Copyright decision roadmap
Note: The information obtained from or through this website does not constitute legal advice. This webpage is based on the University of Toronto’s Copyright Roadmap and Western University’s Copyright Decision Map which are both licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the complexity of copyright allowances and restrictions. This Copyright Decision Roadmap is designed to provide a simple, five-question framework to assist you in making decisions regarding your use of a particular work. If you have any questions, please contact the Copyright Office.
Step 1. Is the material you want to use still protected by copyright?
If the work is still protected by copyright, proceed to Step 2 below.
The work is no longer protected by copyright. You may use the material without seeking copyright permission.
It is likely that much of the material you will use in your teaching, learning or research is protected by copyright under Canadian law.
The Canadian Copyright Act provides that copyright protection automatically exists in every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work when it is created. Until December 2022, protection lasted in most cases for the life of the author/creator plus another 50 years (after which the material is said to be in the “public domain”). This term of copyright protection under Canadian law was extended to 70 years after the life of the creator in December 2022.
Copyright also subsists in certain “non-traditional” subject matter, such as performer’s performances, sound recordings, and broadcast signals, where the clock generally starts from the first performance of the work. Legislative amendments in 2015 increased the term of copyright in sound recordings, and performers’ performances in sound recordings, to 70 years following the first performance or recording release.
See the University of Saskatchewan public domain webpage for additional details.
Step 2. Is the proposed use “substantial”?
If the portion that you plan to use is substantial, proceed to Step 3 below.
The portion that you plan to use is not substantial. You may use it without seeking copyright permission.
Copyright applies to the reproduction, performance, or publication of a work “or a substantial part” of a work (Copyright Act, s. 3(1)). The use of less than a substantial part does not require permission or further payment. This is complicated because what is deemed “substantial” is not defined in the Copyright Act; rather, it is a matter of degree and context.
A small amount taken from a much larger work will often not be viewed as substantial depending on the nature of the work and the proportion of what is used to the underlying work as a whole. However, the analysis is not purely quantitative: even a relatively short passage may be viewed as substantial in some circumstances, especially if it is of particular importance to the original work.
For more guidance on how to ascertain if the proposed reproduction or other use is substantial, please contact the Copyright Office.
Step 3. Does permission exist in the form of a licence?
The use is permitted by the licence. You may use the material in accordance with the licence allowances.
If the licence does not include any information or details about the type of use you would like to make of the material, proceed to Step 4 below. If the type of use you would like to make is explicitly prohibited by the licence, proceed to Step 5 below.
University Library licensed electronic resources (e-resources)
The University of Saskatchewan has licensed an extensive e-resources collection that is available to university faculty, staff and students. Acceptable use is indicated in the terms of each licence, and what is permitted may not be uniform across all subscription packages and resources.
Please see the electronic licensed library resources webpage section for instructions on finding library license allowances for electronic journals and articles. Licence information for databases subscribed to by the library, including e-book and video databases, is available on the A-Z databases list.
Openly licensed material
An open licence grants permission to share and reuse a work with few or no restrictions. The licences offered by the Creative Commons are examples of this. An open licence sets out what the user is permitted to do with the material. Be sure to always review the terms of a licence to ensure that your anticipated use is permitted.
There are approximately 1.6 billion works now marked with a Creative Commons Licence, including many Open Textbooks that students and educators can freely use. Search some of the material in the Commons here: Use & Remix
What about material that you have access to through a personal or individual license?
Step 4. Is the use permitted by “fair dealing” or any of the other exceptions in the Copyright Act?
The use is consistent with conditions and limitations of an exception in the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing. You may copy the material without seeking permission.
If the use is not covered by an exception in the Copyright Act, proceed to Step 5 below.
- Any materials used under an exception to copyright infringement must have been legally obtained; and
- Technological protection measures (for example, digital locks) cannot be circumvented in order to copy or distribute a work, even if that usage would fall within an exception to copyright infringement.
The “fair dealing” exception in sections 29, 29.1, and 29.2 of the Copyright Act is a statutory user’s right permitting use of, or “dealing” with, a copyrighted work for certain purposes without permission from the copyright owner or the payment of license fees. Please use the University of Saskatchewan Fair Dealing Guidelines to determine whether your use of the material qualifies as fair dealing.
Other copyright exceptions for educational or personal use of materials
In addition to fair dealing, the Copyright Act contains several exceptions that apply specifically to not-for-profit educational institutions – such as the university – and to personal use of materials.
You can explore details of the educational and personal use copyright exceptions on the exceptions in the Copyright Act webpage.
Educational exceptions that may be useful in university teaching include:
- Works available through internet (section 30.04 of the Copyright Act)
- Reproduction for tests or exams (section 29.4 (2) of the Copyright Act)
- Showing a cinematographic work (for example, a film) in class (section 29.5 of the Copyright Act)
- Reproduction for lessons by telecommunication, for example, an online class (section 30.01 of the Copyright Act)
Step 5. Do you need to secure copyright clearance to use the material?
If your use requires copying, distributing or displaying a copyright-protected work in a way that is not covered by an existing license or Copyright Act exception, then permission is required from the copyright owner. For more information, please see the University of Saskatchewan getting permission from a copyright owner webpage or contact the Copyright Office for assistance.
You have determined that your use of the material does not require permission from the copyright owner. You may copy the material without seeking permission.
When all other options enabling the reproduction of a work have been exhausted, seeking clearance from the copyright owner is required and must be received before reproducing the material.
Before initiating a process to seek clearance, it might be useful to determine if there is an alternate way to make the material available without reproducing it. For example, many resources available online through one of our library digital collections can be linked to from your course syllabus or elsewhere within a learning management system (for example, Canvas). Linking is always an option.
It is best to secure copyright permission in writing. Keep a copy for your own records and – once it has been cleared – indicate on the copy you use that it has been used with copyright permission. Copyright permissions requests can take several weeks or longer, and license fees or royalty might need to be paid. Further, sometimes clearance is not granted or cannot be secured in a timely fashion and choosing an alternative resource will be required.