Module 2

How Does Copyright Law Apply at My University?

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


All universities in Canada are required to comply with Canadian copyright law. In practical terms, this means that the reproduction of copyright-protected works by faculty, staff, and other members of the university community is subject to certain limits and restrictions.

Fortunately, many universities have adopted copyright policies and guidelines to assist you in determining what you can copy, disseminate, display, perform, etc.

Your institution’s copyright policies have their foundation in Canada’s Copyright Act, a federal statute, as well as in relevant case law. In addition to this, your institution may have entered into licensing agreements with content providers and/or collective societies that provide authorization for some types of copying.

The Copyright Act prescribes the rights that copyright owners have with respect to works that they create. These rights are balanced with a number of user rights, or exceptions, which allow those who use copyright-protected works, including educators, to copy those works for certain purposes, subject to certain limitations.

Copyright’s purpose is to encourage the creation and dissemination of new works by giving copyright owners the right to control certain uses of their work. It ensures they receive payment for their work, and provides incentive for new works to be created and for knowledge to be disseminated. In this way, copyright benefits society as well as individual creators.

The Copyright Act protects artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works, as well as sound recordings, performances, and communication signals.

That means that much of the content you use every day is protected by copyright, including articles, plays, songs, art, photographs, computer code, and audiovisual material – and content that you find on the Internet.

A work does not have to have copyright registered, nor display a copyright symbol in order to be protected. But it does need to be an original work demonstrating some measure of creativity, and it also needs to be fixed in a format, such as words fixed in printed or digital text, or speech captured in a sound recording.

By themselves, ideas and facts are not protected by copyright. An idea for a film isn’t protected, but the film script is protected, as is the finished film. In the same way, numbers are not protected, but an original arrangement of numbers, such as a figure or an infographic, is protected.

In Canada, copyright generally lasts for the life of the work’s creator, plus 70 years after the year of their death. When that period of time lapses, the work is no longer protected by copyright and it enters into the public domain where its use is free and unrestricted.

There are exceptions to the term of copyright protection. For example, works protected by crown copyright, and sound recordings may have different terms of copyright protection. Contact your university’s copyright specialist for more information.

Your institution’s copyright guidelines may provide specific examples and instructions to ensure that your copying is compliant with Canadian copyright law.

If you’re not sure how copyright law applies to your copying or how to interpret licences, consult with your university’s copyright specialist or check your institution’s copyright guides.

Go to Module 3.