Copyright Guidelines

The Copyright Act must be taken into consideration when your course is being created. The University of Waterloo has a central Copyright Guidelines website that provides considerable support for you on all matters relating to copyright. Please review the information carefully. The information below is designed to assist you as you prepare your online course.

Do you need permission?

All work is protected by copyright for a period of time. During that time, the copyright owner holds the economic and moral rights associated with the work. If you would like to use material that is protected by copyright, you probably need to ask permission from the copyright owner.

However, there are some circumstances where you don’t need permission.

  • Insubstantial amount - the Copyright Act doesn’t define “insubstantial”; it depends on the quantity and quality of the selection.
  • Public domain - copyright protection generally lasts for “the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year” (Copyright Act). There are some exceptions to the life-plus-50 rule.
  • Open licenses such as the following:
  • Licensed material (e.g. library licenses, stock photo licenses)

Exceptions in the online environment

The online environment is different from the classroom environment with respect to copyright. The Centre for Extended Learning uses the following exceptions for its password-protected courses hosted on Waterloo servers. (Note: we cannot apply exceptions to licensed material. Follow the terms of the license.)

  • Fair dealing - (Copyright Act, Sections 29. 29.1, and 29.2) Refer to the University’s Copyright Guidelines, especially the guide for instructors and the Fair Dealing Advisory.
  • Work available through internet - (Copyright Act, Section 30.04). You may copy work, which has been posted to the internet with the copyright holder’s consent, if it is not protected by a digital lock and there is no clearly visible notice prohibiting copying.
  • Non-commercial user generated content - (Copyright Act, Section 29.21). Individuals (not institutions) may use an existing work(s) to create and disseminate a new work. This cannot be used by course authors or CEL for creating course materials, but may be used by students for activities and assignments.


  • Use legitimate sources - use sources that are non-infringing (e.g. have been reproduced and/or distributed legally).
  • Track sources - record information (e.g. author, title, publisher, date, pages) so that CEL can verify whether the source is legitimate, determine whether we need to seek permission, and create a citation.
  • Cite sources - this is the intersection of copyright law, license terms, and academic integrity. Discuss citation style and placement with production team.

Design for accessibility 

  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) mandates that accessible formats must be provided to students upon request.
  • Perceptual disabilities (Copyright Act, Section 32) permits us to make, without permission, an alternate format of a literary, musical, artistic, or dramatic work, but not a cinematographic work; provided such a work is not already commercially available. Therefore, be careful of 3rd-party audio-visual material. If we can’t provide an alternate format you may have to find a different resource and change your assessment(s).

Other Things to consider

  • timelines - providing the development team with all 3rd-party material at the beginning of the development cycle will allow us to verify whether the source is legitimate and determine whether we need to seek permission. If a source is not legitimate or permission is not granted there will be more time for you to find an alternate resource and change your assessment(s). Alternatively, consider scheduling copyright reviews as each module is developed.
  • Instructor-led and developed courses - these courses will not have CEL verifying legitimacy of sources, determining if permission is necessary or writing/placing citations.
  • Open access courses - if your material will not be password-protected and on Waterloo servers (e.g. a website, a lesson in the classroom, part of a public event, a MOOC) please discuss copyright implications with the CEL team.
  • Course packs - the Bookstore seeks permission for the use of all 3rd-party material.

Useful resources

If you have any questions about this information, please contact Kathryn Blair, CEL Copyright Specialist.

Creative Commons License

This information is licensed by University of Waterloo under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.