Overview

A file folder, book, graduation cap, handshake, and asterisk

Copyright subsists in every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work provided that certain conditions are met. An ‘original work’ is the product of a creator’s exercise of skill and judgment, and may not be a copy of another work. Copyright also subsists in performers’ performances, sound recordings and broadcast signals. Very few original works do not attract copyright. As well, simply because something is publicly available on the Internet does not mean it is not protected by copyright.  

Copyright comprises a bundle of exclusive rights owned by the copyright holder. Its purpose is to protect content creators and owners, providing them with control over their work and the potential of a financial reward. Conversely, copyright is meant to promote creativity – by establishing a system for making use of others’ work – as well as the orderly exchange of ideas. Underlying data in copyright-protected works is not itself protected.  

In general terms, with the exception of artists’ performances, sound recordings and broadcast signals, the Canadian term of copyright lasts for the life of the author and a period of 50 years from the end of the year in which the author died. For a sound recording and a broadcast signal the term is 50 years from the end of the year in which the recording was made or the signal was broadcasted. For sound recordings published before that 50 year period expires, the term is extended to the end of the year 50 years after publication.

Once the term of copyright has expired a work becomes part of the public domain and the work can be used, e.g., reproduced or communicated, without permission. Other alternatives are also available – see Alternatives to copyright. You can also make use of any Exceptions to copyright.

In Canada, copyright law is guided by the federal Copyright Act.


Copyright infringement

It is an infringement of copyright to copy all or any substantial part of a copyright-protected work or to communicate all or any substantial part of a copyright-protected work to the public by telecommunication without the permission of the copyright holder, unless copying or communicating the work falls within one of the exemptions in the Copyright Act – see Exceptions to copyright.

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are often confused with one another. While both concepts are related and share certain characteristics, it is important to recognize the difference between them.  

A venn diagram showing that copyright infringement can sometimes occur with plagiarism
Copyright infringement Plagiarism
The reproduction or distribution of someone else's work without authorization, and that extends beyond the exceptions specified by the Copyright Act. The use of someone else's work without adequate or proper attribution to the author (e.g., lack of reference).
Legal offence Ethical offence
To avoid copyright infringement, you should make use of Exceptions to copyright. If no such exception is found to apply in your case, you may require permission to use the work from the copyright holder. To avoid plagiarism, you should always cite the source of all your materials. Should you require more information on plagiarism and referencing, please contact the Academic Writing Help Centre.

Improper use of a work may be considered both a copyright infringement and plagiarism, only a copyright infringement (e.g., referencing a work but using it without permission), or only plagiarism (e.g., failing to reference a work from the public domain).


Obtaining copyright permission

A handshake


To make a copyright permissions request, submit a filled-out Copyright Materials Log to the Copyright Office [contact information below]. To facilitate the process, please ensure that you have reviewed all available guidance material before-hand.  In particular, please ensure that you are familiar with, and understand, the University’s Fair dealing guidelines, and the Quick reference guide to copyright.

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