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Student Copyright Guide

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Copyright Coordinator

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Caroline Korbel
Subjects: Human Services

Welcome to Copyright

This guide is intended to educate you on Canadian copyright and how to apply it to yourself as a user and creator of copyright-protected works. 

This page outlines the following policies and laws that apply to you: 

Copyright at VIU: Law & Policies

Canadian Copyright Basics

Copyright at VIU: Law & Policies

Vancouver Island University (VIU) is dedicated to balancing the copyright interests between creators of works and our community of faculty, students, and staff. This website provides the information that instructors need to manage their rights and responsibilities under Canadian copyright law.  

Use of copyright-protected materials is governed by the following: 

  • Canada's Copyright Act
  • Judicial precedent
  • International treaties, and the license agreements between VIU and content providers

Our copyright obligations under law are further supported by the following policies and guidelines:

Canadian Copyright Basics

Explore the sections below to get more familiar with Canadian copyright: 

What is copyright? Economic rights

Moral rights

Copyright is automatic

What's protected? 

Length of copyright

Public Domain

International copyright

What is copyright? Economic rights

Copyright is defined as, "the sole right to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form whatever." It is important to notice here that copyright does not apply to any insubstantial part of the work. Copyright does not apply to ideas, but rather comes into existence when an idea is expressed in a physical or digital material form. Copyright originally and automatically belongs to the creator, but copyright in a work can be bought, sold, or licensed through agreements. You are able to seek permissions from the copyright owner to use a work.

Copyright Act, Section 3

Moral rights

The moral rights are defined as, “the right to the integrity of the work.” The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has stated that, “the integrity of the work is infringed only if the work is modified to the prejudice of the honour or reputation of the author." These rights can only belong to the creator and while they can be waived, they cannot be traded.

Make sure to carefully review any agreements and/or licenses to ensure you understand who holds the moral rights to a work. 

Copyright Act, Sections 14.1, 14.2, and 17
Théberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain inc., [2002] 2 S.C.R. 336 at para. 17

Copyright is automatic

A copyright notice or copyright symbol (©) does not need to be present for copyright to apply. The notice and symbol are good practice so that users are aware of what restrictions may apply to the use of a work, but are not mandatory. 

Copyright exists as soon as a work is in a fixed form. Examples include: 

  • Print: once something is written down (e.g., diary, lecture notes, a sketch) 
  • Digital: once something is saved (e.g., file saved onto a hard drive or cloud, code saved online) 
  • Photograph: once a photo is taken, either print or digital

Optionally, creators may choose to register their copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Registration serves as proof of ownership if needed. 

What's protected? 

Copyright protects the expression of an idea in a fixed form and applies to all original: 

  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works
    • Examples: books, plays, films, photographs, drawings, paintings, sculptures, computed code, websites, etc.
  • Sound recordings
    • Examples: lectures, music, podcasts, etc. 
  • Performances 
    • Examples: dance, concerts, songs, theatrical performances, etc. 
  • Communications 
    • Examples: radio, broadcasts, etc. 

Copyright Act, Section 5

What's not protected?  

Facts and ideas are not protected under copyright law. Copyright protects the material, physical/digital form of an idea, not the idea itself.

Length of copyright

Copyright in Canada lasts for the life of the creator +70 years. Once the copyright term is up, the copyright expires and the work enters the public domain. 

Unless there is a clear demarcation of public domain, it is always best to assume a work is protected under copyright. 

Note: As of December 30, 2022, copyright length is extending to the life of the creator +70 years. No public works will be entering the public domain until 2043. Works that entered the public domain before December 30, 2022 will remain in the public domain. To learn about the Term Extension in more detail, you can explore Canada Justice Laws

Copyright Act, Section 6
Budget Implementation Act, Part 5

Public Domain

When the copyright length is reached and the copyright expires, the work enters into the public domain and can be used freely without payment or permission from the creator or copyright owner. 

Creators or copyright owners may also choose to waive their rights and dedicate a work to the public domain at an earlier time than the typical copyright length. 

For more information on how to locate works in the Public Domain, check out Copyright Alternatives. 

International copyright

There is no overarching international copyright law. Instead, certain countries have agreed to and signed international treaties which define the minimum standards signatory countries must follow. 

Canada is a signatory of the following treaties: 

Do you have questions? Want to learn more? Contact the Copyright Office

The information on this website is provided as guidance for educational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. 

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VIU's copyright website is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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