What is Copyright

Copyright literally means the “right to copy” and is part of a larger area of law, referred to as intellectual property, which protects the intangible or intellectual nature of a work. Copyright protects many types of works and only the copyright owner has the right to reproduce an entire work or a substantial part of it. The wider category of intellectual property (IP) includes:

  • Patents (inventions)
  • Trade-marks (logos, words, symbols)
  • Industrial designs (“pretty” shapes or designs of useful items)
  • Confidential information and trade secrets (ideas, concepts, facts)
  • Integrated circuit topography (microchips)


The rights above are granted for intellectual creativity. Copyright law is intended to protect creators of literary and artistic works (copyright owners) by establishing economic and moral rights, which allow creators to control the use of their works, as well as receive recognition and monetary benefits. Copyright law is also intended to prevent a perpetual monopoly on works so that the public interest might be served by the use of creative works for ends such as learning, scientific advancement and cultural enrichment.

Reproducing a work includes photocopying, scanning, downloading or uploading, and emailing. A work could include written text, art, music, dramatic work, or stand-alone work (e.g. a graph, chart, map, figure, photograph, table or diagram). A work can also be a sound recording, a performance or a communication signal.

In Canada, there is no requirement that a work be registered or that the word "copyright," or the symbol ©, appear on the work for copyright protection to adhere. However, it is recommended to use the universal symbol © on any works you have created, as it serves as a reminder to others that the work is protected.  Other countries may have different requirements in order to initiate copyright protection.  In Canada, a creator may choose to register a work through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), which provides a certificate of registration as evidence that your creation is protected by copyright and that you are the registered owner. 

Copyright law in Canada endeavors to strike a balance between the rights of creators and the rights of users.  Faculty and instructors are often both creators and users of copyrighted works. Many of the uses our faculty and instructors make of copyrighted works are allowed under the Copyright Act’s fair dealing exceptions and/or publisher licenses that have been negotiated and signed by the university. There are limits on fair dealing, however, even if the intent is to provide education.

Copyright protection exists as soon as a work is created in a fixed form. A fact or idea is not subject to copyright protection, but the expression of the fact or idea is protected.

Copyright is a broad category that protects creators of:

  • Literary, dramatic, artistic, musical works (e.g. Book, letter, e-mail, blog, computer program, compilation, government publication, script, play, film, painting, sculpture, photograph, map, architectural drawing, sheet music, compositions, music video, etc.)
  • Sound recording (e.g. lectures, animal sounds, nature sounds, music, audio book, etc.)
  • Performances (e.g. dancing, singing, acting, etc.)
  • Communication signals (e.g. Pay-per-view, radio, satellite, broadcasts, etc.)

Multiple types of copyright may exist within one work. For example, a musical work may consist of the song and the device that contains the song (e.g. a CD). In this case, the song and the device would be considered two different works and may be protected by copyright as a musical work and sound recording and the lyrics may also be categorized as a literary work. Additionally, a live performance of this song by an artist could also be protected as a performance.

The text on this page adapted from the University of Saskatchewan under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License.