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Copyright Information for Thesis and Dissertation Publication: Copyright Basics

This guide provides information to help students comply with Canadian copyright law when publishing their thesis or dissertation

What is Copyright?

When any person in Canada creates an original "work", the Canadian Copyright Act (and Canadian court decisions) 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.

In Canada, copyright is implied; as soon as a work is created it is protected by copyright, even if the author does not include a copyright statement or symbol. Canada is a party to various international copyright treaties, which have been implemented by the Copyright Act, and which influence court decisions.

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 or 'exceptions', which permit members of the general public to copy, perform etc. works in certain limited circumstances, without the copyright owner's knowledge or permission.  Some examples of these exceptions include fair dealing (sx.29), educational exceptions (sx. 29.4), and reproduction for persons with perceptual disabilities (sx.32).

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.

Copyright specifically protects a "work or any substantial part thereof" (sx. 3). This implies that the use of insubstantial parts of a work, such as short quotations, is allowed without copyright permission. Material such as figures, drawings, maps, photographs etc. may be considered to be whole works, and they are therefore considered to be substantial parts. Unless the author specifically states otherwise, or the work is now Public Domain, permission is needed to use substantial parts of third party material in a published thesis or dissertation.

Creative Commons/Open Access

A creative commons license allows creators to retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work. There are a variety of different creative commons licenses, and not all of the licenses allow for commercial use of the work. If material has been released under a creative commons licence that allows commercial reuse you will not need permission to use it in your thesis or dissertation (as long as it is properly cited). It’s important to verify the details of the license and make sure you follow all listed stipulations before using the material. For more information visit

Public Domain

Copyright does not last forever, and when a copyright has expired the work is considered to be "Public Domain". Material that is in the Public Domain does not require copyright permission as long as it is properly cited. The general rule of thumb for public domain in Canada is 50 years after the death of the author, but there are exceptions to this. Please use the flowchart below to determine if material you wish to use is considered to be Public Domain in Canada.

Material Produced by the United States Goverment is automatically released as Public Domain. There are some exceptions to this, for more information please visit

Material Produced by the Government of Canada is NOT released as Public Domain. This material requires copyright permission to use.

Public Domain Flowchart created by Andy Kaplan-Myrth. Used under a used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence.