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Copyright at MHC

Copyright Basics for Faculty and Staff

                                    Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The Basics: Copyright FAQ

1.  What is copyright?

In Canada, copyright is a federal responsibility and its rules are set out in the Copyright Act.  The Copyright Act grants the owner of the copyright the sole right to reproduce the entire work or a substantial part of the work (these rights are subject to the Fair Dealing and educational exceptions).  With proper citation/attribution, an insubstantial part of a work may be copied without infringing copyright.


2.  How can I tell if a work is covered by copyright?

  • Once someone writes down, records, performs, or puts a creation in some tangible form, their original idea belongs to them and it is copyrighted - even if they have not applied for formal copyright protection (there is no requirement to register copyright in Canada, nor does the work have to show a copyright symbol).
  • Copyright protection currently exists until 50 years after the creator's death.  After that, works enter the Public Domain unless the creator's estate asserts copyright.
  • Assume the work is covered by copyright unless there is information associated with the content that states otherwise (e.g. Creative Commons license).
  • Authors may waive all or part of their copyrights.  When an author has waived all rights, the work enters the Public Domain.  When part rights have been waived (such as with a Creative Commons license), the work may be used within the terms of the license without having to seek permission.


3.  What is Public Domain?

The phrase "Public Domain" is a copyright term referring to works that are free for everyone to use without asking for permission or paying royalties.

Works can be in the Public Domain for a variety of reasons:

  • because the term of copyright-protection has expired
  • because the work was not eligible for copyright-protection in the first place
  • or because the copyright owner has given the copyright in the work to the Public Domain

"In Canada, most works pass into the Pubic Domain after fifty years following the end of the calendar year in which the author died.  However, while a work may be in the Public Domain, a specific edition or image of the work may be under copyright.  This is important to remember." -University of Toronto: Definition of Public Domain in Canada


4.  What is Fair Dealing?  What does it allow me to do?

Fair Dealing is an exception in the Copyright Act that allows limited copying for the purposes of research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, or news reporting.  See the Fair Dealing tab for guidelines.


5.  Can I modify/adapt works?

Creating new works often involves building on the earlier works of others.  From a copyright perspective, when is building on the works of others considered a proper inspiration and when is it considered improper infringement?  Even courts have difficulty drawing the line between the two.  Paraphrasing vs. adapting?  What's the difference?  When do I need permission?

  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
  • Adapting or Modifying
    • Adapting is where the idea is substantially someone else's and the addition of new material may be for the purpose of clarification or expanding on the data, but it contains at it's core another's expression of a concept or idea - in this case you need permission to adapt, and the source should be credited.
    • You may adapt insubstantial amounts without permission, but only use what is necessary to express the concept for the purpose of criticism and review.
    • If the depiction or expression is entirely new, but has at it's core and idea or concept attributed to another's work, then it may be cited as "based on" research/data or a paper by "X".  You do not need to seek permission.


6.  What happens if I infringe copyright?

If you infringe copyright, you may be held liable for that action.  While criminal penalties are generally reserved for those engaged in piracy for profit, civil penalties, including an order to pay damages or an injunction to cease infringing, can be imposed for other types of infringement, whether that person be a student, staff member, or faculty member.


7.  What can I copy legally?

  • Insubstantial Portions of Works
    • The Copyright Act does not define what proportion of a work is insubstantial.  The courts have held that both the quality and quantity of what is copied must be considered.  Examples of insubstantial use may include quoting selected sentences from an article, book, poem, or song and displaying short clips from a film or TV production.
  • Government of Canada Works
    • Government of Canada material can be reproduced for personal or public non-commercial purposes unless there is a specific indication to the contrary attached to the work.  This includes federal statutes and regulations and the decisions of courts and tribunals.  Similarly, some provincial governments allow the same.
  • Works in the Public Domain
    • This means works that are no longer protected by copyright, and therefore can freely be copied.
  • Open Access Materials
    • These include materials presented for public use, including Open Access publications, works placed in institutional repositories, and works under Creative Commons licenses, which may typically be copied with minimal restrictions.
  • Links
    • Providing an internet link to a work does not constitute "copying" and does not require permission or payment (the source of the linked material must be indicated).
    • Republishing the material in a separate website or document is typically not allowed, although permission can often be obtained for such use.
  • Licensed Material
    • MHC purchases licenses from digital content providers and databases to allow the use of digital works.  Library staff can advise if  particular content is part of the licensed collection, what use can be made of it, and what attribution requirements exist.


                            This page has been modified for MHC from the Justice Institute of British Columbia's "Copyright Guide for Faculty: The Basics" and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike international license.