, visit the Creative Commons website for more information or check out their content directories which list audio, video, image and text materials available under Creative Commons licensing. For public domain material, simply search online for "public domain" and the type of material you’re interested in. Some useful sites include: Project Gutenberg (the largest collection of copyright-free books online) and Wikipedia, which has an entire page dedicated to public domain resources.

For other online materials, a recommended best practice is to check the website's Terms of Use", or "Legal Notices" section to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material. In many cases, you may be able to use the material for free for non-commercial and educational purposes.

Materials on the Internet are treated the same under copyright law as any other copyright materials, so if you want to use them, they either have to fall within one of the Copyright Act's exceptions (such as fair dealing or the educational use of the Internet exception), or be open access or in the public domain. If what you want to use isn't from an open access or public domain source and does not fall into one of the Act's exceptions you will have to obtain permission from the copyright owner. Note: the person who posted the material may not be the copyright owner and may not have the right to grant you permission to use the material. If this is the case, you should not use the material unless you can identify and obtain the copyright owner's permission.

Even if your use is non-infringing under the Copyright Act, your use may represent a breach of a website's "Terms of Use", "Legal Notices" or similar section. You should check those sections to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material, and whether additional consents are required.

Content on the web is copyrighted in the same way as print and other formats, even if there is no copyright symbol or notice. Linking directly to the web page containing the content you wish to use is almost always permissible, although you should check the website's "Terms of Use", "Legal Notices" or similar section to ensure linking is not prohibited. You should always include the full details of the author, copyright owner and source of the materials by the link. This will avoid any suggestion that the website is your own material or that your website is somehow affiliated with the other site.

Regardless of whether you obtain (or do not need) permission to link to a website, if you have reason to believe that the website contains content posted without the permission of the copyright owner, you should avoid linking to it.

As long as you adhere to the amounts that may be copied under fair dealing you may post charts and diagrams from textbooks, or other works, on LEARN. If for example, you wish to post multiple images from a book, you may do so as long as those images amount to no more than 10% of the book (see the Fair Dealing Advisory). It’s important to note that if you wish to post such material to a website that website must be password protected or otherwise restricted to students enrolled in your course.

Please note that just because you acknowledge the author and source of a work doesn’t mean you won’t be liable for copyright infringement. Acknowledging the source is no defence if the way in which you’ve used the work is not permitted under the Copyright Act. So make sure you either fall within an exception or have the copyright owner’s permission.

Only if you have the student’s permission. Under the University’s Ownership of Student Work policy, students own the copyright in the works they create. The University does get the right to make copies of the work for academic purposes, but this right does not extend to making it available online. Accordingly, you should ask students in advance whether they consent to having their work posted online and keep written records of the permissions given.

3. Copyright in the library (Reserves, Interlibrary Loan & e-resources)

What you should know about copyright if you want to photocopy something, place materials on eReserves and paper Reserves or get an article through Interlibrary Loan.

Yes, you are free to create a direct link yourself, although you might want to consider reasons to use eReserves. As well as saving you time, there are two advantages to having the Library create the link. The first is that Library staff will ensure that authentication is taken care of so that your students don’t need to remember to log-in to the Library’s proxy server before going into Waterloo's learning management systems (LEARN). The second advantage is that Library staff will prepare a “persistent” URL. The publisher’s URL for many articles can change from day to day; a persistent URL will ensure that your students get to the right articles quickly and without frustration.

Keep in mind that occasionally a licence prohibits linking. Contact Library Reserves for more information.

Yes. In many cases, works may be scanned and posted under fair dealing or license terms without the need to obtain permission. Where permission is required, this process can take from 1 to 8 weeks. Where there is a charge for a permission, the Library will usually be able to absorb the cost.

Instructors may post their own notes on eReserves. In addition they may post notes that include copyright-protected material as long as they have the right under fair dealing or another exception to include the material.

  • personal materials of instructors, for which they own the copyright (e.g. assignment questions/solutions)
  • original print books, textbooks, DVDs, CDs, etc.

Visit the Library’s online Reserves FAQ or contact staff at:

  • libreser@uwaterloo.ca
  • Davis - ext. 33761
  • Musagetes - ext. 27649
  • Optometry – ext. 38875
  • Porter - ext. 33648

We have implemented a "print from web" service for interlibrary loans. In most cases access to ILL copies is provided through an email link sent to the patron's email address.

