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Copyright Basics and Fair Dealing

These materials are provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. 

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.