Copyright FAQ

What is copyright?

As one aspect of the broader Intellectual Property Law, copyright is the exclusive legal right to reproduce, or copy, a work. As a general rule (with the exceptions provided under ‘fair dealing’ – see question #6) only the copyright owner is allowed to make copies or permit others to make copies of that work. Canadian copyright is governed by the Copyright Board of Canada and the Copyright Act.

What is protected by copyright?

Everything written, photographed, digitized, recorded or broadcast, created is protected by copyright in Canada. For example, copyright protects your personal journal, family photos, newspaper articles, and the latest bestseller.

How long does copyright last?

The general rule is that copyright lasts for the life of the author of the work to the end of the year in which they die, plus another 50 years. (e.g. John Smith dies in August 1996, his works will be protected under copyright until December 31, 2046). Specific terms and/or restrictions may apply to certain works and other subject matter. Please note that the length of copyright is different in other countries.

Can I still use work that is protected by copyright?

Yes – The Copyright Act allows for “fair dealing” (see question #6), which allows you to copy an insignificant portion of a work for the purposes of research, personal study, education, parody, satire, criticism or review*, or news reporting* (*requires the source to be acknowledged).

What is public domain?

Public domain refers to works that belong to the public and are not protected by copyright. When copyright expires, the work is then in the public domain and can be used with no restrictions. Works can be in the public domain for a variety of reasons (copyright has expired, the work is not eligible for copyright protection, or the author has waived copyright). The majority of material found on the Internet is not in the public domain, even though it is publicly accessible.

What is fair dealing?

Fair dealing is an element of the Copyright Act to allow users to access copyright protected works without infringing on copyright. Fair dealing allows you to copy an insignificant portion of a work for the purposes of research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism or review*, or news reporting* (*requires the source to be acknowledged). The Supreme Court of Canada has established six factors in determining what is “fair”:

  • Purpose of the dealing – does it fall within the stated purposes?
  • Character of the dealing – how many copies are being made and for how many people?
  • Amount of the dealing – how much is copied in relation to the work as a whole?
  • Alternatives to the dealing – could your work be completed without copying the item?
  • Nature of the Work – is the work published and/or confidential?
  • Effect of the dealing on the [market for the] work – will copies result in an economic loss to the copyright owner?


How do I get copyright permission to publish something that someone else created?

It is your responsibility to seek out the copyright owner in order to request permission to use a work protected by copyright. Start by looking at the work itself for a © symbol followed by the name of the owner. If the work has no identification, you may wish to contact a copyright collective society to see if one of them represent the copyright owner and are able to provide you with the owner's name and address or tell you whether the owner is dead or living abroad. Other options include using the Internet, contacting publishing houses, libraries, universities, museums and provincial departments of Education. If the author is no longer alive, try to find out who inherited the copyright or who administered the estate.

What if I can’t find the copyright owner?

The Copyright Board of Canada is responsible for the issuance of licences when owners cannot be located. If you wish to use a published work that is protected by copyright and if you satisfy the Board that you have made reasonable efforts to locate the copyright owner and the owner cannot be located, the Board can issue a non-exclusive licence authorizing you to do what you wish to do.

How does copyright apply to information I find on the Internet?

Internet content is not currently covered by the Copyright Act. Each website or image must be checked to determine if the content can be used under fair dealing purposes. If you obtain permission to use an image or website content, make sure you acknowledge the source in your work.

Where can I get more information about copyright in Canada?

Government of Canada Publications – About Copyright

Canadian Intellectual Property Office - Copyright

Thunder Bay Public Library – Copyright Resources