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Copyright Guide for Faculty and Staff

Frequently Asked Questions

The areas listed below provide you with general information about the Canadian Copyright Act and how it affects your work within the University. In addition to this FAQ, and for more detailed information on specific topics, please see the links below and the resources listed in question 5.3 below.

  1. Copyright Basics
    General copyright information including what it covers, how long it lasts, how you get permission to use someone’s copyright material and how it works internationally.
  2. Copyright in the Classroom
    How you and your students can use other people’s copyright material in your presentations and in class.
  3. Copyright in the Library (Reserves, Electronic Resources)
    What you should know about copyright if you want to place materials on reserve.
  4. Copyright and Course Packs
    How copyright works when you're putting together printed courseware.
  5. Copyright Contacts and Resources
    Who’s available to help you with copyright issues at Saint Mary's University and other useful resources. 


'Frequently Asked Questions' text adapted from the Waterloo Copyright FAQ by University of Waterloo, (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License).

1. Copyright Basics

Use of copyright materials at SMU is covered by the Canadian Copyright Act and various agreements and licenses entered into by the university with copyright owners and representative organizations. The Copyright Act is the legislation in Canada that sets out what you can and can’t do with other people’s copyright materials. In addition to this, the university has special agreements with copyright owners, such as subscriptions to electronic journals, which specifically define your rights to certain content.

In order to determine whether what you want to do is permissible, you need to first check that you comply with any agreements or licenses covering the work in question and/or the Copyright Act. You should ask yourself:

If you're not covered by any agreement or license or an exception under the Act, you'll need to get permission for what you want to do from the copyright owner. For assistance in obtaining permission, see this page or contact the Copyright Office.
Copyright protects literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, as well as sound recordings, performances and communication signals. This encompasses a wide range of things ranging from books, articles, posters, manuals and graphs, to CDs, DVDs, software, databases and websites.
Copyright protection arises automatically when any one of the above types of works is created, and generally continues for 50 years after the author’s death. However, this can depend on the type of work and where you want to use it. When you want to use a particular work in Canada, the safest approach is to assume that the work is protected by copyright unless there’s a clear indication to the contrary.
Copyright gives the copyright owner a number of legal rights such as the right to copy and translate a work, and the right to communicate a work to the public by telecommunication. These rights are qualified by certain exceptions that balance the copyright owner’s interests with the public interest in allowing use of works for purposes such as education and research

Fair dealing is a user’s right in copyright law permitting use, or "dealing" with, a copyright-protected work without permission or payment of copyright royalties. The fair dealing exception in the Copyright Act allows you to use other people’s copyright material for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody provided that what you do with the work is "fair". Whether something is "fair" will depend on the circumstances. Courts will normally consider factors such as:

  • the purpose of the dealing (Is it commercial or research / educational?)
  • the amount of the dealing (How much was copied?)
  • the character of the dealing (What was done with the work? Was it an isolated use or an ongoing, repetitive use? How widely was it distributed?)
  • alternatives to the dealing (Was the work necessary for the end result? Could the purpose have been achieved without using the work?)
  • the nature of the work (Is there a public interest in its dissemination? Was it previously unpublished?)
  • the effect of the dealing on the original work (Does the use compete with the market of the original work?)

It is not necessary that your use meet every one of these factors in order to be fair and no one factor is determinative by itself. In assessing whether your use is fair, a court would look at the factors as a whole to determine if, on balance, your use is fair.

If, having taken into account these considerations, the use can be characterized as "fair" and it was for the purpose of research, private study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody then it will fall within the fair dealing exception and will not require permission from the copyright owner. In addition, if your purpose is criticism, review, or news summary you must also mention the source and author of the work for it to be fair dealing. Note: for further clarity and additional information about limits on the amount and nature of copying permitted under fair dealing in certain contexts, please see the Fair dealing policy for universities prepared by Universities Canada (UC).

Please note as well; it’s important to distinguish "fair dealing" from "fair use". The fair use exception in U.S. copyright law is NOT the equivalent of fair dealing in Canadian law. The wording of the two exceptions is different. It is important to make sure that you consider the Canadian law and aren’t relying on U.S. information.

How long copyright lasts depends on which country you are in. In Canada, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author, plus 50 years. By contrast, in the U.S. and Europe, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, though it can differ depending on factors such as the type of work, the manner of publication and the date of creation. Use of a work in Canada is governed by the Canadian rules for the duration of copyright protection.

The term "public domain" refers to works in which copyright has expired.

For example, although the copyright in Shakespeare's plays expired long ago, many of the published editions of his plays contain added original materials (such as footnotes, prefaces etc.) which are copyright protected because the authors have used skill and judgment in creating the new material. This creates a new copyright in the added original material, but not in the underlying text of the original work in which the copyright had expired.

And don't assume that everything you find on the internet is in the public domain just because it is publicly available. Most of the material you find online is protected by copyright, however, you may nonetheless be able to use it for educational purposes because many uses will be covered by fair dealing or the exception for educational use of material publicly available through the Internet.

Note: Some copyright owners have made clear declarations that certain uses of their copyright works may be made without permission or payment. The Reproduction of Federal Law Order, for example, permits anyone, without charge or request for permission, to reproduce Canadian laws and decisions of federally-constituted courts and administrative tribunals in Canada.
Copyright is recognized internationally thanks to international conventions. So, generally, your copyright will be protected in other countries. But it is protected under that country’s laws so there may be some differences from the level of protection you would get in Canada. If you’re concerned about someone’s use of your work overseas, you will need to check the particular jurisdiction’s copyright laws to confirm whether they are infringing your copyright.
In general, the copyright laws in the U.S. and Canada are different. For example, the U.S. has a provision known as "fair use" which is different from the Canadian equivalent ("fair dealing")..

You ask! If your use isn’t permitted by a license, or one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, you will need to ask for permission. The permission must come from the copyright owner (not always the creator) so the first step is to identify who the copyright owner is and whether there is an organization that represents the owner. There are a number of copyright collectives who can give you permission (in the form of a license) on behalf of the copyright owner to use their work. So, for example, if you want to use music and your use doesn’t fall within any of the Copyright Act’s exceptions, you may be able to obtain permission from copyright collectives such as the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) or Re:Sound that administer copyright in music.

But if the copyright owner is easily identifiable and locatable, it can sometimes be easier to contact them directly as many copyright owners will give permission to academic users without requiring payment. Usually you’ll be able to identify the owner somewhere on the work by looking for the copyright symbol ©, which should have the copyright owner’s name next to it. You’ll often find this at the beginning of a book, at the side of a photograph or at the bottom of a webpage. Once you’ve located the owner, simply email or write to him/her, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing. An email will suffice. It is not advisable to rely on verbal permission. You should also keep a file record of who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave the permission.

Moral rights are additional rights held by authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. They consist of rights that protect the integrity of a work and the reputation of its author. The right of attribution is the right to always be identified as the author of a work or to remain anonymous. The right of integrity is the right not to have a work modified or associated with goods or services in a way that is prejudicial to the author’s reputation. These rights are important for authors to ensure they get appropriate recognition for their works and for prohibiting any prejudicial changes to their works.
If you want to scan something, you may do so only if the use falls within one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing, or where no permission is required, such as scanning a public domain work. If you want to scan a work that is still in copyright and add it to a website you need to be sure that the website is password protected, e.g. Brightspace, and restricted to students enrolled in your course. If what you want to do falls outside the exceptions, is not in the public domain or licensed for this type of use by the University, you will need to get the copyright owner’s permission.
Linking. Linking in Brightspace to a licensed article, e-book or legitimate web resource is always a good option to explore, and may be permitted, even when posting copies of the content is not an option.

Linking also cuts down on the number of additional licenses that the university may need to acquire to provide content to students (in a course pack for example). This is a very accessible, cost effective, and environmentally friendly method of providing content to your class.

2. Copyright in the Classroom

Yes. Under fair dealing you may make copies of another person’s works and hand them out to students enrolled in your course. Under fair dealing you may also include another person’s work, including images, in your PowerPoint presentations that you display to students enrolled in your course. In both cases, you must adhere to the amount that may be copied under fair dealing and give the creator credit. Please see the Fair Dealing Advisory for the copying limits.

Yes, you can do both if you adhere to the amount that may be copied under fair dealing or if the license for the work permits it. Please see the Fair Dealing Advisory for the copyright limits.

Note however that in some instances a copyright-protected work is made available under a digital license that prohibits certain uses such as posting an electronic article to Brightspace. Any such restrictions will take precedence over fair dealing. Consult a copyright contact for information about such restrictions. In these instances please consider linking through the licensed database to the article you would like to provide. Linking is permissible under most of the subscriptions SMU has signed into it. For more information on linking click HERE

Yes. Posting something on your own website means you are making the work available world-wide. Wide distribution tends towards the conclusion that the dealing is not “fair” and such uses may not be covered by any University licenses. By contrast, Saint Mary's University's learning management system (Brightspace) is a password protected, secure website accessible only by students enrolled in university courses. In some cases, posting material on Brightspace will be covered by one of the University’s electronic subscriptions. The key thing to remember is just because you may post a copyright-protected work to Brightspace doesn’t mean you have permission to post the work on your own personal website.
Subject to any existing license agreements,  Fair Dealing Advisory permits the copying of an entire journal article. Copies may be handed out to the students enrolled in your course or you may scan and post a copy of the article to Brightspace. Keep in mind that allowable use of ejournal articles is also governed by a license.

In some instances the journal article is made available under a license that prohibits posting to Brightspace Consult a copyright contact for information about such restrictions.

The licenses for some e-journals provided by the Library allow instructors to upload articles into secure course management systems such as Brightspace. While there may be good reason to upload articles to Brightspace, it is important to consider that doing so may mean that your students do not have the most recent version of the article. It is not unusual for publishers to make corrections or changes, such as adding supplementary material, to articles after initial publication. If such changes are made after a copy has been uploaded they will not be reflected in that copy. A direct link is the best way to ensure access to the most recent version of an article. Linking to the article also allows the Library to track use and obtain data about the importance of a particular journal to the campus.

Even in cases where uploading and linking to articles in Brightspace is permitted by the licenses, it is important to remember that licenses generally do not permit you to upload to a website, or create links on a website, that is not part of the University’s secure network, and that is open to the world at large.

Yes! The Copyright Act allows you to play a sound recording or live radio broadcasts in class as long as it is for educational purposes, not for profit, on University premises, before an audience consisting primarily of students. However, if you want to use music for non-educational purposes, for example, for background music at a conference or in an athletic facility, a license must be obtained from the copyright collectives the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) and Re:Sound

You may play videos in class in the following circumstances:

  • You may show a film or other cinematographic work in the classroom as long as the work is not an infringing copy, the film or work was legally obtained, and you do not circumvent a digital lock to access the film or work.
  • If you want to show a television news program in the classroom, under the Copyright Act, educational institutions (or those acting under their authority) may copy television news programs or news commentaries and play them in class.
  • You may perform a work available through the Internet, e.g. YouTube, videos, except under the following circumstances:
    • The work is protected by digital locks preventing their performance
    • A clearly visible notice prohibiting educational use is posted on the website or on the work itself.
    • You have reason to believe that the work available on the internet is in violation of the copyright owner’s rights.

If you want to show a video in class and need assistance in obtaining video programming, please contact us for more information.

Generally yes. Since fair dealing now includes education, students may include limited amounts of material in their assignments and presentations to achieve a specific purpose. See the Fair Dealing Advisory for details.

Yes. There's a wealth of material out there which is either in the public domain or available under what is known as Creative Commons licensing, which generally means the work is available for free, subject to certain limited conditions, such as non-commercial use only and acknowledgment of the author.

For Creative Commons materials, visit the Creative Commons website for more information or check out their content directories which list audio, video, image and text materials available under Creative Commons licensing. For public domain material, simply search online for "public domain" and the type of material you’re interested in. Some useful sites include: Project Gutenberg (the largest collection of copyright-free books online) and Wikipedia, which has an entire page dedicated to public domain resources.

For other online materials, a recommended best practice is to check the website's Terms of Use", or "Legal Notices" section to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material. In many cases, you may be able to use the material for free for non-commercial and educational purposes.

Materials on the Internet are treated the same under copyright law as any other copyright materials, so if you want to use them, they either have to fall within one of the Copyright Act's exceptions (such as fair dealing or the educational use of the Internet exception), or be open access or in the public domain. If what you want to use isn't from an open access or public domain source and does not fall into one of the Act's exceptions you will have to obtain permission from the copyright owner. Note: the person who posted the material may not be the copyright owner and may not have the right to grant you permission to use the material. If this is the case, you should not use the material unless you can identify and obtain the copyright owner's permission.

Even if your use is non-infringing under the Copyright Act, your use may represent a breach of a website's "Terms of Use", "Legal Notices" or similar section. You should check those sections to confirm what conditions apply to use of the website's material, and whether additional consents are required.

As long as you adhere to the amounts that may be copied under fair dealing you may post charts and diagrams from textbooks, or other works, in Brightspace. If for example, you wish to post multiple images from a book, you may do so as long as those images amount to no more than 10% of the book (see the Fair Dealing Advisory).

Please note that just because you acknowledge the author and source of a work doesn’t mean you won’t be liable for copyright infringement. Acknowledging the source is no defense if the way in which you’ve used the work is not permitted under the Copyright Act. So make sure you either fall within an exception or have the copyright owner’s permission.

Content on the web is copyrighted in the same way as print and other formats, even if there is no copyright symbol or notice. Linking directly to the web page containing the content you wish to use is almost always permissible, although you should check the website's "Terms of Use", "Legal Notices" or similar section to ensure linking is not prohibited. You should always include the full details of the author, copyright owner and source of the materials by the link. This will avoid any suggestion that the website is your own material or that your website is somehow affiliated with the other site.

Regardless of whether you obtain (or do not need) permission to link to a website, if you have reason to believe that the website contains content posted without the permission of the copyright owner, you should avoid linking to it.


3. Copyright in the Library (Reserves, Document Delivery and Electronic Resources)

  • Personal material for which faculty own the copyright (e.g. lecture notes, assignments, solutions).
  • Original print books, journal issues or volumes, DVDs, CDs, etc.
    • SMU's Library can sometimes purchase copies of original works not in their collections in order to place an original work on reserve, with the exception of textbooks adopted for courses. Send requests to your Copyright Liaison Librarian.

Consult the Faculty Information Book for information on current reserve practices and contact information. It can be found here.

Saint Mary's University Library has contracts with a variety of vendors and publishers that provide the campus with thousands of electronic resources (databases, e-journals, e-books, etc.).

In addition to paying for these resources, the Library negotiates license agreements that stipulate how and by whom a given resource may be used. Users must be currently registered faculty, students, or staff. Only these individuals will be registered with the proxy server for off-campus access. Access for the general public is made available through terminals within the Library. Please note: some titles/databases may not permit 'walk in users' to access their content.

If license terms are violated by anyone, licensors may temporarily suspend access for the entire university community. In cases where a resolution cannot be reached, the vendor may have the right to permanently revoke a license and access to the resource.

You can help prevent such problems by adhering to good practices and avoiding improper use. Here are some rules of thumb.

Usually OK:

  • making a limited number of print or electronic copies for your personal use
  • using materials for personal, instructional or research needs
  • posting links to specific content in Brightspace

Not OK:

  • systematic or substantial printing, copying or downloading (such as entire journal issues)
  • selling or re-distributing content, or providing access to someone outside of the university community, such as an employer
  • sharing with people other than registered SMU faculty, staff and students
  • posting actual content or articles to third party web sites or listservs
  • modifying or altering the contents of licensed resources in any way

Always acknowledge your source on any published or unpublished document when you use data found in electronic resources.

Grey areas: Some license agreements make express allowances for electronic reserves, course packs, multiple copies for classroom use and interlibrary lending. Other licenses may prohibit one or more of these activities. If you have questions about a particular resource, please contact the library's Copyright Office.

You can check various license information for specific ejournals by searching in the library catalogue. For further information please check here.


4. Copyright and Course Packs

Printed course pack can be made on campus in the Print Center.

Note: Brightspace can often be a more convenient, cost effective and environmentally friendly method of providing content to your students. It also allows for the addition of multimedia content. If you are interested in moving your readings from printed course pack into Brightspace and require some guidance please contact the Copyright Office.

5. Copyright Contacts and Resources

General contact:

Suzanne van den Hoogen
University Librarian / Copyright Officer
Tel 902-420-5532

Amy Lorencz
Metadata and Copyright Librarian
Tel 902-420-5174
Patricia Langille
Copyright Assistant
Tel 902-491-6321

Information Sessions:

If you would like to schedule a session for your department please contact us.


CARL - Copyright Open Educational Resource for University Instructors and Staff

Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) has put together a set of modules to learn more about Copyright in Canadian Universities. 

Take the course here: CARL Open Copyright Course


Please note: This guide does not provide legal advice. It is intended to give guidance about acceptable use of copyright protected materials.