Step by Step Guide to Copyright

Copyright is an important but complex issue to navigate. If you are uncertain about how to ensure your use of materials is appropriate, this guide will help you with some basic questions to consider as you decide whether to copy.

Click herePDF(57 kb) for a visual flow chart version of this step by step guide

1. Is the material protected by copyright?

Copyright automatically subsists in every original literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic work from the moment it is created. In most cases copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years. Copyright also subsists in other works such as performer’s performances, sound recordings, and broadcast signals, where the clock starts running from the first performance. See copyright basics regarding the term of copyright protection. Once copyright has expired, materials enter the public domain and can be used without any restrictions. See public domain flowchart.

2. Is the intended act a “substantial use” of the material?

The protections afforded by the Copyright Act only apply when a “substantial” portion of a work is used (s. 3 of the act). See copyright basics for a discussion of what constitutes a substantial portion.

3. Has the library acquired a licence for use at U of R?

In most cases you will quickly move past the first two steps as copyright protection applies to most of the copying activities typical in an educational context. However, the library licenses a significant range of materials for use at the University. Permission and payment for the use of copyright protected works are a part of library licences, and this is the primary way that the University compensates copyright owners for the use of their works. Once you have determined that copyright protection applies, your next step should be to check the library’s collection. If it is licensed by the library you should also ensure that the kind of use you intend is permitted by the terms of use for that licence. See electronic resources for further information on terms of use for specific e-journals or databases. In many cases the best approach to sharing digital materials with students is the use of persistent links, which you can learn about at linking e-resources.

4. Is the use fair dealing or another user’s right established by the Copyright Act?

In the context of education there are a number user’s rights that allow for copying without the need to seek permission. Chief among these is fair dealing; see fair dealing guidelines. There are also allowances for the educational use of content posted on the Internet and performance of certain kinds of works in a classroom. See the copyright in the classroom page for more information on these allowable uses.

5. Has the copyright holder authorized public use?

Some creators will release their work under an open access or creative commons licence, which essentially are a form of advance permission for certain uses. If the work has one of these kinds of licences attached, you can make any use of the material that its terms of use allow.

6. None of the above apply, now what?

If none of the above options cover the copying you have in mind, then you will need to seek permission from the copyright owner. See the permissions page for more details on this process.