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Copyright primer

What is Copyright?

"Copyright" Video from the World Intellectual Property Organization. More introductory videos and materials can be found here.

Canadian copyright legislation, Copyright Act, falls under federal jurisdiction.

The Canadian Copyright Act provides legal protection to original works of authorship, which includes literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, as well as, performer's performance, communication signals and sound recordings.

This document summarizes important provisions with the copyright law:


Exclusive rights

The copyright owner of a work has the sole right to produce, reproduce, perform, publish, or alter a work. The copyright holder may authorize someone else to copy their work. Therefore, anyone who wants to use the work in some way may need to get permission first.

Copyright law does provide some exceptions to these exclusive rights.

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Moral rights

The author of a work has the right to the integrity of the work and the right to be associated with the work. Moral rights may not be assigned but may be waived in whole or in part. Moral rights for a work exist for the same term as the copyright in the work.

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Types of works protected by copyright

Copyright applies to all original works. For example:

  • literary works - books, pamphlets, poems and other works consisting of text, tables, computer programs and compilations of literary works
  • dramatic works - films, videos, plays, screenplays and scripts
  • musical works - compositions that consist of both words and music or music only (note that lyrics without music fall into the literary works category)
  • artistic works - paintings, drawings, maps, plans, photographs, engravings, sculptures, works of artistic craftsmanship and architectural works
  • performer's performance: performers such as actors, musicians, dancers and singers have copyrights in their performances
  • communication signals: broadcasters have copyrights in the communications' signals that are broadcast
  • sound recordings: makers of recordings, such as records, cassettes, and compact discs, which are called "sound recordings" in the Copyright Act, are also protected by copyright.

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What is not protected

Copyright applies to an idea that has been expressed in some fixed format. Facts, titles, names and short word combinations, factual information are not usually protected by copyright. They are part of the public domain.

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Length of copyright term

The term of copyright is measured by the life of the creator plus 50 years. Works enter the public domain when the term of copyright has expired.

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Automatic protection

Copyright protection exists as soon as an original work is created in a fixed form.

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Fair dealing

The fair dealing provision allows copying for research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review, or news reporting. When used for criticism, review, or news reporting, however, the user is expected to provide the source of the work (i.e. author, artists and producer of a sound recording, etc.)

There is no definition for fair dealing and court rulings are judged on a case by case basis.

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Exceptions to the Copyright Act

The Copyright Act has an exception for non-profit educational institutions. Instructors at these educational institutions are allowed to make copies and perform works in the classroom, subject to restrictions. They are also permitted to make use of copyrighted works on the premises of an educational institution for educational or training purposes as long as there is no substitute of the work available in the marketplace.

Instructors may use news and news commentary (not documentaries) from radio and television broadcasts. They may make a copy for educational use for up to one year. If instructors copy any other type of radio and television broadcasts, they may keep this copy for evaluation purposes for a period of 30 days. If the copy is then used for educational purposes, a royalty must be paid.

Libraries, archives and museums may make a copy of published or unpublished works protected by copyright in order to maintain and manage their collections. This can be done if a copy in an alternate format is not already available in the marketplace.

UVic has signed a photocopying license with Access Copyright which gives instructors advance permission to photocopy works where the use is not fair dealing, or they are not in the public domain. For more details, see Access Copyright License.

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Public domain

An author's work is protected for a term that is generally measured by the life of the author plus fifty years. If the author has been dead for more than 50 years, the work moves into the public domain. Once the work moves into the public domain you can use them for cultural, educational, personal and social purposes.


If you have any further questions, please contact the Copyright Office.
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The Copyright Office makes every effort to provide accurate information but does not offer it as counsel or legal advice.

Copyright Brochure

Copyright Permissions Flowchart

Liability Statement

If UVic is found liable for a breach of the Copyright Act in circumstances where the person responsible is not acting in the ordinary course of their normal duties and responsibilities at the University or has recklessly or willfully failed to adhere to the University's Fair Dealing Guidelines, UVic has the right to claim contribution or indemnification from such person.
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