Copyright may seem confusing, but the basic principle is very simple. Copyright exists to protect the rights of the creator of a work, be that a written work, a photograph, a piece of music, a video, or any expression of an idea. Copyright also exists to ensure access for information users. A simple concept, and one that we have an obligation to respect.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the set of rights assigned to the author or creator of a work. These rights include the right to determine if and how the work can be copied, distributed and/or adapted. In Canada copyright exists automatically: when a work is created it is automatically protected by copyright. The creator of a work may choose to register it so that proof of ownership is documented, but registration is not required. In Canada a creative work is automatically protected by copyright during the lifetime of the creator and for another fifty years after the creator’s death. Works that are no longer protected by copyright are considered to be in the “public domain” or “copyright-free” works. Works that may be used with permission, but without a fee are known as “copyright friendly”.

Why does copyright exist?

Copyright exists to protect the moral rights of the author or creator of a work. The author or creator has the right to the integrity of their work. Copyright protects them from the possibility of their work being mutilated or distorted. Moral rights protect the integrity of the work and protect the author or creator from having their work associated with products or causes without their permission. Moral rights also mean that the author or creator has the right to be recognized for their work through attribution by name. Authors and creators retain the moral rights to their work regardless of whether they have sold the commercial rights.

Copyright also exists to protect users’ rights to access and use copyrighted materials. The Fair Dealing provision in Canadian copyright law provides guidelines for the use of copyrighted materials for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire and parody (See Fair Dealing, below). All users now have the right to use copyrighted material when creating new works, provided certain conditions are met (See Using Copyright-Protected Works to Create New Works, below).

What is attribution?

Giving attribution means giving credit to the author or creator of a work that you have used with permission. You must acknowledge or credit the author/creator any time you use material that came from someone else. The style of attribution varies depending on the purpose of your own work, the medium you choose, and the requirements of the assignment or the publisher of your own work.

In some formats attribution may be brief and informal. For example, it may be acceptable to attribute an image used in a slide show by giving the photographer’s name and a link to the source either below the image or on a credits slide. In a formal assignment your teacher may require you to provide a full in-text citation and/or include proper credit in a Works Cited or Reference list. In this case, you will likely be required to follow a particular format. Learn more about citation formats.

Why must I attribute / cite others’ materials?

Rights of the creator: The moral right to be recognized for creative work is protected under Canadian copyright law. The law requires us to give credit to the author or creator of a work and requires us to use that work in a way acceptable to the author or creator.

Academic honesty: Whether a work is under copyright or in the public domain it is ethically right to give credit. Acknowledging the ideas or creations of others that you have used in your own work demonstrates accountability. Failing to give this acknowledgment may be perceived as taking credit for others’ ideas or creations, and would consequently be considered plagiarism. Learn more about Academic Honesty and Plagiarism.

Fair Dealing

Fair dealing rights in Canadian copyright law is a list of exceptions to the copyright holder’s right to limit use of his or her work. The fair dealing provision in the Copyright Act permits the use of copyright-protected work without permission of the copyright owner for the purposes of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire and parody. The use of copyrighted material for these purposes must be deemed “fair”: it should be limited in scope and should not cause damage to the copyright owner.

Fair Dealing for Education

Recent revisions to the Copyright Act put education under Fair Dealing for the first time.

School boards in Canada publish guidelines to help teachers and students understand Fair Dealing. It is the responsibility of educators to comply with the guidelines. In the Waterloo Region District School Board, Fair Dealing Guidelines are part of Administrative Procedure 4090, available in the staff area of the board website. Fair Dealing for the education sector is clearly explained in the Canadian Ministers of Education Council publication, Copyright Matters! (5th ed).

This Fair Dealing Decision Tool helps teachers decide whether “fair dealing” permits classroom use of print materials, artistic works, or audiovisual materials without first getting copyright permission. The tool helps teachers determine whether a specific intended classroom use is allowed by the Fair Dealing Guidelines.

As Hybrid learning and online learning have become common instructional practice during Covid-19, CMEC has released an FAQ for teachers.

What is licensing?

Licensing means that a work is used with permission. If an author gives you direct permission to use a work at no charge or for a fee, then you have license to use the work according to the terms set by the author. Organizations frequently purchase license to use a body of works under the terms set by the publishing organization. An example of this would be the databases in the WRDSB Virtual Library.

Using Copyright-Protected Works to Create New Works

The Copyright Act contains a users’ right for the creation of non-commercial, user-generated content. This provision permits the use of copyrighted works to create new works, provided that the following conditions are met:

  • The new work can only be used for non-commercial purposes,
  • The original source must be cited,
  • The original work used to generate the new content must have been acquired legally,
  • AND, the resulting user-generated content does not have a “substantial adverse effect” on the market for the original work.

Users may produce copyright-protected works to create mash-ups and share them in any medium, including over the Internet, provided all of the conditions stated above are met.

Expressions of Copyright

All rights reserved.
The creator or author retains all rights. Permission must be granted by the author/creator for any use of the work except for those permitted under the Fair Dealings provisions of Canadian copyright law (See above).
Some Rights Reserved:
The Creative Commons
Creative Commons provides an alternative form of licensing, and has only been available for the past decade. Creators who want to share their work easily but also want to retain their moral rights to the work often use Creative Commons licensing because it allows them to grant various copyright permissions free of charge.Creative Commons licenses often exist in layers (i.e., Attribution combined with Noncommercial). It is your responsibility to read the licensing information carefully and only use the material as intended by the license assigned.
CC Attribution
Copying, distribution, display and performance of the copyrighted work and derivative work is permitted, but only if you give credit (attribute) the creator.
CC Noncommercial
Copying, distribution, display and performance of the copyrighted work and derivative work is permitted, but only if you give credit (attribute) the creator.
CC No Derivative Work
The work can only be used “verbatim”. No derivatives are permitted. You must give credit (attribute) the creator of the work.
CC Share Alike
A share alike license allows distribution of a derivative work, but only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work.
Public Domain
A work is in the public domain when it is no longer protected by copyright. In Canada, this automatically occurs fifty years after the death of the creator unless the estate or agent of the deceased has extended the copyright registration. Permission is not required for the use of works in the public domain. However, attribution is still required to show respect for the creator, in an academic setting especially. (See above, Why must I attribute / cite others’ materials?)
A royalty is an ongoing fee paid for each use of a licensed work. A royalty free license means that the terms of the license are for initial and ongoing use. No additional fees need to be paid.

More about Copyright Law in Canada:

More about the Creative Commons: