Skip to Main Content
Go to the Langara College website. Opens in a new window
Go to the Langara Library website. Opens in a new window

LIBR 2411: Introduction to Copyright

What Is Copyright?

Simply put, copyright is the right to copy to prevent others from copyright your work. It applies to all original literary, musical, dramatic, and artistic works

It protects the expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. 

In Canada, the term of copyright protection is the life of the creator +50 years. Sound recordings are covered for an additional 20 years. Thereafter works enter the public domain where they can be used freely.

Copyright protection is automatic. A work is protected by copyright as soon as it is fixed in print or digital format. 

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when a person does something with a copyright-protected work that only the copyright owner is entitled to do, and does so without the copyright owner's permission.

Creator Rights

Copyright is actually a bundle of rights. Creators have the exclusive right to:

  • Reproduce a work
  • Distribute a work 
  • Publicly perform or display a work
  • Create derivative works (such as translations)

Broadly speaking, creators have two type of rights: 

  1. Economic rights - these protect the creator's right to benefit financially from their work
  2. Moral rights - these protect the creator's reputation 

User Rights

The Copyright Act aims to strike a balance between user and creator rights. For this reason, it includes special allowances for both of these groups. 

Perhaps the best known user right is fair dealing. Fair dealing permits use of copyright protected works, without payment or permission from the copyright owner, for eight purposes: 

  • Education 
  • Criticism
  • Research
  • News reporting 
  • Private Study 
  • Parody
  • Review
  • Satire

The Supreme Court of Canada has outlined six factors, or considerations, to help users determine if their use if fair to the copyright owner. These include: purpose, amount, character, nature, alternatives, and effect.

The Copyright Act also includes exceptions for users in specific settings, such as Education. Exceptions are so called because they permit uses of copyright-protected content that would otherwise be considered infringement.

The Act also includes a set of special exceptions for Libraries, Archives and Museums (or LAMs). For example, section 30.1(1) applies to Management and Maintenance of Collection. Under this section, libraries can make a copy of a work in an alternative format if the original is in a format that is obsolete (or becoming obsolete), or if the technology required to use the original is unavailable.

Copyright and License Agreements

Langara Library, like most libraries today, subscribes to an array of e-resources, including e-journals, databases, e-book platforms, and streaming media collections.

Use of these resources is governed by license agreements (contracts) with the content provider. The terms of these agreements trump user rights in the Copyright Act. For this reason, it's important to protect rights that are important to members of the community you serve within contracts (which are open to negotiation!)

Seeking Permission

If your use is not covered by a license, fair dealing, or another exception in the Copyright Act it doesn't mean that you can't use the work. Rather, it means you require permission from the copyright owner. 

There are numerous ways to seek permission:

  • Contact the copyright owner directly 
  • Contact the copyright collective that represents the owner
    • Copyright collectives arrange licenses and collect royalties on behalf of creators/owners in a particular field
  • License the work through the Copyright Clearance Centre 
    • Based in the U.S., but offers a handy transactional (or pay-per-use) licensing service 

If you secure permission, keep a copy for your records in case questions arise! 

Alternatives to Traditional Copyright

Open licenses are an alternative to traditional copyright. They allow creators to retain some rights in their bundle of copyrights, while waiving others. For example, a photographer might waive their right to benefit financially from their work, but retain their right to be credited.

There are many open licensing models, but Creative Commons is perhaps the best known and most widely used.