Module 1

An Introduction to the CARL Copyright Training Modules

This module simplifies a very complex subject. This module is offered for information only, and is not a substitute for legal advice.


For some people who work in a university environment, these modules will be an introduction to copyright; for some, a refresher. Wherever you are on the continuum of copyright literacy, these modules will be useful.

Copyright affects everyone who works in a university environment. Whether you are an instructor, a learner, a researcher, or an administrator, your work will require you to think about copyright at some point. You may be the creator of works that are subject to copyright or you may use copyright-protected materials in your everyday activities, such as

  • scanning a book chapter for an online course,
  • incorporating images into your presentation slides,
  • showing a YouTube video in class,
  • sharing research articles with colleagues.

In fact, most of the content used in teaching and research is protected by copyright. So there are several good reasons why it’s important to know more about it:

  • to respect the rights and interests of creators and other copyright owners,
  • to understand your user rights, such as how you can use copyright-protected works in teaching, research, and other university activities,
  • to ensure that professional activities at the university are compliant with Canadian copyright law, and
  • to model academic integrity and respect for copyright for students and other members of the university community.

These copyright modules consist of short videos that explain the key elements of Canadian copyright law as it applies in a university environment. You will be introduced to some basic copyright principles, then find out how to apply them to teaching, research, and related activities.

Before exploring copyright in greater detail, think back to a time when you were considering copying a particular work (like a few pages from a scholarly article) to distribute to students.

1. Was the work protected by copyright?

Copyright applies to all original works — including books, films, images, artistic works, communication signals, sound recordings, and much more. However, copyright protection expires, generally 70 years after the death of the creator, after which works become part of the public domain.

Also, insubstantial portions of works are not subject to copyright – in the copyright world, by insubstantial, we mean really short. For example, a few sentences from a book or journal article, or a few seconds from a song, may not be long enough to be protected by copyright, particularly if used for teaching or research purposes.

Importantly, the facts and ideas contained in a work are not themselves protected by copyright. Copyright only protects the particular way that facts and ideas are expressed.

Think back to that work you were thinking of distributing – was it even protected by copyright? If it wasn’t, then permission is not required to copy and distribute it.

If it is copyright protected, then let’s move on to the next questions: licences (a fancy word for permissions) and user rights.

2. Is the work you wish to copy already licensed for your use?

Many of the works you use in teaching and research at your campus may already be licensed for your use, meaning that your institution, usually through its library, has already purchased the materials on terms that allow your intended uses. Where your use is licensed, or in other words, permitted, no further permissions or payments are required. Licensed materials include library-licensed resources such as electronic journals and e-books.

Also, some universities have blanket licences with a collective society (such as Access Copyright, or Copibec in Quebec) that facilitate the copying and sharing of copyright-protected works within a post-secondary educational institution. Check your institution’s copyright information website to find out if your university has a blanket licence.

For all licensed works, it is necessary to check the terms of the licence to determine whether your use is permitted.

In addition, an increasing number of works are being made publicly available on terms and conditions that may permit your intended use. For example:

  • many resources are openly licensed, using Creative Commons licences and similar programs, and
  • many resources are available on websites such as YouTube – if you check the terms of service, you may find that your intended use is permitted.

3. Are there user rights in the Copyright Act for making copies in some circumstances?

Canada’s Copyright Act contains several user rights, which are also known as “exceptions” that empower individuals and educators to make copies of copyright-protected works. Fair dealing is the best-known user right, or “exception”, but there are also specific exceptions for educational institutions. You’ll learn more about these in other modules.

4. When is it necessary to secure permission from the copyright owner?

If the work is protected by copyright and your use is not permitted by a licence or a user right as set out in the Copyright Act, then it is necessary to seek permission from the copyright owner. To find out more about the process for obtaining copyright permission at your institution, consult with your university copyright specialist or check your institution’s copyright guides.

Before seeking permission, it might be useful to determine if there is an alternate way to make the work available without reproducing it. For example, you may be able to link directly to your library’s licensed resources or to a website.

It’s important to remember that these modules provide a general overview; for specific information, consult your own institution’s copyright guidelines and policies, and if necessary, seek legal advice.

Go to Module 2.