The University of Waterloo Library has contracts with a variety of vendors and publishers that provide the campus with thousands of electronic resources (databases, e-journals, e-books, etc.) costing millions of dollars per year.

In addition to paying for these resources, the Library negotiates licence agreements that stipulate how and by whom a given resource may be used. Users must be currently registered faculty, students, or staff. Only these individuals will be registered with the proxy server for off-campus access. Access for the general public is made available through terminals within the Library.

If licence terms are violated by anyone, licensors may temporarily suspend access for the entire university community. In cases where a resolution cannot be reached, the vendor may have the right to permanently revoke a licence and access to the resource.

You can help prevent such problems by adhering to good practices and avoiding improper use. Here are some rules of thumb.

Usually OK:

  • making a limited number of print or electronic copies for your personal use
  • using materials for personal, instructional or research needs
  • sharing with Waterloo faculty, staff and students
  • posting links to specific content

Not OK:

  • systematic or substantial printing, copying or downloading (such as entire journal issues)
  • selling or re-distributing content, or providing access to someone outside of the university community, such as an employer
  • sharing with people other than registered Waterloo faculty, staff and students
  • posting actual content or articles to third party web sites or listservs
  • modifying or altering the contents of licensed resources in any way

Always acknowledge your source on any published or unpublished document when you use data found on electronic resources.

Grey areas: Some licence agreements make express allowances for electronic reserves, course packs, multiple copies for classroom use and interlibrary lending. Other licences may prohibit one or more of these activities. If you have questions about a particular resource, please contact copyright@uwaterloo.ca.

4. Copyright and course packs

How copyright works when you are putting together printed courseware.

Under fair dealing, short excerpts of copyright-protected material may be included in course packs without permission. See the Fair Dealing Advisory for details. In addition some material covered by licences that the Library has for electronic resources may be included in course packs.

Any materials that you would like to include in courseware are assessed by the Courseware staff for copyright clearance requirements. This includes materials from the Internet, government publications, and unpublished works, not just books and journals. Providing details such as book/journal title, web address, author name, ISBN/ISSN number, page range and total number of pages in a book will help to confirm permission more quickly. If you have any questions about copyright materials you would like to include, call Courseware at extension 33996, email courseware@uwaterloo.ca.

It depends. If the amount and purpose of the copying is covered by fair dealing, or another exception, or a licence that the Library has for electronic resources, you will not need express permission. If, for example, you want copies printed for classroom handout, and the amount to be copied is consistent with fair dealing, you will not need permission. If, however, what you want to copy is not covered by fair dealing, or another exception, or a Library licence, permission will be needed. Any material submitted for printing is checked for copyright clearance. If you have permission to copy the item from the copyright owner, please provide documentation for the permission when submitting your order. If you do not have permission, the Courseware staff will obtain permission where required.

There are some special cases, such as reproducing entire out-of-print books or rare/fragile materials, which may take longer for copyright clearance. When you place your order, the Courseware staff can assess what copyright clearance may be required. If you have any questions regarding copyright, call Courseware at extension 33996, or email courseware@uwaterloo.ca.

If the copy posted to LEARN is covered by fair dealing, it is likely that the copy can be included in courseware without permission. If however the copy posted to LEARN is permitted under a licence agreement between Waterloo and the publisher, it is necessary to consult the licence agreement to determine whether a copy may also be included in courseware. Some copyright holders will grant users permission to put information on password-secured websites, like Waterloo's learning management systems (LEARN), but not to put the information in print format. Courseware must confirm whether permission is required separately, even if the information is already on LEARN.

Copyright holders and creators of works have the right to charge a fee for the use of their materials unless the use is otherwise covered by fair dealing, another exception, or a Library licence.These fees vary, usually based on the number of pages or excerpts copied and the number of copies made. All copyright charges are collected on behalf of the copyright holders and remitted to them.

It depends on how much you want to copy. The Media.doc staff can help you determine if the materials you are photocopying require copyright permission. If you have any questions before visiting a Media.doc outlet, please call extension 33996 or email courseware@uwaterloo.ca.

5. Copyright contacts and resources

Who's available to help you with copyright issues at University of Waterloo and other useful resources.

You can always send your questions to copyright@uwaterloo.ca. A team of five people with various specialities monitor this address.

The Bookstore obtains copyright permissions for printed courseware; the Library obtains permissions for eReserves material; and the Centre for Extended Learning obtains permission for fully on-line courses. For other uses, you may obtain permission yourself by simply emailing or writing a letter to the copyright owner.