Copyright Guidelines

The Copyright Act must be taken into consideration when your course is being created. Please review Waterloo's Copyright website for services and resources available to you.

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. However, in a ruling on insubstantial copying, the Copyright Board has established a standard of between one and two pages of a work, not constituting more than 2.5 per cent of the entire work.
  • 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 70 years following the end of that calendar year” (Copyright Act). There are some exceptions to the life-plus-70 rule.
  • Open licenses such as the following:
  • Licensed material (e.g. library licenses, stock photo licenses).  You should check the terms of your license to be sure.

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 for password-protected material accessible formats must be provided upon request, and that for non-password-protected material, accessible formats must be provided up front.
  • Persons with 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 - if you can provide all 3rd-party material at the beginning of the development cycle, it will allow us to verify whether the source is legitimate, to seek permission if necessary, and to write citations. 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).
  • Instructor-led and developed courses - CEL does not verify legitimacy of sources, determine if permission is necessary or write/place 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 copyright specialist.
  • Course copyright - Review your Course Development Agreement and Waterloo's Policy 73 for details.
  • Other institutions’ copyright guidelines and FAQs may be useful, but keep in mind that they may  have an agreement with Access Copyright, their guidelines may not reflect online/extended learning, and/or they may have a different approach to risk management.

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

These guidelines do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice is required, you are encouraged to contact Legal & Immigration Services at

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