Basics FAQ

General copyright information, including what it covers, how long it lasts, how you get permission to use someone’s copyrighted material and how it works internationally.

Everyone. The University expects that all faculty, staff and students will comply with copyright law.

Knowledge about and compliance with copyright law is a best practice and an aspect of academic professionalism.

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Copyright is created and governed by the Canadian ‘‘Copyright Act and Canadian court decisions. Canada is a party to various international copyright treaties, which have been implemented by the Copyright Act, and which influence court decisions.

When any person creates an original “work”, the law of copyright automatically governs who has the right to produce, copy, perform, publish, adapt, translate or telecommunicate that work.

The term “work” means

  • any literary, artistic, dramatic and musical work,
  • a computer program,
  • a translation of a work,
  • a compilation of others’ works,
  • a recording of any kind, and
  • a performance of a work.

Generally (but not always), the author of the work is the copyright owner – and that person is said to hold or own the copyright in the work. In other words, they have the right to control if and how the work will be produced, copied, performed, etc.

The rights of the copyright owner, however, are subject to certain user rights, which permit members of the general public to copy, perform etc. works in certain limited circumstances, without the copyright owner’s knowledge or permission.

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Copyright applies once the work is put into a fixed form (e.g. written down on paper, saved on a computer, recorded, videotaped, or painted on canvas) except for a sound recording, performer’s performance or communication signal (which may be transmitted instead of fixed). The work does not have to be in its final form – copyright applies to drafts too.

As referred to in Section 1 above, copyright applies to a wide range of works, from published and unpublished books, articles, photographs, charts, manuals and graphs, to CDs, DVDs, software, and the contents of databases and websites.

Copyright applies to all works created by faculty, staff and students in the course of their studies, research and employment at UBC.

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1.4 How do I know if something is protected by copyright?

A work is protected by copyright automatically when created and the protection continues for 70 years after the year of the author’s death.

Under Canadian copyright law, the work does not need to be registered and the symbol © is not required to appear on the work. There need not even be any reference to copyright protection on the work itself. It is possible, but not required, for a work to be registered under a voluntary government registration system such as Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). Other countries have different laws and regulations which govern copyright protection but most countries offer similar protection in line with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties and conventions.

When you want to use a particular work, assume that the work is protected by copyright, unless there is a clear indication to the contrary or the author has been dead for at least 70 years.

Note, if the work is a translation or an annotated version of an original work, copyright in the translation and annotation lasts for the life of the translator/annotator, plus 70 years after their death.

For more information on copyright term length, including how 2022 amendments to the Copyright Act impact public domain determinations, please see UBC’s Public Domain Guide.

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1.5 What is not subject to copyright?

Generally, facts and ideas are not subject to copyright. For example, the laws of thermodynamics, the plotline for a story, or an idea for a new line of research, are not copyrightable, but the text, story-board or research proposal that sets out your particular expression of those ideas, are subject to copyright.

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1.6 What does “copyrighted work” and “public domain” mean?

The rights of copyright owners are time-limited (i.e. they expire).

Also, it is possible for the copyright owner to make their works available for anyone to use, for free.

In both cases, it is common to say that copyright does not apply to such works, or that the works are “not copyrighted”, and works for which copyright has not expired or been waived, are “copyrighted”.

So, while technically not correct because copyright law continues to apply to all such works, in this FAQ, we will use the term as follows:

“copyrighted work” means a work for which the exclusive copyright has not expired and has not been waived; and
public domain” for a work for which the exclusive copyright has expired or been waived.

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The creator of a work is referred to as the author of that work.

The author is the first owner of the copyright, except in the situation where the author has created the work in the course of his or her employment, in which case, the first owner is their employer, unless the owner has agreed otherwise.

The first owner of the copyright is permitted to do several things with their rights to their work:

  • Retain them and restrict everyone else from using their work;
  • Grant others permission to use their work (this is usually done by way of an agreement called a ‘license’ but may be accomplished by stamping the work with a notice about how the work may or may not be used – for example, a Creative Commons symbol); or
  • Assign their copyright to someone else. In this case, the person receiving the assignment becomes the copyright owner. This is common in publishing transactions, where the author assigns their copyright in a research paper to the publisher of the journal in exchange for publication in the journal.

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A person who does something with a copyrighted work that only the copyright owner is entitled to do, and does so without the permission of the copyright owner of that work, infringes the copyright of the owner.

Civil and criminal penalties can be imposed for copyright infringement. Criminal sanctions can include fines and/or imprisonment and depend on the seriousness of the infringement. Civil sanctions include an order to pay damages and an injunction to prevent continued infringement.

Criminal penalties are usually reserved for those engaged in piracy for profit. Civil sanctions are the most common form of penalty for copyright infringement.

Liability for infringement may befall:

  • the person who performs the infringing act (e.g. makes an unauthorized copy of a book), and
  • the person who authorized the infringing act (e.g. if a patron asks a copy shop to make an unauthorized copy a book, the patron may be liable for authorizing the copy, and the copy shop may be liable for making the copy).

In certain circumstances, the University may be liable for the conduct of its employees. Therefore, ensure you understand your rights and obligations under copyright law. UBC’s copyright requirements and guidelines will assist you, and the Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office is available to answer your questions. Contact them here.

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1.9 What is fair dealing and how does it relate to copyright?

Fair dealing is a user right contained in the Copyright Act. Fair dealing allows you to copy from a copyrighted work, without the copyright owner’s permission, if:

  • the copy is for one these purposes: research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review or news reporting; and
  • your dealing (use) is fair.

Neither the Copyright Act, nor the decisions of the courts interpreting fair dealing set out exactly what is fair in any particular instance. Rather, to determine whether a particular copy qualifies as a fair dealing, one must consider all of the relevant factors, including the following:

  1. the purpose of the proposed copying, including whether it is for research, private study, education, parody or satire, criticism, review or news reporting;
  2. the character of the proposed copying, including whether it involves single or multiple copies, and whether the copy is destroyed after it is used for its specific intended purpose;
  3. the amount of the dealing from the individual user’s perspective, including the proportion of the work which is proposed to be copied and the importance of that excerpt in relation to the whole work;
  4. alternatives to copying the work, including whether there is a non-copyrighted equivalent available;
  5. the nature of the work, including whether it is published or unpublished; and
  6. the effect of the copying on the work, including whether the copy will compete with the commercial market of the original work.

Having considered all of the relevant factors, UBC has prepared Fair Dealing Requirements to provide direction as to how fair dealing applies to certain copying at UBC, and to provide reasonable safeguards for the copyright holders of copyright-protected works, in accordance with Canadian copyright law.

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1.10 Does fair dealing include teaching?

The fair dealing exception was expanded in November 2012 to include “education” as permitted purpose. Education, of course, includes teaching.

Also, in 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that teaching was contemplated within the “research or private study” fair dealing purposes. In that case, the issue was the copying of short excerpts by teachers for class handouts. The Court recognized that teachers “are there to facilitate the students’ research and private study”, that teachers cannot “be characterized as having the completely separate purpose of ‘instruction'”, and that the teachers’ purpose in providing copies to students is “to enable the students to have the material they need for the purpose of studying.” The Court characterized teachers as sharing a “symbiotic purpose with the student/user who is engaging in research or private study.” On this basis, the Court decided that the fair dealing exception allows teachers to make copies of short excerpts of copyrighted works and distribute them to students as part of classroom instruction, without a prior request from a student, subject to appropriate conditions, which UBC has set out in its Fair Dealing Requirements for UBC Faculty and Staff.

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In Canada, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author, plus 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author died.

For more information on copyright term length, including how 2022 amendments to the Copyright Act impact public domain determinations, please see UBC’s Public Domain Guide.

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1.12 What is meant by ‘the public domain’? How do I know if something is public domain?

The term “public domain” refers to works in which the copyright has expired or where the copyright owner has expressly made their work available for use by anyone, for any purpose, without needing to obtain the copyright owner’s permission. For example, copyright in Shakespeare’s plays expired long ago and therefore, Shakespeare’s plays are in the public domain. However, that doesn’t mean that the published editions of his plays are in the public domain. Many contain added original materials (such as annotations, translations, footnotes, prefaces etc.) that are copyright protected. This creates a new copyright in the additional original works, but not in the underlying text of the original work in which the copyright has expired. For more information about the public domain, please see UBC’s Public Domain Guide.

Materials on the internet are not, simply because they are available through the internet, in the public domain. Most are, in fact, copyrighted. However you may be able to use them pursuant to the Copyright Act (for educational uses, please see Instructor FAQ 2.7 for further information) or pursuant to the website’s terms of use.

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1.13 What are licences for electronic resources?

A license is an agreement where the owner of something grants another person permission to use that thing. In the copyright context, licenses are agreements where the copyright owner permits others to use their copyrighted materials. Some licenses grant a wide range of rights, and some only grant a narrow range.

The UBC Library enters into licenses with a variety of vendors and publishers, and these licenses provide access to millions of electronic resources (databases, e-journals, e-books, etc.) to UBC faculty, staff and students.

Each vendor and publisher sets use restrictions on their materials (which are negotiated with the UBC Library). Therefore, it is not possible to make general statements about the uses of electronic resources—rather, it is necessary to check the terms of the particular resource you are accessing. The UBC License Information Database of electronic resources at, summarizes the permissions granted by each electronic resources license.

If the terms of a UBC electronic resources licence are violated by anyone, publishers may temporarily suspend access for the entire UBC community. In cases where a resolution cannot be reached, the publisher may cancel the licence or impose additional restrictions.

If you have questions about a particular electronic resource or UBC digital licence, please contact UBC Library E-Resources and Licenses.

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Almost every country in the world has signed onto various copyright treaties. These treaties obligate the signatory countries to pass laws in their own jurisdiction that respect the copyright in works made in other signatory countries.

While protections do exist, the treaties leave room for interpretation and therefore, each country’s laws are slightly different, and offer different levels of protection.

If you’re concerned about someone’s use of your work in another country, you will need to check the particular country’s copyright laws to confirm whether they are infringing your copyright.

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Yes, copyright laws in the U.S. and Canada are different. For example, the U.S. has a doctrine known as ‘fair use’ which is different from the Canadian ‘fair dealing’. If you are from the U.S. or are collaborating with a U.S. researcher, you should keep in mind that you are dealing with copyrighted materials in Canada, subject to Canadian copyright laws. You cannot apply or rely on U.S. laws.

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1.16 How do I lawfully use someone else’s work?

There are several ways to use a copyrighted work.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, your use may be permitted by the Copyright Act, without needing the copyright owner’s prior permission. Please refer to the Copyright Guidelines for Faculty, Staff and Students for more information.

If your use does not fall within the uses permitted by the Copyright Act and the file you wish to use is a digital file, then determine whether UBC has already secured permission on your behalf. UBC has entered into hundreds of licenses that permit faculty, staff and students to access digital materials. For more information about UBC’s digital license, go here.

If neither of the two options are available to you, it will be necessary to seek permission (also known as a “clearance”).

The permission must come from the copyright owner, 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 that can give you permission (in the form of a licence) on behalf of the copyright owner to use their work. For example, if you want to use music and your use doesn’t fall within any of the Copyright Act’s exceptions, you can go to copyright collectives such as Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) or Re:Sound Music Licensing Company that administer copyright in music.

However, if the copyright owner can be easily found, it can sometimes be easier to contact them directly. Look 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 web page. Once you’ve located the owner, simply email or write to the owner, explaining how and why you want to use the work and requesting permission. The permission should be in writing so that you have a good record; an email will suffice. If only verbal permission is possible, we recommend that you record who gave the permission, what was permitted, the date, and how to contact the person who gave the permission.

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1.17 What are moral rights and what do they have to do with copyright?

Moral rights are in addition to copyright. The author of a work and a performer has the right to the integrity of the work. That author of a work has the additional right, where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.

The right of integrity is the right not to have a work or performance

  1. distorted, mutilated or otherwise modified, or
  2. used in association with a product, service, cause or institution,

in a way that is prejudicial to the author’s or performer’s honour or reputation. These rights are important for authors and performers to ensure they receive appropriate recognition for their work and for prohibiting any prejudicial changes to their works.

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1.18 Are there special rules for scanning?

No, scanning a copyrighted work is subject to the same rules as photocopying a work or posting a work onto a learning management system.

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See this page listing copyright contacts at UBC.

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Yes. The UBC Rights & Permissions service obtains and tracks course-related copyright permissions and transactional licenses for faculty and instructors. The UBC Bookstore obtains copyright permissions for printed course packs. For other uses, you may obtain permission yourself by simply emailing or writing a letter to the copyright owner, contact a copyright person at UBC Vancouver or UBC Okanagan, or email for assistance.

If the copyright owner agrees to our request, the permission to copy the work will generally come by way of a one-off license agreement between UBC and the copyright owner (also known as a transactional clearance). There is no obligation for the copyright holder to provide consent and the copyright holder may require payment of a transactional license fee or decide not to provide consent. Permissions Services will work with you in the event that a transactional license fee is required. UBC has allocated resources to assist with the payment of such fees and Permissions Services but these resources may not cover the entire cost of such transactional licence fees.

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1.21 How can I get more information about copyright?

Key UBC copyright resources are posted on this website. See in particular:

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Text for several of the above FAQs was originally adapted from University of Saskatchewan Copyright by the University of Saskatchewan, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 Unported Licence. UBC’s FAQs licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International Licence with permission of the University of Saskatchewan.