Copyright basics for creators

Copyright Protection

  • copyright protection is automatic, on the creation of the work, given the work meets the requirements for copyright protection
    • you do not need to use the copyright symbol
    • you are not required to register for copyright protection
  • copyright generally lasts for the life of the author and 70 years after their death

Your rights under the Copyright Act

The Copyright Act provides creators of works with specific rights, as outlined in section three of the Copyright Act. For example, copyright gives the copyright owner the right to copy and translate a work and the right to communicate a work to the public by telecommunication (ex. publish a work online). These rights are qualified by certain exceptions that balance the copyright owner’s interests with the public interest in allowing use of works for purposes such as education and research.

What copyright doesn't protect

Facts and ideas are not protected by copyright law, but the creative expression of them is. For example, a news article is a creative expression of facts, carefully curated together; the entire article is protected under copyright, but the individual facts in the article are not. Another example is numerical data, it may be a fact that 50 students are in a room, and that half are taking the course as an elective. I could express that as a pie chart. The pie chart (as an expression of the data), would be copyright protected, but you could express the same data as a bar chart without my permission.

Ideas are not protected either; someone who has an idea must express it in some fashion for it to be protected by copyright law (see fixation above). You can describe the ideas or theories in someone else’s work without infringing the copyright in their work.

There are two additional concepts that may be important to understand:

  • Merger doctrine, where an idea and its expression are unable to be separated. Recipes and rules to a game are good examples of facts that cannot be separated from their expression and are therefore more likely to not be protected by copyright. If you are unsure whether your use case fits in this scenario, please reach out to
  • Scènes à faire refers to instances where there are common elements to particular works. For example, the concept of having dragons and knights in a fantasy novel is not protected by copyright.

Who owns copyright in my work at the University of Waterloo?

At the University of Waterloo, Policy 73 (Intellectual Property) guides our understanding of copyright ownership on campus. 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. However, the University retains a non-exclusive, free, irrevocable licence to copy and/or use works created in the course of teaching and research activities that have been printed and distributed or made publicly available for the sole purpose of other University teaching and research activities, but excluding further sub-licensing or distribution to persons or organizations outside the University community.

Ownership can be affected by agreements with publishers, funders, industry sponsors, or joint authors, who may have an interest in the works which they have helped to create or fund.

1 Canadian Admiral Corp. v. Rediffusion Inc., [1954] Ex. C.R. 382, para. 394.

Image references:

Light Bulb by Till Teenck from the Noun Project

push pin by Olena Panasovska from the Noun Project

flag world by corpus delicti from the Noun Project